Switzerland flag Switzerland: Business Environment

Business Practices in Switzerland

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Opening Hours and Days
Shops: 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Monday- Friday) and 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Saturday).

Government and business offices: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Monday- Friday).

Banks: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Monday- Friday).


Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Berchtold's Day 2 January
Saint Joseph's Day March
Good Friday April
Easter Monday April
Ascension May - June
Whit Monday June
National Day 1 August
Assumption 15 August
Swiss Federal Fast September
All Saints' Day 1 November
Conception 8 December
Christmas Day 25 December
Boxing Day 26 December

Periods When Companies Usually Close

Christmas and New Year Companies generally close for 7-10 days during the Christmas and New Year period.

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
The Swiss business culture is characterised by formality, risk aversion and strict planning. As the most heavily insured people in the world, the Swiss tend to be extremely cautious and take long-term consequences of their decisions into consideration. Nevertheless, as a nation at the forefront of international trade and industry with one of the most successful economies in the world, the Swiss are also quite open to engaging in business with foreigners. The culture of companies can vary depending on the region, as the French-speaking and Italian-speaking parts of the country have a more laid-back approach. That being said, values such as sobriety, tolerance and punctuality remain essential throughout the country.

Most companies in Switzerland have a rigid and deeply entrenched hierarchy. The most senior managers make the final decision. Subordinates, especially the ones whose area of expertise are relevant to the deal, are given a chance to speak; however, the final decision passes unquestioned once it is reached. Swiss firms with higher international exposure tend to adopt a less hierarchical structure and distribute the level of decision-making lower in the company.

Personal relationships do not play an important role in securing a deal in Switzerland compared to Mediterranean countries. The Swiss tend to be reserved and do not appreciate any conversation about personal matters. Business is regarded with the utmost seriousness and humour is rarely used, even to break the ice.
First Contact
Meeting requests should always be made in advance and rescheduling is to be avoided. The Swiss are not necessarily reluctant to engage in business with foreigners; however, being introduced by a third person always makes the first contact much easier. The first impression is extremely important in Switzerland; therefore foreigners should ensure to leave a good impression (with a friendly expression) in the first few moments. While most Swiss are proficient in English, it is polite to use one of the regional languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh).
Time Management
Punctuality is one of the most important aspects of the Swiss business culture and tardiness is not tolerated. Any delay should be notified with an explanation and an apology. Nevertheless, foreigners should also avoid arriving too early in order not to leave their Swiss counterparts unprepared. Meetings are always timed ahead of time with a set agenda and it is very rare to tackle issues that are not part of the agenda. It is not common for meetings to run overtime.
Greetings and Titles
Greetings may vary slightly depending on the region. Handshakes are the most common form of greeting across Switzerland and for both genders. Nevertheless, greetings in the French and Italian-speaking regions tend to be warmer and longer than in the German-speaking region. French Swiss or Italian Swiss colleagues may kiss and/or embrace each other, depending on the closeness of their relationship. In the more formal German-speaking areas, kissing occurs only between very good friends. It is polite to greet Swiss colleagues with “grüezi” in the German-speaking area, “bonjour” in the French-speaking area, and “buongiorno” in the Italian-speaking area. Titles are important in Switzerland, especially among business associates that do not know each other well. It is better to address your Swiss counterparts by using their titles and surnames (Herr/Frau in the German-speaking region, Monsieur/Madame in the French-speaking region and Signore/Signora in the Italian-speaking region) in large meetings until invited to use people’s first names. It is also polite to use the formal "you" when addressing Swiss professionals in German, French or Italian (Sie/Vous/Lei respectively).
Gift Policy
Gift giving is not a common aspect of first business meetings in Switzerland. It is more appropriate to wait until both parts reach an agreement or close a deal before exchanging gifts. Knives, scissors, cutlery or other sharp objects of any kind are not appropriate gifts as they symbolise the severing of a friendship or other close bond.
Dress Code
Business attire has become more relaxed in Switzerland in recent years, with some firms introducing 'dress-down' Fridays. Business meetings remain more formal and both men and women are expected to be well dressed. Conservative yet stylish suits are appropriate for men, although a jacket and tie rather than a suit tends to be accepted as well. Women should wear elegant yet conservative business suits or dresses and blouses. Accessories are usually worn; however, it is recommended to stay subtle. Business casual is also accepted in some industries.
Business Cards
There is no specific protocol surrounding the exchange of business cards. It is recommended to hand out your business card to every person you meet with. Cards should mention academic title and job title, the latter being more important than the former. When designing a card, it would be best to have your professional title printed in a different font. It is also recommended to have one side of your business card translated into regional languages of Switzerland (German and French in particular). English business cards are also accepted widely.
Meetings Management
Meetings are very professional and serious, with very little time allotted for small talk or socialising, and humour is rarely used. Nevertheless, French and Italian-speaking Swiss may allow for more small talk as a preamble to business negotiations.

Participants are expected to bring necessary documentation. Procedure and planning are key to a successful negotiation in Switzerland. The presentation has to be extremely meticulous and well detailed. The Swiss can be extremely risk-averse and tend to ask very precise questions during negotiations to ensure a risk-free deal. Most of the planning is long-term, therefore foreigners should focus on extolling the virtues of the deal in the long run. While decisions are made from the top down, all participants are given a chance to speak, especially if the discussion point relates directly to their area of expertise.

During negotiations, it is crucial to remain patient even though the decision-making process tends to be slow and methodical. While being courteous, the Swiss use a direct and honest communication style. By the same token, using too much business jargon is considered unnecessary and too indirect. Foreigners should also refrain from hand gesturing. Meetings usually have a set speaking order and interrupting someone is considered rude.

Business entertaining is almost entirely done in restaurants and spouses are generally invited to business dinners. Dinner is the most common form of business entertaining whereas business breakfasts remain somewhat unusual. The Swiss rarely invite foreign business partners to their home. If this happens, it is a sign that your Swiss counterpart shows great interest in the negotiation process.

Sources for Further Information
Expatfocus - Switzerland Business Culture Culture Crossing - Swiss Business Etiquette

Return to top

Any Comment About This Content? Report It to Us.


© eexpand, All Rights Reserved.
Latest Update: July 2024