Make your online presence fit in with the Swiss market

A guide to localisation for Switzerland

1 Overview

We’ve created this guide to help you get closer to your Swiss customers. A web presence that is in tune with Switzerland’s culture will make your customers feel well disposed to you, and give them the confidence to do business with you. Get the little details right, and you'll be in a good position right from the start in your new market.

2 The main language

Figures released by the Swiss Federal Council show that in Switzerland:

  • German is spoken by 63% of the population
  • French is spoken by 22.7% of the population
  • Italian is spoken by 8.4% of the population
  • Romansch is spoken by 0.6% of the population

The country has three distinct areas each with its own language.

German-speaking cities and population French-speaking cities and population Italian-speaking cities and population
Zurich 970,000 Geneva 410,000 Lugano 40,000
Bern 290,000 Lausanne 240,000 Bellinzona 25,000
Basel 240,000 Motreaux 50,000 Locarno 20,000

3 Formality

Should you be formal or informal when addressing your customers?

Swiss society is rather formal and respects people’s privacy. Always address someone first by their professional title, e.g. Dr., than their family name, and only use their first name when you are asked to.

The way you address your customers will vary depending on which language is spoken in the area you're doing business in.

Title German-speaking area French - speaking area Italian - speaking area
Male Herr Monsieur Signore
Female Frau Madame Signora
Teenage girls Fraülein Mademoiselle Signorina

In Switzerland, products can be written about in an informal way. At times this can verge on playful. Products with this playful informality include YouTube, Gmail, and Google Play.

If you have a financial product, a legal service, or are talking about money, you should adopt a formal tone and style.

4 Numbering systems and formats

Numerals

Decimal separator

This is a dot or full stop (.). e.g. 1.5 hours

Telephone numbers

The country code is +41. Telephone numbers are in the format: (+41) 12 3456789. Without the country code, telephone numbers are in the format: 030 12345678.

Mobile numbers have the prefix 0151,
e.g. 0151/1234567.

Freephone numbers usually have the prefix 0848.

5 Currency format

Swiss Franc. This is represented by Fr. Its trading three letter code CHF.

The franc note denominations are 1,000 fr, 200 fr, 100 fr, 50 fr, 20 fr, 10, fr are the franc note denominations. The franc coin denominations are 1 fr, 2 fr, 5 fr.

6 Dates and times

Date and time formats

In Switzerland the date format is DD.MM.YYYY. The day, month, and year are separated by a full point,
e.g. 24.03.17.

7 Hour formats

The 24-hour clock is used in Switzerland in everyday speech and in writing. German speakers use the 12-hour format in everyday speech.

The 24-hour format is favoured on digital devices like PCs, phones, tablets, etc. and is the standard format on Android where the separator is a colon,
e.g. 14:24.

8 Important rules

Here are the top five translation tips that will make you sound like a local in no time:

  1. Take a note of spelling, punctuation, pricing, date formats, measurements, terminology, etc

  2. Give your translators as much background information as possible on the purpose of your communication, and your target audience

  3. Give your translators enough time to do the translation. This will result in a more natural, local-sounding communication

  4. Know your audience and define your style and tone based on that. What works for professional IT specialists won't work for teenagers and vice versa

  5. Create a natural-sounding communication by avoiding being too literal and writing a word-for-word translation

9 Additional guidelines

Discover how to ensure your website is local in tone and language in our website localisation guide.