International Bern Welcome Desk provides advice on living in Bern
Bern is home to 91 foreign embassies and three consulates, and four international organisations are present here. Since August 2020, the International Bern Welcome Desk has been advising Bern's international community on everything they need to know about everyday life in and around the city. The desk is a joint initiative between the FDFA and Bern's city and cantonal authorities, and is an asset for the FDFA in the context of Switzerland's host state policy. Around 3,200 staff working at foreign representations in Bern are registered with FDFA protocol.
The International Bern Welcome Desk provides members of the international community in Bern with everything they need to know about life in and around the city of Bern. © IBWD
Of the 152 embassies in Switzerland, 91 are located in Bern. There are 184 consulates throughout Switzerland, three of which are located in Bern. The embassies and consulates employ around 3,200 people. These international staff are transferred at regular intervals. Every year many individuals and their families move to Switzerland's federal capital to take up a new posting in an embassy, consulate, one of the four UN institutions or an international company. Everyday life in Switzerland is naturally often different from life back home and new arrivals have many questions. What health insurance should I choose? How do I find a day care centre for my daughter? How does the Swiss school system work?
To help the international community to settle in and find out everything they need to know to enjoy life in Bern, at the start of August the FDFA launched the International Bern Welcome Desk (IWBD) in collaboration with the City and Canton of Bern. The Welcome Desk provides services for foreign diplomatic and consular staff, people working for a multilateral institution such as the Universal Postal Union or OTIF (Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail), and for expats posted to Bern by their company.
The IBWD provides information and advice to employees and their families on topics such as moving, finding a place to live, education, family, healthcare, leisure, events and administrative matters. It can also support diplomatic missions and the UN institutions in the organisation of events.
The IBWD is part of Bern Welcome, and works closely with partners in tourism, the events sector and partner networks. It provides a public service that helps the City of Bern to market itself as an attractive business location. The IBWD project will initially run until 2023 and is financed in equal parts by the FDFA and the authorities of the Canton and the City of Bern. The FDFA sees this engagement as one of its services to all foreign staff posted to Bern.
FDFA monitors diplomatic privileges and immunities
The Privileges and Immunities Section of FDFA Protocol is responsible for providing administrative support to embassy and consulate staff. The Swiss Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva supports the international staff of the UN institutions in Switzerland with administrative matters. FDFA Protocol registers arrivals, departures and changes among the diplomatic and consular personnel stationed in Switzerland and monitors the number of staff employed at the embassies and consulates. It also monitors the application of the two Vienna conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. These two conventions from the 1960s govern the rights and obligations of all diplomatic and consular personnel. A country's representatives have privileges and immunities to ensure that they are unimpeded in the exercise of their official functions.
A good host state policy is also good for Switzerland
For the FDFA, providing good working and living conditions for international staff in Switzerland is part of being a good host state. The FDFA relies on close cooperation between the federal, cantonal and municipal authorities to implement Switzerland's host state policy. The IWBD is a good example. In Geneva, the Geneva Welcome Centre (CAGI) has fulfilled a similar mission since 1996.
Is it useful and necessary to provide such a service for foreign officials and expats in Bern? "Good-quality, efficient services are highly valued by the foreign diplomatic corps and are important for Switzerland's reputation," agree the head of FDFA Protocol, Ambassador Beatrice Schaer, and Ambassador Frank Grütter, head of the United Nations and International Organisations Division. Good relations with foreign representations and the UN organisations in Switzerland contribute to good relations with other countries and with multilateral institutions. Switzerland relies on these relations to pursue its bilateral and multilateral foreign policy goals.