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DRIVING

Must I have a ‘CH sticker’ on my car when I leave Switzerland?

Some vehicles in Switzerland display the 'CH' sticker, while others don’t. But what exactly are the rules when you cross the border(s) in your car? This is what you should know.

Only cars with the CH sticker can travel abroad. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Only cars with the CH sticker can travel abroad. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

You may be surprised to learn (or perhaps not, as this is Switzerland, where there is law for practically everything), that the CH sticker is a requirement, not an option.

Article 45 of the OETV (Ordinance concerning the technical requirements for road vehicles) clearly states that all motor vehicles must display the oval, black-and-white sticker when leaving their home territory.

According to this legislation, all vehicles, including motorcycles, trucks, and trailers traveling abroad  “must bear a distinctive sign of nationality, i.e. the CH sticker, clearly visible on the rear of the vehicle”.

In other words, just as you must have a proof of your nationality when you leave the country, so must your car. Just be thankful that your passport or ID card are carried in your hand and not affixed to your rear.

To be clear, this legislation applies only to cars that travel abroad; if you never leave Switzerland at all, the sticker is not a requirement.

Actually, to be fair, the Swiss can’t be blamed entirely for this rule.

This obligation stems from the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, passed in 1968, which Switzerland has also ratified.

“This international treaty provides for the possibility of integrating the distinctive sign of nationality into the registration plate”, according to Touring Club Suisse (TCS) motoring organisation.

It appears, for reasons we are not privy to, that the red cross that is embossed onto all plates “does not meet the requirements of the Convention, so it is not recognised as a distinctive sign”, TCS added.

Therefore, “the CH sticker remains compulsory”.

READ MORE: Why does Switzerland use ‘CH’ and what does it mean?

What format should the sticker have?

This is what the law says:

  • Height x width of the oval: 11.5 x 17.5 cm
  • Height x width of the letters: 8 x 4 cm
  • Line thickness: 1 cm

This means the smaller versions of the sticker that you sometimes see on cars are not compliant.

Your car’s ‘passport’. Image: Wikicommons. 

What about the placement?

This too is regulated by law:

It must be affixed at the rear of the vehicle, horizontally to its main axis, between 20 cm and 1.50 m from the ground, depending on the type of vehicle.

It must also be clearly legible and unobstructed.

An important point to keep in mind is that while you yourself may have two passports, your car cannot be a dual national and have other stickers. If it resides permanently in Switzerland, it should bear the CH sign only.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties

Where can you purchase these stickers?

They can be bought for about 5 francs in a variety of places, such as petrol service stations, motoring sections of hardware stores like Hornbach and Jumbo, or do-it-yourself sections of Coop and Migros.

What are the fines for driving without a sticker abroad?

There is no official data about this, but according to TCS, “we know of people who have been fined during their stay abroad for the absence of a distinctive sign on the back of their vehicle. Complying with the law therefore makes it possible to avoid unpleasant surprises abroad”.

Is the CH sticker the only one required to be affixed to a Swiss car?

For foreign travel, yes.

But if you drive on Switzerland’s motorways, you must have a ‘ vignette’ on your windshield. It costs 40 francs.

The vignette must be replaced each year from January 1st, whereas the CH sticker is valid for life — the car’s, not yours.

READ MORE: Swiss vignette: What you need to know about Switzerland’s motorway charge sticker

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the cost of living soaring due to inflation, many consumers in Switzerland are looking for ways to save money. Could buying goods abroad through foreign websites be a good solution?

Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the Swiss franc still stronger than the euro, ordering your products online from European distributors could indeed be cheaper than paying Swiss prices.

A recent report by the RTS public broadcaster, found that even some Swiss products are cheaper when purchased abroad — for instance, capsules for Nespresso coffee machines cost less on the company’s German site than they do in Switzerland.

This applies to a variety of products, ranging from food and beverages to clothing.

In fact, shopping on foreign platforms became a lot easier for the Swiss in January 2022, when ‘geoblocking’ — the practice that restricts access to Internet content based on the user’s geographical location — was banned in Switzerland.

This means Swiss customers are no longer denied the possibility of buying on foreign shopping platforms.

However, there are things to consider before you go on a shopping spree “abroad”, such as additional charges.

While something may appear to be a really great deal in comparison to Swiss prices, keep in mind that the purchase may be subject to customs duties.

According to the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (BAZG) “the customs duties are generally calculated according to the gross weight (including packaging), and are often less than 1 franc per kilo. Particularly alcoholic beverages, tobacco goods, foodstuffs, textiles and jewellery items are subject to higher customs duties”.

In other words, before you order something that you think is a really good deal, find out if any additional charges will be due; depending on the amount, the final cost may not make it worthwhile for you to purchase abroad.

The good news is that, as BAZG points out, goods ordered from “countries with which Switzerland has concluded a free trade agreement or from developing countries can usually be imported duty-free or at reduced rates”.

You can find out more information about which countries are included, here.

But you could face other problems as well.

As the RTS reported, while ordering items abroad is easy, having them delivered to Switzerland may not be.

As a test, the RTS team tried to order common products, such an Ikea piece of furniture, a vacuum cleaner, and brand-name sneakers — all of which are more affordable abroad — but discovered that “it was impossible to get these objects delivered to Switzerland”.

That’s because on some shopping platforms a customer can’t change the destination country — it is embedded on the site and blocked.

At some of these  merchants, “the customer is even directly redirected to the Swiss site if an address in Switzerland is indicated”, RTS said. This means you will end up paying Swiss prices.

Sophie Michaud Gigon, general secretary of the consumer protection association FRC, told RTS that some foreign sites have not yet adapted to the law prohibitng geoblocking.

And there is something else too that you should pay attention to online.

Say you prefer to avoid foreign sites and shop in Switzerland instead. This could be a problem as well.

Under the Swiss law, it is possible to obtain a domain name ending in .ch, even though these companies are  located abroad. This has proven to be misleading to many Switzerland-based customers.

That’s why many clients who believe they are ordering from a supplier in Switzerland are actually buying from a foreign company — a fact that they only discover when they have to pay customs duty.

The only way to avoid this trap, according to FRC, is to call the number on the company’s website and ask where they are located.

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