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Are you legally up to speed for 2021?

Got a caravan? You can now pull it at 100km/h on Swiss motorways Keystone / Urs Flueeler

Start the year by knowing what you can – and can’t – now do. From claiming back money if your train is delayed (fine), to blocking emergency vehicles on motorways (you’ll be fined).

This content was published on January 1, 2021 - 11:00

Other tweaks in the law are not so much targeted at individuals but at improving the general wellbeing and safety of Swiss citizens, for example advances in gender equality and greater security provided by the Swiss Air Force. There’s also a special “Brexit focus” on what has changed for visitors from the UK.

Gender equality

This year marks 50 years since Swiss women got the vote at a federal level. On January 1 two laws came into force that will further advance gender equality: paternity leave and gender quotas for listed companies.

Fathers can now take two weeks’ paid leave after the birth of their child. Like maternity leave, this will be financed by the income replacement scheme. The government estimates that costs will come to around CHF229 million ($260 million) a year.

In addition, the time for which a family member will be paid to care for an ill family member has been extended to 14 weeks (although not all relationships are covered by this). All employees will now be granted the same amount of time, regardless of work type or sector. Further reforms allow people to look after ill partners or relatives, but this is limited to three days per case and a total of ten days per year.

The representation of women in the executive suites of large publicly traded companies is set to improve. A new benchmark of 30% women on the board of directors and 20% on the executive board now applies. Around 250 companies will be affected, but there are no sanctions for non-compliance: reasons must be given in the remuneration report and measures proposed.

Rules of the road

If you are delayed by public transport, you are now entitled to compensation (a quarter of the fare) if you arrive at your destination more than an hour late. If the delay is more than two hours, you will receive half the fare. Season ticket holders are also entitled to compensation.

Various new traffic regulations have come into force that are intended to increase safety and make traffic flow more smoothly.

In the event of traffic jams, gridlocked roads or an accident, drivers can now pass on the right. However, overtaking on the right (undertaking) and swerving in again remains banned. Plus, after a crash, anyone who fails to form a lane on motorways for emergency vehicles will be fined.

The maximum speed for towing a trailer or caravan (up to 3.5 tonnes) on Swiss motorways has been increased from 80km/h to 100km/h. Suitable tyres must be fitted.

In what appears to go against the pro-safety flow, motorway service stations may now serve and sell alcoholic drinks. The reason given for lifting the ban, which has been in place since 1964, is that the availability of alcohol has changed considerably since then.

An application for a learner’s driving permit can be made at the age of 17 instead of 18. But anyone under 20 who wants to take the practical driving test must have at least one year’s driving experience with the learner’s permit under their (seat)belt.

Youngsters up to the age of 12 can ride their bicycles on the pavement. Pedestrians have the right of way, however.

Politics and business

The security of Swiss airspace is now finally guaranteed 24/7. Two F/A-18 fighter jets are ready to take off, fully armed, within 15 minutes at any time of the day or night. In 2014 the Swiss Air Force became a laughing stock around the world when a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane landed in Geneva at about 6am. While Italian and French military aircraft were scrambled to accompany the plane, Switzerland was not able to deploy any jets and intervene because the air force’s offices were closed.

When it comes to the safety of politicians, protective measures can now be taken for private homes of members of parliament, if necessary. Previously this was only possible for the private homes of the seven Federal Councillors and “exposed” federal employees.

Five pesticides that are banned in Switzerland – Atrazine, Diafenthiuron, Methidathion, Paraquat and Profenofos – are now subject to an export ban. The export of all other pesticides banned in Switzerland must be authorised by the Federal Office for the Environment and may only take place with the consent of the importing country.

Swiss companies active in the extraction of raw materials must disclose payments to government agencies of CHF100,000 or more per financial year and publish them in a report. This is intended to ensure greater transparency and oblige companies to act responsibly.

Hemp, on the other hand, is no longer subject to agricultural seed legislation in Switzerland. The Federal Office for Agriculture is making it possible for seeds and seedlings to be produced and placed on the market for agricultural production of cannabidiol (CBD) hemp. The cultivation and use of narcotic hemp (cannabis) – regulated by narcotics legislation – is, however, generally prohibited.

Hempy New Year!

Brexit focus

As a result of Brexit, the free movement of people between Switzerland and the UK no longer exists, as the foreign ministry explainsExternal link. Only those UK citizens who acquired rights of residence in Switzerland or rights as cross-border commuters under the Agreement on Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) before December 31 now have rights of free movement.

UK citizens who did not acquire these rights are regarded as third-country citizens when entering Switzerland and could face longer waits at airports. It also means that, given Switzerland’s current quarantine measures, UK citizens can no longer enter Switzerland from the UK as tourists.

British nationals wanting to move to Switzerland must now meet the terms of the Foreign Nationals and Integration Act (FNIA). They are subject to quotas (3,500 for 2021) and must obtain a work permit before entering Switzerland. According to Brexit FAQsExternal link at the State Secretariat for Migration, “the relevant Swiss authority may require nationals from the UK to produce an extract from the criminal records register before issuing a new short-stay permit, residence permit or cross-border commuter permit”.

Although travelling for holidays will remain visa-free, British nationals will only be allowed to spend 90 days in Switzerland out of any 180-day period.

Animals and food

Brexit also has consequences for travellers wishing to import animals or products of animal origin from Great Britain into Switzerland.

Travellers from England, Scotland and Wales (Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market for goods) entering Switzerland with animals or animal products face stricter rules. According to the Swiss veterinary officeExternal link, dogs, cats and ferrets being flown into Switzerland are allowed entry only via Geneva, Zurich and Basel airports. The import of birds is possible only through Geneva and Zurich airports.

Owners wanting to bring dogs, cats and ferrets from the UK to Switzerland by car or train via EU countries are subject to the relevant EU paperwork and regulations.

Furthermore, people travelling from England, Scotland and Wales will no longer be able to import products containing meat or dairy, including cheese. However, they are still permitted to carry up to 20kg of fish, 2kg of honey and 125g of caviar per person.


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