Switzerland Travel Information

Photo Switzerland's independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers and Switzerland was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland's role in many UN and international organizations has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. Switzerland is active in many UN and international organizations, but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.
PEOPLE
Switzerland sits at the crossroads of several major European cultures, which have heavily influenced the country's languages and cultural practices. Switzerland has four official languages--German, French, Italian, and Romansch (based on Latin and spoken by a small minority in the Canton Graubuenden). The German spoken here is predominantly a Swiss dialect, but newspapers and some broadcasts use High German. Many Swiss speak more than one language. English is widely known, especially among professionals.
HISTORY
Originally inhabited by the Helvetians, or Helvetic Celts, the territory comprising modern Switzerland was conquered by Julius Caesar during the Gallic wars and made part of the Roman Empire. It remained a Roman province until the 4th century AD. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. It later passed under the dominion of the German emperors in the form of small ecclesiastic and temporal holdings subject to imperial sovereignty.

In 1291, representatives of the three forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden signed the Eternal Alliance. This united them in the struggle against "foreign" rule by the Hapsburgs, who then held the German imperial throne. At the battle of Morgarten in 1315, the Swiss defeated the Hapsburg army and secured quasi-independence within the German Empire as the Swiss Confederation.

Under the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, European countries recognized Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality. In 1798, armies of the French Revolution conquered Switzerland. The Treaty of Vienna and the Second Peace of Paris in 1815 re-established Swiss independence, and the powers participating in the Congress of Vienna agreed to recognize Swiss permanent neutrality.

Switzerland adopted a federal constitution in 1848, modeled in part on the U.S. Constitution. The Swiss amended their Constitution extensively in 1874, establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters. Since then, continued political, economic, and social improvement has characterized Swiss history. The Swiss did not participate in either world war.

ECONOMY
Despite a dearth of natural resources, the Swiss economy is among the world's most advanced and prosperous. Per capita income is virtually the highest in the world, as are wages. During most of the 1990s, the Swiss economy was western Europe's weakest, with annual GDP growth averaging 0% between 1991 and 1997. The economic recovery, however, which began during the second half of 1997, has steadily gained momentum. The year 2000 registered the strongest GDP growth in a decade at 3.0% in real terms. Being so closely linked to the economies of western Europe and the United States, Switzerland has not been able to escape the slowdown being experienced in these countries. In 2001 the rate of growth has fallen from the highs experienced the previous year, and the economy was expected to grow by about 1.6%. Economic growth is expected to be around 2.0% for 2002--the rate most economists see as the economy's average long-term growth potential.

Important: Travel to Switzerland may require a travel visa. Whether a visa is required for travel depends on citizenship and purpose of journey. Please be sure to review Travisa's Switzerland visa instructions for details. Visa instructions for other countries are available on our do I need a visa page.

Country Statistics

Full country name: Swiss Confederation
Capital city: Bern
Area: 41,277 sq km
Population: 7,925,517
Ethnic groups: German 65%, French 18%, Italian 10%, Romansch 1%, other 6%
Languages: German
Religions: Roman Catholic 41.8%, Protestant 35.3%, Muslim 4.3%, Orthodox 1.8%, other Christian 0.4%, other 1%, unspecified 4.3%, none 11.1%
Government: formally a confederation but similar in structure to a federal republic
Chief of State: President of the Swiss Confederation Eveline WIDMER-SCHLUMPF
Head of Government: President of the Swiss Confederation Eveline WIDMER-SCHLUMPF
GDP: 353.6 billion
GDP per captia: 44,500
Annual growth rate: 1.9%
Inflation: 0.2%
Agriculture: grains, fruits, vegetables
Major industries: machinery, chemicals, watches, textiles, precision instruments, tourism, banking, and insurance
Natural resources: hydropower potential, timber, salt
Location: Central Europe, east of France, north of Italy
Trade Partners - exports: Germany 20.2%, US 10.3%, Italy 7.8%, France 7.1%, UK 4.8%, China 4.3%
Trade Partners - imports: Germany 32.3%, Italy 10.4%, France 8.6%, US 5%, Netherlands 4.4%, Austria 4.3%