7 things expats in Switzerland need to know about in February 2023
With the first month of the year already in the rearview mirror and a new month looming large, there are plenty of important things expats in Switzerland need to be aware of in February 2023. From annual siren tests to drones and marijuana, here are seven important things to know about:
1. Sirens to be tested in Switzerland
Between 1.30pm and 3pm on February 1, 2023, the 7.200 sirens and alarms in Switzerland will be tested by the authorities. While this process can be scary, especially for new arrivals, it is important to emphasise that it is just a drill and there is nothing to worry about.
The majority of sirens will be tested twice at 1.30pm, while more specialist alarms will be tested between 1.30pm and 3pm. For more information about the test, check out our guide to the siren test in Switzerland in February 2023.
2. Swiss motorway vignette now mandatory
Drivers in Switzerland beware: if you are planning to drive on the motorway after February 1, you will need to have your motorway vignette affixed to your windscreen. Anyone caught driving on the highway without the vignette will be subject to a fine by the police.
Motorway vignettes cost 40 francs and are freely available at all petrol stations and in cities and towns near Switzerland’s borders. To minimise loss of visibility, place the sticker on the windscreen in front of the rearview mirror.
3. Green comet to peak over Switzerland on February 1
People across the country will be given a cosmic treat this month, as a green comet is set to peak in the skies above Switzerland on the night of February 1. If the weather is perfect, Comet C / 2022 E3 (ZTF) will be visible to the naked eye, resplendent in its enchanting green hue.
For the best results, be sure to head out of built-up areas and into the hills and mountains, and perhaps invest in binoculars or a telescope if the conditions are not perfect. However, be sure to get out on the night itself, as you may be in for a 50,000-year wait if you miss it.
4. Basel begins its marijuana trial
From a green comet to a different type of green: from February, Basel’s marijuana trial will get into full swing. The so-called “We ed Care” trial - supported by the local healthcare providers and the council (Gemeinde) - will allow 370 participants to purchase cannabis from local pharmacies.
On their website, the organisers said that while people consuming cannabis is an unavoidable part of society, the freedom to purchase the drug must be balanced with the “considerable health and social risks for users.” Through the study, the Swiss government hopes to test whether offering the drug through regulated pharmacies would “enable safe consumption, strengthen the health of users and reduce criminalisation.”
5. Zurich cantonal elections in February 2023
On February 12, 2023, Swiss citizens in Canton Zurich will go to the polls to elect a new Cantonal Council of Zurich (Kantonsrat) and a new Governing Council for Zurich (Regierungsrat). Unlike other nations, elected officials in cantons control a large number of public services, from taxation and social security to housing and new initiatives.
The election in Zurich is being closely monitored by the Swiss media, with SRF predicting that the results in Switzerland’s most populous canton will be a great predictor of how the national elections in October will play out. To see which candidates are running, and to find out how to vote, please consult the official website.
6. Switzerland adopts EU rules on drones
Another change announced in mid-January was the new regulations around the use of drones in Switzerland. The alpine nation now follows EU laws on drones, which include the following:
- All drones with cameras, regardless of weight, must be registered with the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA).
- Once registered, the UAS operator number provided by the FOCA must be displayed on the aircraft in a “clearly visible” manner - with a label or waterproof pen.
- For drones that weigh more than 250 grams, pilots will need to go through training and an exam.
- All drones are limited to a flight altitude of 120 metres and cannot fly over crowds. Flying over individuals should be avoided and is banned for drones that weigh over 400 grams.
If a drone pilot is found to be breaking any of these rules, they will be subject to fines of up to 20.000 Swiss francs and in extreme cases may receive a criminal charge.
7. Ski week in Switzerland
Finally, children in Switzerland will be looking forward to the February school holidays, also known as sports or ski week. Swiss schools and international schools in Switzerland get between one and two weeks off, with the majority of breaks starting in February.
While each Swiss canton has a different date for the holiday, all families will be able to take the opportunity to fly abroad or visit one of the many Swiss ski resorts on offer which now, thankfully, have a fair helping of snow. Whatever you choose to do during the holiday, we hope you have fun!