swiss insurance search rescue ambulances repatriation
Insurance

Swiss Insurance for Search and Rescue, Ambulances and Repatriation Explained

May 12, 2022 - Daniel Dreier

Who covers the costs of ambulances in Switzerland? Are search and rescue missions insured? Is a Rega patronage the same as an insurance? Get informed in this guide.

Search and rescue missions, emergency medical evacuations, and medical repatriation can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of francs, depending on the situation. Here, moneyland.ch explains which costs are covered by mandatory Swiss insurance, and which can be insured using voluntary insurance.

Mandatory health insurance

The basic health insurance which is compulsory for all residents covers 50 percent of the costs of ambulance transportation, but only up to a limit of 500 Swiss francs per year. It also does not apply when using other forms of transportation is a realistic option. 

The low coverage for ambulance transportation applies both in Switzerland and abroad, and covers repatriation to Switzerland as well.

Search and rescue coverage from mandatory health insurance only applies within Switzerland, and only in life-threatening situations. It is limited to 50 percent of costs, up to a maximum benefit of 5000 francs per year. 

Accident insurance

If you live in Switzerland and work for one Swiss employer at least 8 hours per week, then your employer’s accident insurance covers you both inside and outside of the workplace.

This accident insurance covers the costs of searches when it is assumed that you are missing because of an accident. Rescues required because of accidents are also covered. This is true even if you have an accident in which you are not physically injured, but run the risk of injury if you are not rescued. Accident insurance does not cover search and rescue operations required because of bad weather or other incidents which do not result from accidents.

Ambulance transportation required during treatment of injuries is covered by accident insurance. Coverage outside of Switzerland is limited to twice the benefit which the insurance would have to pay for the same transportation in Switzerland.

Coverage for search and rescue missions outside of Switzerland is limited to a maximum of one-fifth of the highest possible insured salary.

Repatriation to Switzerland is covered if necessary medical care is not available in the country where the accident occurred.

Important: Coverage for extreme sports is limited. Refer to the extreme sports insurance guide for more information.

Supplemental health insurance

Many supplemental health insurance offers include some coverage for search and rescue costs, medical transportation, and repatriation. Coverage for search and rescue operations is typically limited, with cover ranging between 10,000 and 100,000 francs. Many (but not all) Swiss supplemental health insurance offers include unlimited coverage for ambulance transportation and repatriation to Switzerland for medical care.

Coverages and limits can be found on the info pages of offers included in the supplemental health insurance comparison on moneyland.ch.

Supplemental hospital insurance

A few supplemental hospital insurance offers cover search and rescue, medical transportation, and repatriation costs. The limits on search and rescue coverage are generally low, ranging between 2000 and 25,000 francs. Only a handful of insurers cover medical repatriation. Insurance premiums tend to be high, so getting this insurance is only worth it if you need additional insurance for hospital stays.

You can sort offers by the insurance benefits they provide and find detailed information about benefits and limits using the supplemental hospital insurance comparison on moneyland.ch.

Travel insurance

Coverage for search and rescue and/or emergency medical transportation is included in many travel insurance offers. With very few exceptions, coverage for search and rescue operations is limited. Maximum benefits can be as low as just 5000 francs, or as high as 60,000 francs. The same insurance may have different benefits for each. For example, Generali travel insurance includes unlimited coverage for rescue operations and ambulance transportation, but limits cover for search operations to 50,000 francs.

Most Swiss travel insurance offers have unlimited cover for medical repatriation, though some have caps on benefits.

You can sort and compare annual travel insurance offers based on their search and rescue benefits using the interactive Swiss travel insurance comparison on moneyland.ch.

Credit card insurance benefits

Some Swiss credit cards give you search and rescue insurance and/or ambulance insurance as a complimentary benefit. 

Depending on your credit card’s terms and conditions, you may have to pay for travel using your credit card to be covered by these collective insurances. Some card issuers only cover you when you travel outside of Switzerland. Others cover you in Switzerland, but only when you travel a certain distance from home. Make sure to review the insurance agreement for your credit card in order to understand when you are covered.

The search, rescue, and ambulance coverages are similar to those you get from many travel insurance offers. The same credit card may have different limits for individual search, rescue, and emergency medical transportation benefits. Like other insurances, coverage may exclude certain activities like extreme sports.

You can easily find out which credit cards include search and rescue insurance using the sort and filter tools in the interactive Swiss credit card comparison on moneyland.ch.

Assistance insurance

A few Swiss insurance companies offer stand-alone medical assistance insurance which includes cover for search and rescue and emergency medical transportation. It is sometimes added as a complimentary benefit when you buy other insurances, such as term life insurance. An example of this is the Assistance Medical insurance from Vaudoise.

The coverage is often limited compared to other kinds of insurance. If you have to be transported by ambulance, you generally need to contact the insurance company’s assistance office and have them organize it for you. Maximum benefits for search and rescue may be low (10,000 francs, for example). However, it is worth checking if you already get this assistance insurance as part of or along with an insurance which you already have.

Rega

Swiss air rescue foundation Rega carries out search and rescue operations in Switzerland, and also organizes emergency medical repatriation to Switzerland from other countries. 

You can subscribe to become a Rega patron in exchange for an annual contribution. The required contribution is currently 40 francs for a single person or single-parent family, and 80 francs for a couple or two-parent family. 

Rega is not an insurance. The benefit of becoming a Rega patron is that if you ever need search and rescue services from Rega, and your existing insurances do not fully cover Rega’s costs, then Rega may only charge you part of the remaining costs, or even forgive your debt altogether. This applies to both search and rescue operations in Switzerland, and to emergency medical repatriation to Switzerland by Rega. However, Rega decides whether or not to reduce or waive charges for its patrons on a case-by-case basis, so Rega membership alone is no guarantee of cost-free search and rescue.

