Switches and relays that have emerged from the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology have the potential to replace traditional solid-state devices due to broader operating temperature range, higher breakdown voltage, and much higher off-state resistance. Interest in MEMS switches and relays has surged recently, principally due to the demonstrated performance in switching radio-frequency signals. However, understanding of the effect of the surface topography on performance and lifetime of these microdevices is rather empirical. Therefore, the objective of this study was to explore the role of surface topography in various physical phenomena encountered at contact interfaces of MEMS switches and relays. Emphasis is given on the dependence of pull-in voltage, electric field, and electrical breakdown on surface topography and interpretation of contact interface phenomena associated with surface erosion and adhesion in the context of surface topography effects. In addition, current obstacles in the study of the influence of the surface topography on the performance of MEMS switches and relays are discussed in light of recent findings.