The geographic diversity of Switzerland requires adapting to various environments, ranging from motorways to small mountain roads. The rules concerning driving in the country are often complicated, particularly for foreign visitors.
Obtaining a license
Switzerland allows drivers to use a foreign license for one year, after which the license must be exchanged for a Swiss one (an exception is made for holders of an 18-month residence permit). Any driver who does not apply for a Swiss license within the first year of residence must pass a Swiss driving test. During this first year it is prohibited to lease or sell a car to a third party.
The minimum age for driving in Switzerland is 18 for cars and two-wheel vehicles of 50cc or more. Small motorcycles of under 50cc may be driven from the age of 14 at a maximum speed of 30 km/h. Motorcycles (under 50cc with a maximum speed of 45 km/h) may be driven from the age of 16.
International driving license
To obtain an international driving licence, it is necessary to provide a residence permit, a copy of the lease or a confirmation from the local authority of residency within the canton, a passport photo, and CHF 40. The international driving license is only valid for three years.
Each canton (a small administrative division of a country) has an automobile service that conducts technical inspections and issues vehicle registrations. When moving within a canton, it is necessary to send your driver’s license and vehicle registration papers to the automobile service for updating. When moving to another canton, it is necessary to request a new license from the automobile service of the new canton within 14 days of relocation. License plates must be registered at the automobile service.
Importing a car to Switzerland
Vehicles owned for less than six months will be charged an import tax. It is necessary to provide official documentation to confirm the value of the car and its country of origin. The import duties include customs duties, 7.5 percent VAT, CHF 15 for a report required for vehicle registration, and a consumption tax of four percent of the vehicle’s value.
Vehicles owned for over six months are not charged an import duty, but require a completed clearance request form for moving purposes. A month after importing the car, the motor registration office informs the owner that the official motor vehicle inspection will take place within a year. Once the test is completed, drivers pay the Swiss road tax, between CHF 100 and 800 depending on the engine size. Insurance and license plates must be purchased as well, and can be expensive depending on the vehicle model, parking place and other details. Comprehensive vehicle insurance can cost about CHF 1,200 for an average car.
To use the motorways in Switzerland, even for short distances, special licences must be purchased. The motorway tax sticker or vignette costs CHF 40 and is available at customs offices, post offices and garages. Failure to show a vignette is punishable with a fine of CHF 140.
A range of car rental companies is available, with major chains located in all main towns and cities. In order to rent a car, the driver must be over 20 years old and must have already had a driving licence for at least one year. However, policies differ and it is best to check individual regulations.
Since Swiss roads are often covered in snow during the winter months, it is advisable to change to winter tires and install snow chains. While special snow equipment is not compulsory, Swiss police can stop drivers if they think it is unsafe to drive without it.
Motorways: 120 km/h (75 mph)
Country roads: 80 km/h (50 mph)
Cities: 50 or 60 km/h (31 or 37 mph)
Residential areas: 30 km/h (18 mph)
A highway code manual can be purchased for around CHF 20 at customs offices and each canton’s automobile service. The books are available in English, French, German, Italian,and Spanish.
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