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Switzerland explained For Members

Alcohol to sexual consent: What are Switzerland's minimum legal ages?

Sandra Sparrowhawk
Sandra Sparrowhawk - [email protected]
Alcohol to sexual consent: What are Switzerland's minimum legal ages?
Many Swiss cantons have age restrictions in place for visiting hospitality businesses. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

From being able to order your first beer to driving a car and flying alone - what are the age limits in place in Switzerland?

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Smoking – 16 to 18 years

As with many things in Switzerland, the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products varies by canton and is usually 16 or 18 years.

As of June 1st, 2023, the following cantons will not let anyone under the age of 16 years purchase tobacco products: Aargau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Glarus, Graubünden, St. Gallen, Uri, Lucerne, and Zurich.

The cantons of Bern, Basel-City, Basel-Country, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, and Zug have set the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products at 18 years.

Meanwhile, the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Schwyz have set no minimum age limit for purchasing tobacco products within their borders.

But what are the rules for e-cigarettes?

According to the Federal Office of Public Health, e-cigarettes currently fall within the scope of the Food Act until the Tobacco Products Act comes into force in mid-2024.

The Tobacco Products Act will not only specify what type of graphic warning can be used on e-cigarette packs, but it will also ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.

However, the first cantons have already begun to establish a minimum age requirement for buying and being handed e-cigarettes.

The cantons to not allow the sale or handover of e-cigarettes to under 18-year-olds are Bern (which also bans the sale or handover of nicotine products for oral use that do not contain tobacco to those under 18), Basel-City, Basel-Country, Fribourg, Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Obwalden, Thurgau, Ticino, and Valais.

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Alcohol – 16 to 18 years

When it comes to purchasing alcoholic beverages nearly all Swiss cantons agree on the minimum age.

In line with the youth protection law, children, and young people under the age of 16 are not allowed to buy alcohol in Switzerland.

However, from the age of 16 onwards teenagers can buy (or be given) beer and wine legally in 25 cantons. Only the canton of Ticino has the minimum age limit set at 18.

When it comes to liquors, aperitifs, and alcopops, all 26 cantons agree that you need to be over the age of 18 to buy (or be given) some.

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This age restriction is part of the Swiss national law and applies across Switzerland.

Additionally, some retailers – such as Coop – do not sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 irrespective of the canton the store is located in.

Wine tasting in the Alps.

Wine tasting in the Alps. Photo: Chris Frenzel/Pixabay

Drive a car – 18 years

Since January 1st, 2021, a learner’s licence can be issued at the age of 17, provided you pass the theory test. The earliest you can complete the theory test is one month before you reach the minimum age.

With the learner's licence you can drive in the presence of a companion who is meant to supervise you. The companion must have had their licence for at least three years, be over 23 years old and must no longer have a probationary licence.

Note that you are only allowed to drive a car on Swiss roads on your own once you have completed both the theory and practical test and are over the age of 18.

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Ride an e-bike – 14 years

The Swiss government divides e-bikes into two categories: “slow (assisted pedalling up to 25km/h) and fast (assisted pedalling up to 45km/h).”

Young owners of slow e-bikes only need to be in possession of a category M driving licence from the age of 14. From the age of 16, however, a driving licence is no longer required for slow e-bike.

This is not the case for fast e-bikes. Everyone - including adults - riding a fast e-bike in Switzerland needs a driving licence (at least category M).

READ MORE: The laws you need to know if you own an electric bike in Switzerland

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Work – 15 years

Switzerland has special requirements in place regarding both an employee’s age limit and working hours.

In principle, employment is only permitted from the age of 15. However, exceptions are permitted under the following conditions:

If you are under the age of 15 and wish to make some pocket money, then you may be allowed to work at cultural, artistic, and sporting events until 11 pm as well as on Sundays. You may also do modelling or acting work in the field of advertising if you’re younger than 15.

In this case, shorter working hours apply.

