Police For Members

Why you might be stopped by the police in Switzerland

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected]
Why you might be stopped by the police in Switzerland
There are some situations when you may be stopped by Swiss police (here in Lausanne). Photo by Fabrice Coffini / AFP.

It goes without saying that you don’t want to attract the attention of law enforcement officers, regardless of your nationality. Here’s what you should know about the reasons you might be stopped in Switzerland.


One thing to know is that in many cases being questioned by police has nothing to do with your nationality.

For instance, you may be stopped while driving (along with other motorists) for a random identity and sobriety check, or you could be asked questions because you have witnessed a crime or a road accident.

In both of these cases, you have nothing to be concerned about — provided you are in Switzerland legally and have not committed any infractions yourself.

A different type of situation may arise if someone reports you as a law-breaker.

Whether you are guilty or innocent, police will have to question you to find out if accusations against you are true.

This is undeniably an unpleasant process through which you must go, even if you are innocent of all charges.

If this happens to you, go to the police station when summoned, bring any pertinent documents you need, and answer any questions truthfully — just as you would in your own country.

READ ALSO: Five Swiss laws foreigners are bound to commit

If you are not proficient enough in your canton’s language, inform the police ahead of time and they will provide an interpreter.

Depending on how the case evolves, you may need an attorney to represent you, which the court will appoint free of charge if you are unable to afford one yourself and don’t have legal insurance.

READ MORE: Why you need 'legal protection insurance' in Switzerland


Are there situations when you may be targeted specifically because you are a foreigner?

Yes, and these are the possible scenarios:

On the road

You are driving a car with a foreign registration, which corresponds to a vehicle being sought by police. In such a case you’d be pulled over and your documents would be checked to verify your identity.

You could be stopped for a random road check. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

You are in Switzerland illegally and are caught

If this happens, police will come knocking on your door and you'll likely be given a certain period of time to leave the country or face deportation.

READ ALSO: When can a foreigner be ordered to leave Switzerland? 

You are sought by your nation of origin for crimes you committed there

Swiss police will extradite you back to your home country. (However, Switzerland doesn’t extradite for political offences, such as dissension, for instance, but only for criminal ones).


There are other situations as well when you might be breaking the law, even if inadvertently.

You drive on a Swiss motorway without a sticker

Unlike in Italy, France, and many other countries, Switzerland doesn't have tolls — that is, roads where you have to stop and pay for using the road.

Instead, it has a motorway vignette, purchased annually, for 40 francs.

If you don't have one affixed to your windshield and and are stopped by police, you could be fined 200 francs.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Switzerland’s motorway charge sticker

By the same token, you could be fined for noncomplying with a myriad of other driving rules, including some truly wacky ones, like eating a croissant behind the wheel of your car or taking your feet off the pedal while cycling.

Not recycling / disposing of your trash properly

If you are a new arrival, you may not yet know that the Swiss have very strict rules about how to pack and dispose of your waste in a correct manner.

You can't just put it into a bag and throw it out haphazardly. Instead, you must use taxed bags (different for each canton), and put your trash away on designated days and in designated spots only.

If you fail to do so, you will be found out and fined, with the amount determined by your municipality.

This is definitely a 'punishable' offence. Photo: Pixabay

READ ALSO: What are Switzerland's rules for waste disposal and recycling?

These are the legitimate reasons a foreigner would be stopped by Swiss police. But there are others as well:

Racial profiling

This happens when race or ethnicity are used as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed an offence.

This act is officially illegal, as Swiss legislation prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation. 

There have, however, been instances when Swiss law enforcement officers have been accused of this practice.

One thing to keep in mind, whether you are Swiss or foreigner, is that police in Switzerland can’t arbitrarily ask a person to see their ID; they can only do so if there are reasonable grounds for such a request.

If that happens, you should always comply — even if you believe police are targetting you unjustifiably.


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