Why is Switzerland CH? The Swiss country code explained

Why is Switzerland CH? The Swiss country code explained

With countries like France (FR), the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) all having logical, easy-to-understand country codes, many people may wonder: why is Switzerland CH? Here’s all you need to know about the Swiss country code, and why the alpine nation continues to use CH to this day.

CH meaning: What does the CH stand for in Switzerland?

From licence plates and road signs to postage stamps and Swiss francs, the abbreviation CH is omnipresent across Switzerland. The code itself stands for Confoederatio helvetica, the Latin name for the Swiss Confederation.

The origins of CH and why it is used go back to the country’s very early history, long before nations needed codes to identify themselves.

Why is Confoederatio part of Switzerland's country code?

The word Confoederatio or confederation is used in the Swiss country code because of how the country is constructed as a state. From its first origins in 1291, the Swiss cantons that made up the country wanted the new nation to act as a confederacy. 

Before 1848, this meant that while the country did act in unison on occasion, tax, social, internal and most external affairs were controlled by individual cantons. Indeed, if you asked someone from Switzerland where they were from before the 19th century, most would say their home canton before calling themselves Swiss.

This would change in 1848 following the Sonderbund Civil War. When the modern state was founded in its aftermath, the Swiss franc, national citizenship and a centralised government were all created, stripping the cantons of much of their autonomy. However, with the 26 regions still holding a large amount of influence over domestic affairs, the modern Swiss state still describes itself as a confederation, hence why Confoederatio is still used. 

Why is the word Helvetia used in the abbreviation for Switzerland?

Much like Britannia in the UK, Helvetia is the Roman name and national personification of Switzerland, hence why it is used in the country’s abbreviation. Typically pictured in Romanesque clothing with a Swiss cross, wreath and shield, Helvetia would come to symbolise the alpine nation from the 17th century onwards.

However, Helvetia's use to describe Switzerland itself long predates the lady found on Swiss franc coins.

History of Helvetia

Helvetia gets its name from the Latin name Helvetii. Before the Roman conquest of the lands we now know as Switzerland, much of the territory was occupied by a Gallic tribe, who were first called the Helvetii in an account by the Roman politician Cicero. It is believed that the name Helvetii is a Romanisation of a Gaulish word meaning “rich in land”. 

The tribe itself was conquered by Julius Ceasar as part of his invasion of Gaul (modern day France) in the first century BC. Once incorporated into the Roman Empire, the new province was called Helvetia, with its capital in Aventicum (modern-day Avenches, Canton Vaud). 

This name stuck long after the Romans left in the fifth century AD and the lands came to be occupied by Frankish and Germanic tribes. CH was first used to describe the nation in 1291 when the Old Swiss Confederacy formed, and has not been replaced since.

Why is Switzerland still CH to this day?

Part of the reason that Switzerland still uses CH today is due to practicality. For instance, S, SE and SW are all taken by Sweden, so if Switzerland were to use any of these, it could cause people to confuse the two countries even more than they already do.

With CH being the Latin designation for Switzerland, it also means that the country can avoid having to pick a country code from one of the four language regions - SE for German and CS for all other languages.

CH also makes Switzerland quite unique as it is one of the few countries that uses something other than its name to create its country code. The only others are Serbia (RS, Republika Srbija), Western Sahara, (EH, Español Sahara), Christmas Island (CX, Christmas, Xmas), Curaçao (CW, Curaçao, West Indies) and Aruba (AW, Aruba, West Indies).

Thumb image credit: Maleo Photography /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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