Andress was born in Ostermundigen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland, the daughter of Anna, who was Swiss, and Rolf Andress, a German diplomat who was expelled from Switzerland for political reasons. He disappeared during World War II. Andress has four sisters and one brother. She is fluent in English, French, Italian, German and her native Swiss German (Schwiizertüütsch).
Andress became famous as Honey Ryder, a shell diver and James Bond's object of desire in Dr. No (1962), the first Bond movie. In a well-known scene, she rises out of the Caribbean Sea in a white bikini. The scene made Andress the "quintessential" Bond girl, and is now considered iconic. "My entrance in the film wearing the bikini on that beautiful beach made me world famous as 'the Bond girl'", she said, and the bikini from this "classic moment in cinema and Bond history" sold for £35,000 at auction in 2001. In 2003, in a UK Survey by Channel 4, her entrance in Dr. No was voted #1 in "the 100 Greatest Sexy Moments".
Andress won a 1964 Golden Globe award for New Star of the Year for her performance in Dr. No. Her voice was provided by Nikki van der Zyl, while the famous calypso was sung by Diana Coupland. In 1965, she posed nude for Playboy.
Andress co-starred with Elvis Presley in the 1963 film, Fun in Acapulco, with Frank Sinatra in 4 for Texas (1963), opposite Marcello Mastroianni in The 10th Victim (1965), and as the countess in The Blue Max (1966). She also appeared in the Bond satire Casino Royale (1967) as Vesper Lynd, an occasional spy who persuades Evelyn Tremble, as played by Peter Sellers, to carry out a mission. Her heavy accent was dubbed over in Dr. No, but she used her own voice in Casino Royale.
In 1957 Andress married actor/director, John Derek; they divorced in 1966. Andress dated many of Hollywood's leading men, including co-stars Marlon Brando and James Dean. In 1980 she had a son, Dimitri, with American actor Harry Hamlin, her co-star in the film Clash of the Titans. On 18 May 2006, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Swiss Consulate General in Scotland, Ursula Andress celebrated her 70th birthday on board the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh in the presence of an international crowd of celebrities. Her birthday cake was made by Anton Mosimann who also presented the cake to Ursula Andress. On top of the cake was a sculpture of Ursula Andress showing her in her iconic Dr. No scene.