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Do I have to pay for calling out emergency services in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Do I have to pay for calling out emergency services in Switzerland?
In many cases, ambulance is not a free service. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

There may be situations when you need an ambulance, police, or the fire brigade. Are there any fees when these public services respond to your call?

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Hopefully, you will never need to use emergency services, but it is always good to know what can happen when you contact them. 

This is what you should expect when they respond to your call.

Police, emergency number 117

Law enforcement in Switzerland is divided into cantonal and municipal police forces.

The municipal force (Polizei / Police / Polizia) will respond to your call in cities that have their own police departments, while the Kantonspolizei / Police cantonale / Polizia cantonale is responsible for villages and small communities.

Both can be reached in an emergency by dialling 117.

Police forces are public entities supported by taxes, rather than money-making businesses.

Whether or not you will be charged (and how much) for calling the police depends on various factors.

Swiss law states that “the costs related to the interventions and services of the police may be charged to the persons who caused them or requested them.” 

In practice, however,  people who request police intervention for legitimate reasons, are rarely — or ever — asked to pay.

So if you summon them in case of a real emergency — for instance, when you are a victim or witness of crime — then you will not have to pay anything.

However, if you call 117 for trivial reasons, expect to receive a bill. The amount will vary based on the infraction, ranging from several hundred to several thousand francs.

This was the case of a woman in St. Gallen who made a habit out of calling police for trivial reasons. She was ultimately fined over 4,000 francs for "knowingly triggering a police operation for no reason".

As the local police commander told the media, “some people call police like they call a taxi.” 

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Fire brigade, emergency number 118

Like the police, fire brigades are a public service, though they are organised differently than police departments. 

Some people in various parts of Switzerland have reported being billed for fire services, though this doesn’t seem to be a common or widespread practice.

The rule of the thumb is that if a fire, or another intervention, occurs on public land, then the expenses incurred by the intervention of firefighters are the responsibility of the communes.

For private interventions, whether or not you will be charged  (and how much) depends on whether the fire was caused by elements out of your control, or whether you totally or partially contributed to it — for instance, by leaving a lit cigarette by your bedside all night.

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Ambulance, emergency number 144

The cost of this service depends on where you live.

The compulsory health insurance (KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian) covers half of this amount, but only up to 500 francs a year if the ambulance is called when there is no immediate danger to life but you are nevertheless unable to get to a hospital by other means of transportation, such as a car or bus.

It is not clear what urgent medical conditions would enable you to take public transportation, but that’s what the law says.

It is more reasonable to assume that in such a case someone will drive you to a hospital, but if that is not feasible either and you feel you need immediate medical help, then an ambulance may be your only option.

However, if an ambulance is required for life-threatening conditions, KVG / LaMal will cover up to 5,000 francs of the cost of emergency transportation.
 
READ ALSO: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Switzerland?
 

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