8 key things expats in Switzerland need to know about in February 2024
One down, 11 to go: February 2024 is expected to bring with it many important changes to Switzerland. From new rules around residence permits to alarms and holidays, here’s all you need to know about the next 29 days!
1. Grace period for Swiss vignette comes to a close
From February 1, the grace period for purchasing a 2024 vignette for Swiss motorways will expire. The 40 franc pass allows drivers to access the major highways of the alpine nation until the end of the year.
The pass itself can be purchased at most petrol stations, post offices, border crossings and, for only the second time ever, online via the e-vignette website - 1,8 million people have already purchased an e-vignette for 2024. Be quick about it though, as anyone who is caught driving on the motorways without a vignette after January 31 risks a 200-franc fine from the police.
2. Switzerland to test its alarm system on February 7
Another major part of the month will be the testing of the siren system in Switzerland, which in 2024 will take place on February 7. On the day, the emergency alert system consisting of 5.000 alarms and sirens will be tested to make sure the system functions correctly.
The siren tests will be conducted between 1.30pm and 4.30pm on February 7. Between 1.30pm and 2pm, the “general alert” siren will sound - which for reference sounds like a regularly ascending and descending tone. This will continue for one minute, and will then be repeated after a two-minute silence.
For those near some Swiss lakes and rivers, the “water alert” signal will also be tested between 2pm and 4.30pm. This signal consists of 12 low continuous tones lasting for 20 seconds, which is repeated at 10-second intervals.
For more information, check out our guide to the siren test in Switzerland on February 7, 2024.
3. New ID rules for Ukrainian refugees in Switzerland
February will also see some changes for Ukrainian citizens who hold emergency “S-” residence permits - Swiss permits given to those fleeing the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. From February 24, S-permit holders must have their physical permit to hand when driving in Switzerland.
The reason for the change revolves around driving licences. Under the current rules, refugees have 24 months to exchange their Ukrainian driving licence for a Swiss one. By requiring that they have their S-permit ID to hand, it will make it easier for police to determine whether the two-year grace period has expired or not, if the person hasn’t obtained a Swiss licence.
4. Swiss shoppers will know where their bread comes from
Thanks to a new law, Swiss supermarkets, bakeries and other stores will be required to declare the origins of the baked goods they sell from the start of February. This will apply to all baked goods sold at open counters.
The government justified the strangely specific rule by arguing the change would bring baked goods into line with the origin labels already placed on fruits and vegetables, giving customers more of an insight into how and where the pastries are made.
5. Swiss financial liability law to change
At the beginning of the month, the Swiss Federal Council will make it illegal to provide false or incomplete information in a financial prospectus or a publicly made purchase offer on the stock market. If an entrepreneur intentionally provides untrue, misleading or incomplete information about a financial plan or takeover offer, they will now face a fine of up to half a million francs. In cases where negligence but not intent is proven, the fine is set at a maximum of 150.000 francs.
The law came about thanks to a proposal from Swiss People's Party (SVP) National Councillor Hans-Ueli Vogt, submitted following the takeover of flight caterer Gategroup by Chinese business HNA in 2017. In the case, federal authorities got involved after it was revealed that HNA had provided false information about who owned the company.
6. Ski week in Swiss schools
February will also hail the return of the school holidays, with Swiss and international schools given one to two weeks off at some point during the month. While many use the holiday to jet off to warmer climes, the majority use it as an opportunity to go skiing or snowboarding.
When it comes to carving some powder, Switzerland is the place to be, with several Swiss ski resorts frequently named among some of the best in the world. As soon as schools are out and work comes to a close, February is an ideal time to hit the slopes!
7. Valentine's Day in Switzerland
Calling all love birds! Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, meaning it is time to grab the flowers, chocolates, cards and table reservations in time for the big day on February 14. Whether you are planning a romantic excursion, a quiet night in, or are preparing to let your amore know your true feelings, we hope you have fun!
For those less besotted and gooey-eyed, February 14 is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This means that 2024 is one of the lucky years when the public holidays and celebrations of Easter come early, with Easter Sunday falling on March 31 this year.
8. 2024: Welcome to the leap year!
Finally, February 2024 plays host to a once-in-four-year occurrence, as the month will be one day longer than usual thanks to the leap year. While not specific to Switzerland, it is still good to know if you are wondering why March is taking a bit longer to arrive!