You can drive in Switzerland using a foreign driver’s license for one year. After this time expires, certain nationalities will need to get a Swiss driver’s license.
Whether your moving to Switzerland or just visiting, the good news is that Switzerland recognizes foreign driver’s licenses and allows most people to drive for up to one year using their existing license. However, if you plan on living in Switzerland for more than one year, most nationalities will need to exchange their foreign driver’s license for a Swiss driver’s license.
In terms of driving in Switzerland, it is reportedly the safest country in Europe for road mortality, according to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC). In 2017 Switzerland was presented with the top ETSC Road Safety Performance Index award after reducing road deaths by 15 percent in 2016. This is on top of Switzerland’s reduction of road mortality by 34 percent since 2010 and by 60 percent since 2001. Switzerland now has the lowest road mortality in Europe (tied with Norway), representing a climb of five ranks in ETSC’s reports over the past five years and around 26 road deaths per million inhabitants. Switzerland’s achievements have partly been due to measures such as a zero-tolerance of drink driving for new and commercial drivers and improved infrastructure safety, with more measures expected to target the risks for young and new drivers.
Who can drive in Switzerland?
For the first year, anyone can drive a car in Switzerland using their foreign driving license if they are 18 years old. Younger drivers who may hold a driver’s license in another country will not be able to drive.
If your driver’s license is in a language not recognized by the Swiss authorities (English, French, German or Italian) you will need to carry either an International Driver’s license or an International Driving Permit (IDP), which includes a translation of your driving license. In addition, certain criteria must be met:
- the license 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 license 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 licenses to a Swiss license before the end of the first 12 months. Some nationalities will be able to convert their license 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 license within a year your foreign driver’s license 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 organizations and CERN: they don’t need to exchange their foreign licenses.
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 license 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 process.
If you don’t exchange your foreign driver’s license 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 license by taking only the practical driving test (not the theory test):
- Korea (North)
- Korea (South)
- New Zealand
- United States
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 license is recent
Notwithstanding the exemptions to parts of the examination criteria, if you have held your driver’s license 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 license in Switzerland
Each canton has its own traffic office for dealing with driving licenses, vehicle tax and inspections and other driving matters. When exchanging your driver’s license the following paperwork need to be submitted:
- application form
- original foreign driver’s license (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 license 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 license/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 license by post and may have to either hand in your old license (and it may return to the authority in your home country) or mark it ‘not valid in Switzerland’. The Swiss driving license does not expire.
Road rules, speed limits and drink driving in Switzerland
- Drive on the right-hand side of the road.
- Carry your driving license 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