The maximum working hours for young people aged 13 and over are:

  1. during school hours: 3 hours per day and 9 hours per week;
  2. during half the school holidays: 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., whereby a break of at least half an hour must be granted for more than 5 hours.

In Switzerland, youngsters may also be eligible to work from the age of 14 if they leave school early and can provide a doctor’s certificate and permit.

Those under the age of 13 may only engage in light work with shorter working hours. The maximum working time for young people under 13 is 3 hours per day and 9 hours per week.

Anyone under the age of 15 must fill out a so-called reporting form for the employment of young people under 15 years of age before going ahead with a job.

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Visit a bar or restaurant – 12 to 16 years

As you grow older, visiting a restaurant or bar with friends rather than your parents may become more appealing.

In Switzerland, the hospitality industry is an official statistical collective term to describe the many types of hotel business (hotels, guesthouses, motels, spa houses, inns) and para-hotel businesses (e.g., guest rooms, holiday apartments, youth hostels, camping).

However, when it comes to at what age you can visit these establishments and how long you can stay in them, Switzerland’s 26 cantons have different rules at play.

In the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, for example, those under 15 may only visit restaurants and bars from 8 pm in the company of a legal guardian.

If you’re hoping to visit a hospitality business in Bern after 9pm but happen to be under 16, you will only be allowed to enter in the company of a legal guardian.

Photo by Pixabay

The same regulation applies in Zurich; however, entry to children younger than 12 years is not permitted without a legal guardian to accompany them at any hour.

The cantons of Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schaffhausen, and Thurgau have a similar rule in place. Anyone younger than 16 must be accompanied by a legal guardian from 10 pm. While the same rule applies in Valais, children under the age of 12 are also not allowed to enter establishments on their own from 6 pm.

In Geneva, under 16-year-olds may visit any hospitality business alone throughout the day but must be accompanied by a legal guarding from midnight onwards. The same applies to Uri where under 16-year-olds must be in the presence of the parents or their representation from midnight, while those under 12 can either visit a hospitality business (from 8 pm) accompanied by an adult or with the permission from a parent.

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In Jura, any school-aged children as well as youth can only visit these establishments from 9 pm accompanied by a legal guardian.

Those under 16 living in the canton of Ticino may not visit any establishment alone from 11 pm. Entry to night clubs is also only permitted to over 18-year-olds.

The cantons of Aargau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-Country, Fribourg, Glarus, Graubünden, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, St. Gallen, Solothurn, Schwyz, Vaud and Zug have no minimum age requirement for the visit of hospitality business in place.

Choose a religion (or not) – 16 years

From your 16th birthday, you can freely decide which religion you want to support or whether you don't want to belong to any religion at all in accordance with Article 303 Paragraph 3 of the Civil Code (ZGB).

Currently, Switzerland’s religious landscape is split as follows: 32.9 percent Roman Catholic, 21.1 percent Protestant Reformed, 5.6 percent other Christian communities, 0.2 percent Jewish religious communities, 5.7 percent Muslim and Islamic communities, 1.3 percent other churches and religious communities, 32.3 percent no religious affiliation and 0.9 percent religious affiliation unknown.

Fly alone – 5 to 12 years

There could be many reasons why your child may need to travel alone by plane.

According to SWISS airline, children aged 5 to 12 years can travel alone as long as you book their unaccompanied minors (UM) service or alternatively, they travel in the presence of a child who is aged 12 and older.

You can also book the UM service for children aged 12 to 17 years.

Age of sexual consent – 16 years

The age of sexual consent in Switzerland is 16 years.

Anyone who has sexual contact with a child under the age of 16 is committing a criminal offence.

However, sexual acts with young people under the age of 16 are not punishable if the age difference between those involved is no more than three years.

Once a young person has reached the age of 16, he or she is considered sexually mature and is allowed to sleep with people of any age as long as they are also sexually mature.

It is also important to note that young people under the age of 18 may not enter into a sexual relationship with instructors, teachers, superiors or other people with whom you are dependent upon are not allowed to have a sexual relationship with you.

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