Allergy-Friendly Study Abroad Guide: Zurich, Switzerland

Marissa studied abroad in Zurich, Switzerland while managing peanut, tree nut, soy, shellfish, sesame, lentil, and pea allergies. She is currently a graduate student at Michigan State University, where she’s working on her MS in Accounting. You can find her on Spokin @msb17 and on Instagram @marissasburk.

Planning + Tips | Getting There | Favorite Eats | Places Visited | Attractions

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Where did you study abroad?

I studied in Zurich, Switzerland. I was more interested in the program than the location—it was on international accounting and finance topics for upper level undergrads/master’s students. It happened to be in Zurich, and I decided to go because it was only a week over my spring break and they have a high population of English speakers, so I knew food likely wouldn’t be a huge problem.


Had you been out of the country before and did you speak the local language?

No, I’d never been out of the country before and I don’t speak the local language.

Did you plan anything ahead of time?

I bought allergy translation cards from two companies (Select Wisely and Food Allergy Passport). Everyone in my group stayed in the same hotel, but I was able to request a mini fridge in my room in case I wanted to store food. I was intentional with what I packed—I thought about safe, yet filling foods I could eat if I couldn’t eat at a restaurant.

What are your best tips for studying abroad with food allergies?

Zurich is expensive! It would be easy to spend $25-$30 for one meal, which adds up if you are eating every single meal at a restaurant/cafe. So while it may be easier for you to shop at a grocery store for meals out of necessity/convenience, it will also be significantly cheaper. I easily spent the least on food out of everyone on my trip.

I think in general, if you can travel with a good friend/trusted professor, it makes the entire trip much more stress-free. I was super lucky that I knew a lot of my classmates on the trip, since we were mostly in the same major/program, and that I had taken a class with the professor who led the trip during my previous semester. The professor was familiar with my food allergies, since she had helped me with classroom accommodations in my class the previous semester. Having people around who understood my food allergies and checked in on me was super helpful!

I also printed out a copy of my allergy emergency plan (from my doctor) and gave it to my professor leading the trip, our travel guide (who accompanied our group on all of our group trips/excursions), and one of my travel companions. My professor also asked where I kept my EpiPens and asked me to demonstrate how to use them in case of an emergency. I would recommend this if most of the trip is led by an instructor/professor.

Did you have any concerns about traveling with food allergies?

I was mostly concerned about travel and how I would actually eat there. I didn’t have a lot of experience flying on airplanes and this was the longest flight I had ever taken. I chose airlines that had good reviews about their food allergy accommodations. I was also worried about how I would eat once I got to Zurich so I made sure to buy food allergy translation cards in the most common languages spoken in Switzerland. I also made sure to pack lots of safe snacks from home.

What airline did you fly? How did you handle accommodations and airplane food?

I flew Delta Airlines and Air France. For accommodations, I indicated on the website I had a peanut allergy and confirmed that they would not serve peanuts on the flight. Once I got to the airport, I told the gate agent I had food allergies and requested to pre-board the plane. My travel companion and I were able to board the plane, and he was able to wipe down my seat and tray for me before the rest of the passengers boarded. I also checked in with the flight attendants to let them know of my food allergies.

I did not eat the plane food. I brought several snacks (for the plane and also the trip in general): Starkist chicken packets, GoGo squeeZ yogurts, MadeGood granola, Goldfish, Ritz crackers, Epic bars, and Premier Protein shakes.

Where did you live and how were meals handled?

My group stayed in a hotel called Hotel Bristol. I requested a mini fridge in my room and the hotel also had a larger public fridge that guests could use. The trip started on a Saturday evening and ended the following Saturday morning, so we were really only there for 6 full days. During that time, there were 2 group dinners. I ate at one of them. I also ate at 2 other restaurants during the trip. Our hotel provided light breakfasts, which included yogurts with ingredient labels that I could eat.

For the rest of my meals, I either ate the foods I packed from home or went to the local grocery store, Co-op, to buy foods. Going to the grocery store ended up being not only easier for me with food allergies, but less expensive as well!

What were your 3 favorite places to eat in Zurich?

Santa Lucia: I chose this restaurant because it had a simple pizza and pasta menu, and their website said they were receptive to customers asking food allergy-related questions. I ordered the Napoli pasta, which had a tomato-basil sauce. Their pastas were house made with only two ingredients, and the sauce was also freshly made. The staff was receptive to my questions and went above and beyond to make sure I could eat safely. The food was also delicious!

Zeughauskeller: We went here for a group dinner. Everyone in the group got the same pre-ordered meal, but the staff made me a special meal of a grilled chicken breast and French fries. They cooked the chicken in a separate pan and the fries in a separate fryer. This was a special experience, as I can seldom order French fries at restaurants! Although I didn’t get to order directly off the menu, I felt comfortable talking with the staff and would have felt like I was able to order something if I had visited independently.

The Butcher: I was able to order my food through a very knowledgeable and helpful waiter. I had the pulled BBQ pork burger, with a few modifications to accommodate my needs. The waiter was able to answer all my questions and checked with the kitchen when I had specific ingredient questions.

Is there any food your study abroad location is known for that you were able to have safely?

I didn’t get a chance to try any “local” food on this trip. I thought I’d stick to more “simple” meals, especially with this being my first international trip.

What other places did you visit during your trip?

After the trip ended on Saturday morning, some friends and I spent the day in Paris, France before returning back the US on Sunday. We wanted to see as much as possible in the day we were there, so we did not eat at any restaurants. We found a grocery store and bought some supplies for dinner that evening.

Besides the food, were there any fun experiences or favorite things you did?

We took a boat tour around Lake Zurich, which was a great way to see the landscape! The travel passes we got through the trip covered this. We also saw Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall and hiked the Uetliberg, a small mountain that was good for a casual hike and for seeing the city from a distance.

We visited two historic churches, Grossmünster and Fraumünster, which had preserved crypts, stained glass windows, and tower climbing—beautiful experiences!

We also went to several museums, including Kunsthaus (an art museum), the Swiss National Museum, the FIFA Museum, the Swiss Finance Museum, and the Lindt Home of Chocolate. Although I didn’t eat anything at the Lindt Home of Chocolate, I still found it extremely enjoyable! I love museums, and this spot did a great job about making it about more than just the chocolate. Of course, a lot of people do go for the unlimited free samples, but if you are just into learning and smelling the chocolate and can’t partake in the eating, I would still recommend going!

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