Exchanging a foreign driver’s licence in Switzerland
You can drive in Switzerland using a foreign driver's licence for one year, after which certain nationalities will need to get a Swiss driver's licence.
Whether your moving to Switzerland or just visiting, the good news is that Switzerland recognises foreign driver’s licences and allows most people to drive for up to one year using their existing licence. However, if you plan on living in Switzerland for more than one year, most nationalities will need to exchange their foreign driver's licence for a Swiss driver's licence.
Who can drive in Switzerland?
For the first year, anyone can drive a car in Switzerland using their foreign drivering licence if they are 18 years old. Younger drivers who may hold a driver's licence in another country will not be able to drive.
If your driver’s licence is in a language not recognised by the Swiss authorities (English, French, German or Italian) you will need to carry either an International Driver’s licence or an International Driving Permit (IDP), which includes a translation of your driving licence. In addition, certain criteria must be met:
- the licence must have been issued by a competent authority abroad;
- it must be valid and have been acquired lawfully;
- the owner must be old enough to hold a Swiss licence in the same category (eg. 18 for cars)
If you will be living in Switzerland for more than a year, everyone will need to convert their foreign driving licences to a Swiss licence before the end of the first 12 months. Some nationalities will be able to convert their licence without taking any test at all, others will need to take the practical driving test, and some will need to take both a theory test and a practical driving test, depending on your nationality and country's agreements with Switzerland.
Bear in mind that applications can take some time to process so don’t leave it to the last moment. If you don’t get a Swiss driver's licence within a year your foreign driver's licence will become invalid and you will be unable to drive in Switzerland.
The only exceptions to this rule are diplomats and those working with certain international organisations and CERN: they don’t need to exchange their foreign licences.
EU/EEA citizens driving in Switzerland
Switzerland allows those from the European Economic Area (EU plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein) to exchange their foreign driver’s licence for a Swiss equivalent without having to take a test, as long as it is exchanged within 12 months of taking up residence in Switzerland. As applications can take some time to process, don’t leave it to the last moment; see below on the exchange procces.
If you don’t exchange your foreign driver’s licence within a year, you will be unable to drive in Switzerland and may be required to take the theory and practical tests. If you miss the deadline, check which rules will apply.
Non-European citizens driving in Switzerland
If you’re from one of the following countries you can exchange your foreign driver’s licence by taking only the practical driving test (not the theory test):
However if you fail the test, the full theory and practical driving examinations must then be taken.
Everyone else must pass both the theory test and the practical driving examination. There is a deadline to doing this and individuals must take the Swiss test within three months.
If your driver’s licence is recent
Notwithstanding the exemptions to parts of the examination criteria, if you have held your driver’s licence for less than three years you will be termed a new driver, meaning that you will have to take a minimum of 16 hours of tuition, together with the theory and practical tests.
Exchanging your licence in Switzerland
Each canton has its own traffic office for dealing with driving licences, vehicle tax and inspections and other driving matters. When exchanging your driver's licence the following paperwork need to be submitted:
- application form
- original foreign driver’s licence (with translation, if applicable)
- certificate from a registered optician
- two colour passport-sized photos
- proof of residency and/or visa
There is a mandatory eye test to take and this must be done before you apply – the results of the test are confirmed on the application form by the optometrist. You can then submit your application via your local road traffic office.
The fee for exchanging your licence varies depending on the canton.
The driving test in Switzerland
There are two parts to the test – theory test and driving test – but not everyone will need to take the theory part (see above).
You apply for both the theory and practical parts of the driving test at your local road traffic office (Strassenverkehrsamt/Office Cantonal des Automobiles et de la Navigation or OCAN). You can find a list of these here.
Before you can take the theory exam you’ll need to take a 10-hour first aid course recognised by the Federal Roads Office (FEDRO).
Once you’ve done this, you can take the theory exam. You can buy study guides and practice questions in shops and online, for example here at Fahrscultheorie. In some cantons it may be possible to take the theory exam in English but they are usually in one of the national languages; you can have a certified translator present.
If you pass the theory test you will be issued with a provisional licence/learner’s permit and can start the eight-hour compulsory road awareness course. Only when you have completed this, can you apply for the practical driving test. There are fees for all of these courses and tests.
Once you have passed the test you’ll get a Swiss driving licence by post and may have to either hand in your old licence (and it may return to the authority in your home country) or mark it ‘not valid in Switzerland’. The Swiss driving licence does not expire. Click here for a translation of the Swiss driving licence.
Road rules, speed limits and drink driving in Switzerland
- Drive on the right hand side of the road.
- Carry your driving licence and motor insurance certificate with you when driving in Switzerland.
- Keep a warning triangle in the car.
- The speed limit is 50km/h in urban areas, 80km/h on open roads and 120km/h on motorways – if caught speeding there can be on-the-spot fines.
- Drink-driving limit is 50mg per 100 ml of blood (less than the UK limit of 80mg/100 ml).
- It’s illegal to use radar detection equipment and you must deactivate this function on a satnav.
- You should use dipped headlights or daytime running lights during the day at all times – or risk a fine.
- Hitchhiking is not allowed on motorways or major roads
Read more about driving regulations, importing a car, car registration, road taxes and parking in our guide to driving in Switzerland.
Road and traffic information in Switzerland
Federal Roads Office (FEDRO): up-to-date information on roads and traffic in Switzerland
- ASA (Association des services des automobiles) is the Swiss driving authority.
- Cantonal driving authorities
Need advice? Post your question on Expatica's free Ask the Expert service to see if we can help.
Updated 2012; July 2015.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.