Aside from transportation during search and rescue operations, and repatriation to Switzerland, Rega patronage does not provide benefits towards the costs of ambulance transportation.

What is covered by which insurance?

Because the costs of ambulance transportation and search and rescue operations can be very high, being properly insured can be advantageous. However, it is important to understand what is already covered by your existing insurance policies in order to avoid overinsurance. The table below helps you understand what is covered by which insurance.

Search, rescue, emergency medical transportation, and emergency medical repatriation coverage from Swiss insurances:

  Mandatory health
insurance
Employer-based
accident insurance
Credit card
insurance
Supplemental health
insurance
Supplemental hospital
insurance
Travel insurance Rega patronage
Ambulance transportation
in Switzerland
50% of costs,
max. 500 francs
per year.
100% of costs.
Only for
accidents.
CHF 0 - 60,000 depending
on the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
Unlimited. Only
on covered trips.
Not covered.
Ambulance transportation
outside of Switzerland
50% of costs,
max. 500 francs
per year.
100% of costs,
max. twice the
benefit for
ambulance
transportation in
Switzerland.
CHF 0 - 60,000 depending
on the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
Unlimited. Only
on covered trips.
Not covered.
Search operations
in Switzerland
50% of costs,
max. 5000
francs per
year. Only
in life-threating
situations.
100% of costs.
Only when reason
for search is
possible accident.
CHF 0 - 60,000 depending
on the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
CHF 0 - 30,000
depending on the
offer.
CHF 5000 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
Only on covered trips.
Costs which are not
covered by other
insurances, on a
case-by-case basis.
Search operations outside
of Switzerland
Not covered. 100% of costs,
max. CHF 29,640.
Only when reason
for search is
possible accident.
CHF 0 - 60,000
depending on
the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
CHF 0 - 30,000,
depending on
the offer.
CHF 5000 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
Only on covered trips.
Not covered.
Rescue operations
in Switzerland
50% of costs,
max. 5000
francs per
year. Only
in life-threating
situations.
100% of costs.
Only when
required due to
accidents or to
prevent imminent
accidents.
CHF 0 - 60,000
depending on
the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
CHF 0 - 30,000,
depending on the
offer.
CHF 5000 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
Only on covered trips.
Costs which are not
covered by other
insurances, on a
case-by-case basis.
Rescue operations outside
of Switzerland
Not covered. 100% of costs,
max. CHF 29,640.
Only when required
due to accidents
or to prevent
imminent accidents.
CHF 0 - 60,000
depending on
the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
CHF 0 - 30,000,
depending on
the offer.
CHF 5000 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
Only on covered trips.
Not covered.
Emergency medical repatriation
to Switzerland
Not covered Not covered CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on
the credit card.
CHF 0 - unlimited,
depending on the
offer.
CHF 0 - 25,000,
depending on the offer.
CHF 50,000 - unlimited,
depending on the offer.
Only on covered trips.
Costs which are not
covered by other
insurances, on a
case-by-case basis.

 

Pay attention to exclusions

It is important to review the terms and conditions before signing up. Incidents resulting from engagements in extreme sports are typically excluded. Search and rescue operations at sea may not be covered either. If you have specialized needs, such as insurance for extreme sports, you will normally have to look for specialized insurance.

Do I need extra insurance in Switzerland?

If you work for a Swiss employer at least 8 hours per week, then ambulance transportation and search and rescue operations needed in relation to accidents are well-covered by accident insurance. Unless you have ongoing health conditions which may require regular ambulance transportation, getting additional insurance may not be necessary.

If you do not have employer-based accident insurance, then both accidents and illness are only covered by mandatory health insurance, and the low limits apply to both. In this case, getting additional insurance can make sense.

If you do a lot of hiking, mountaineering, or other outdoor activities, getting a Rega patronage can make sense. Rescues in Switzerland which are not covered by accident insurance, such as those required due to bad weather without the risk of physical harm, may be covered by Rega. However, Rega decides on a case-by-case basis whether or not to waive costs which are not covered by your existing insurances. Waivers are not guaranteed.

Do I need extra insurance for travel outside of Switzerland?

If you travel a lot, it can be beneficial to get additional insurance for the costs of ambulance transportation and/or search and rescue operations in other countries. Even Swiss employer-based accident insurance limits coverage for international travel, and mandatory health insurance only covers search and rescue operations in Switzerland. 

Coverage for medical repatriation is also something you should consider. This is especially true if you travel to countries which do not have advanced healthcare facilities. Medical repatriation coverage covers the costs of transporting you back home to Switzerland for medical care.

As a general rule: The more remote the locations you expect to travel to are, the higher your ambulance transportation, search and rescue, and repatriation coverage should be.

You can get search, rescue, ambulance, and repatriation coverages as part of supplemental health insurance and travel insurance offers. Insuring these risks using supplemental health insurance makes sense if you also need additional health insurance. If you travel a lot, and/or do not need extra health insurance, then covering these risks using a travel insurance offer which also covers other travel-related hazards makes more sense.

In some cases, the insurance coverages which you get with some credit cards, and those included in some supplemental hospital insurance offers, may sufficiently cover your needs.

More on this topic:
Accident insurance in Switzerland explained
What is covered by Swiss mandatory health insurance?
Health insurance for travel outside of Switzerland explained
Hiking in Switzerland: Financial tips for outdoor enthusiasts
Swiss insurance for extreme sports explained
Disability pensions in Switzerland explained

Image courtesy of Schweizerische Rettungsflugwacht Rega / Garde aérienne suisse de sauvetage (Rega)

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Editor Daniel Dreier
Daniel Dreier is editor and personal finance expert at moneyland.ch.
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