Living without a car in Switzerland... the European Way

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Jessica of Swisstory has lived for a year and a half without a car, thanks to Switzerland’s excellent train system and her own two legs.

I just realised the other day that we have been living in Switzerland without a car for over a year and a half. Try to pry the American man's best friend, his car, away from him for even 24 hours and you will no doubt hear the cries of pain. But here in Europe, where everything is built to support mass transportation, the time ohne Auto seems to have passed by somewhat painlessly. Here is how we make do:

  • Annual train pass: Both Jace and I have an annual train pass that allows us to travel an unlimited amount within a 12-month period for the zones on our card. There are multiple options here - I have a two-zone pass and when I paid for 12 months, I got 3 months free. Jace has a pass that allows him to travel anywhere within the Zurich Kantonal zones and his card is subsidised by his work so he pays next to nothing to travel around. If you are lucky and have the cash, I recommend a GA (General Abonnement) card which allows you to travel limitlessly in Switzerland for 12 months. This is the best deal and really should get you motivated to get out and about.


  • Mobility: Although I have only used this system once, as I prefer the trains, this option allows you to use Switzerland’s car sharing program. You simply get a membership, they send you a card after checking out your creds, and you can reserve one of the thousands of cars available for when you need it. On the day of travel, just tap the card on the window, the car opens and the keys are inside... zoom, zoom, zoom. Easy.


  • Travel by train in Europe & Switzerland: When we want to get out and about outside of Zürich, there are many ways in which we do so:

1) We buy supersaver tickets. These are only available through 15 September, so don't delay if you want to save a bundle on train tickets within Switzerland.
2) We buy day passes if we are travelling within Switzerland and will return on the same day. These are a great deal once the supersaver tickets are gone.
3) We buy in advance. If you buy in advance for trips around Germany for example, you can save a lot of money! You also save if you are travelling in a group of five and if one of the people's names is Juergen. Just kidding, but there are really good deals out there - just keep your eyes and ears open. And I guarantee, the prices for your tickets will probably still be less than what you would pay for car insurance! Oh and don't forget the Swiss Pass for tourists! And the Snow & Rail Pass come ski season! And above all the half-fare pass!
Train station

  • We walk: I walk to the grocery store and carry my bags back -- and about 20 pounds of Diet Coke; thank you Jace for helping me to have toned arms. And I walk all around Zürich to do my shopping, if a tram doesn't come on time, that is! We don't have a gym membership here and we probably don't need one as we do much more walking and get a lot more exercise (can you say garden?) here than in the States, all because we decided to forgo the car (and save a BUNDLE of money) and use the excellent public system. And if we weren't such tight-wads, we would get bikes, too... and oh boy, would that be fun!

I get asked all the time if you can live in Switzerland without a car, and we are living proof... living, healthier, happier (my budget is happier) proof. So go ahead and give it a go. The worst that can happen is you need a ride to IKEA once in awhile, but that is a crutch I myself can allow.  Good luck!

How many others live without a car!?

Text and photos: Jessica Cartwright / Expatica 


Photo credit: TVPTravel (walking).

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Sarah posted:

    on 9th September 2009, 17:47:38 - Reply

    I lived in Switzerland for seven years without a car. The first couple of years were no problem: I had a Regenbogen for Zurich and a Halbtax for Switzerland. Once the kids started coming, though, life got much harder without a car - Mobility was no use to me, since most of their cars are manual shift and I can only drive automatic shift - and when our third child was born, I told my husband we need our own wheels.