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Driving in Switzerland: How to convert your drivers licence for a Swiss one

Whether you’re driving in Switzerland on holiday or if you live here, here’s what you need to know.

Driving in Switzerland: How to convert your drivers licence for a Swiss one
Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Although Switzerland is not in the European Union, it does afford special treatment to drivers from EU member states. With the United Kingdom no longer being an EU member state, British drivers will lose that special treatment.

This doesn’t however mean you need to shift to hitchhiking or jostle for a seat on public transport – you’ll still be allowed to drive in Switzerland, provided you comply with the rules. 

READ: How will Brexit impact British cross-border workers in Switzerland?

READ: What Brits in Switzerland need to know about Brexit 

If you’re a cross-border worker who lives in a neighbouring country, different rules will apply. Our sister sites in Germany, France and Italy have discussed how this can be done in each respective country. 

Official information in English is available here. 

EU citizens in Switzerland 

Pursuant to the previous rules, Brits – and anyone from other EU countries – who lived in Switzerland were allowed to drive on Swiss roads for up to one year after moving there on their home country licence. 

Before 12 months had passed they would have needed to exchange their British licence for a Swiss one. According to the law, failing to swap it over within a year would mean you need to take the theoretical and practical tests. 

READ: Drunk on an electric scooter in Switzerland? You could lose your driving licence 

If you’re a Brit in Switzerland who has already changed your licence over, you don’t need to do anything more when it comes to driving – except of course remembering to renew it and pay the appropriate fees. 

The message on the government’s Living in Switzerland page says Brexit will not change the rules so Brits living in Switzerland will continue to have one year to exchange their licence if they are resident.

As yet, this is the most up-to-date advice provided by the UK government.

Negotiations are however continuing to determine what happens at the end of the implementation period (December 31, 2020) and how UK driving licences will be regulated after that date. 

How do I exchange my licence? 

Changing your licence over within a year of moving to Switzerland is relatively easy and does not require any additional tests. 

You’ll however need to bring the following: a completed application form, original driving licence (with a translation if applicable), residence permit (and residence certificate if you have one), two colour passport photos and a certificate from a qualified ophthalmologist. 

If you’re applying for a class 3 licence, you’ll also require a medical certificate. 

You’ll need to exchange the licence at your cantonal authority and the cost for doing so varies from canton to canton. 

Holiday travellers 

For holiday travellers in Switzerland, things will pretty much stay the same. You’re permitted to drive on your UK licence when on holiday in Switzerland. 

Unlike several other European countries, Switzerland does not require you to purchase an International Driving Permit if you hold a UK licence. 

Switzerland only requires International Driving Permits when the language of the licence isn’t one of the officially recognised Swiss languages (which are English, French, German and Italian).

So if you’re UK licence is in English – which around 100 percent of them are – you’ll be all good. 

You will however have to carry a Green Card as proof of third party insurance cover when driving in Switzerland, as with all other EU countries. 

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TRAVEL NEWS

The roads and dates to avoid driving in Switzerland this summer

With schools beginning their holiday break, traffic on Swiss roads will be particularly heavy in the coming days and weeks as many people will head south and west in droves.

The roads and dates to avoid driving in Switzerland this summer

With flight cancellations and other disruptions expected at Swiss and European airports this summer — not to mention soaring air fares — many people are opting to remain in Europe, driving, rather than flying, to their holiday destinations.

Given all these impediments to air travel, “we assume that vacations by car will be more popular than ever this summer”, according to Jürg Wittwer, director of Touring Club Suisse (TCS) motoring organisation.

However, even road travel will not be without glitches.

“It is necessary to anticipate heavy traffic and bottlenecks on the roads leading towards Italy, France, Spain and Portugal” — the most popular vacation spots for tourists from Switzerland.

How can you make your trip smoother — and quicker?

If possible, you shouldn’t plan to hit the road on the busiest days, such as the weekend, Wittwer said. “If you really want to travel faster, you should take your vacation from Wednesday to Wednesday, rather than from Saturday to Saturday”.

Each year, TCS publishes the Traffic Jam Calendar, which lists the times of the year when traffic can be particularly bad, ranking days on four different traffic levels.

The standard days, with ‘normal’ traffic  are in white, while slightly higher traffic days are in yellow. 

Days with a high traffic volume are listed in pink/orange, while very high traffic volumes are listed in red. 

Traffic calendar from Touring Club Suisse

READ MORE: What is Switzerland’s ‘traffic calendar’ and how can it help me save time?

You can also save time by avoiding the roads that are typically most congested during holidays, such as the south-bound Gotthard and Simplon tunnels.

These are usually the most congested roads in Switzerland:
 

  • The A3/A1 Basel-Zurich axis
  • The A3/A13 Zurich-Chur-San Bernardino-Bellinzona-Chiasso axis, particularly near Chur and the San Bernardino tunnel
  • Bern and surroundings (A1/A12/A6 interchange)
  • The A9 Lausanne-Montreux-Martigny-Brigue mainly near Lausanne and Montreux
  • The Martigny – Grand-St.-Bernard tunnel axis

You can avoid these bottlenecked routes by taking alternative roads, which may require a detour and are longer in terms on kilometres, but they are likely to get you to your destinations quicker.

For example, instead of queuing up, possibly for hours, at the Gotthard tunnel, you can opt for the Gotthard Pass instead, just as motorists had done before the base tunnel was inaugurated in 2016.

The winding, curvy mountain road, peaking at 2,106 metres, will not only have less traffic, but also provides spectacular views.

Likewise, you can take the Simplon pass instead of the tunnel, also a more scenic route.

Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

If there’s truth in saying that “getting there is half the fun”, then taking the longer but more picturesque route could prove to be more enjoyable.
 
In fact, if you choose secondary roads to avoid congested highways, Swiss geography is such that you almost always have to drive through mountain passes. While they do require some driving skills, they are virtually always paved, so unless you stray off the proverbial beaten path, it will be a smooth ride. (In fact, all of Switzerland’s public roads are paved).

This link provides more information about Swiss mountain passes.

To sum up, if you travel mid-week rather than on weekends and opt for secondary routes, you just might get lucky and not end up in a (traffic) jam.

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