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DRIVING

Reader question: Can I take the Swiss driving test in English?

There are quite a few things to learn and remember when taking an exam for a driver’s licence, and it's even more daunting in a foreign language. These are the rules in Switzerland.

Reader question: Can I take the Swiss driving test in English?
Eyes on the road: not all cantons offer English-language driving exams. Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash.

Whether you’re learning to drive in Switzerland or already have a licence from your home country but have to exchange it for a Swiss one (as you must do after 12 months of residency), you will have to take a test — certainly in the former case and likely in the latter one.

The rule is that if your licence was issued by a EU or EFTA country (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), you’ll be able to get a Swiss licence without having to take a driving test.

READ MORE: How to change over to a Swiss driver’s licence

This also generally applies to countries with which Switzerland has concluded an agreement to mutually recognise each others’ licences: Andorra, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Morocco,  Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore, Taiwan, Tunisia, and the United States.

Nationals of all other countries — that is, whose foreign driver’s licences can’t be automatically exchanged for a Swiss one — will have to take a test.

What you should know:

The Swiss driving test includes a written exam and a practical road test. There is no such thing as a national test, with each canton administering tests and issuing licences (which, of course, are then valid across the country).

Applications for the theory and the practical exams are made at your local Road Traffic Office (Strassenverkehrsamt in German, Office Cantonal des Automobiles et de la Navigation in French, and Servizio della circolazione e della navigazione in Italian). 

Addresses and contact information for each cantonal office can be found here.

Can you take the test in English?

In most cantons, theory exams are given in one of the national languages (German, French and Italian). Only a few — Bern, Glarus, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Neuchâtel, Schwyz, Vaud and Zurich — offer the theory test in English.

If you don’t live in one of these nine cantons and you are not fluent enough in German/French/Italian to take the test, a translator may be present, but only one who is certified by your local Road Traffic Office. Contact the department to ask where and how to find a suitable interpreter.

As for the practical driving test, you can request an English-speaking examiner, but there is no guarantee that you’ll get one.

EXPLAINED: How visitors to Switzerland can avoid driving penalties

At the very least, you should learn basic driving terms — such as right and left turns, lane change, parking instructions, etc. — in the local language.

These will be taught to you if you take your driving lessons in German, French, or Italian (rather than English), which may prove more difficult to begin with, but will prove useful when the time comes to pass your exams.

Member comments

  1. Are we to assume that, following Brexit, Brits are now required to pass the test in order to exchange their UK licence?

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For members

DRIVING

What costs do drivers face in Switzerland and where might you pay more?

From parking fees to motor vehicle taxes, owning a car in Switzerland can be quite expensive. These are some of the charges you should budget for.

What costs do drivers face in Switzerland and where might you pay more?

To be far, all countries have more or less stringent rules pertaining to car ownership; Switzerland is not exceptional in this sense.

Still, if you live here, it is helpful to know what various car-related costs are, and where are they the highest / lowest.

Here’s an overview.

Parking

Switzerland’s Watson news outlet analysed recent data from the Price Surveillance Office pertaining to hourly rates at municipal parking metres in various Swiss cities.

It turns out that Zurich, Lucerne, and Lausanne have the most expensive tariff — up to 3 francs — for under one hour of parking.

Bern and Biel follow at 2.2 francs, but here is a surprise: in Geneva, which, along with Zurich, is the most expensive city in Switzerland and among the priciest in the world, a parking fee for less than an hour amounts to only 1.4 francs.

Now, if you park for more than two hours, Zurich is the most expensive city, at 7.5 francs, followed by Basel and Lucerne — 6 francs in each. Oddly enough, in Lausanne, the fee for the two-hour parking is almost the same as  its rate for less than one hour: 3 francs.

These Swiss cities make the most from parking fees. 

1.     Zurich: 21,4 million

2.     Lausanne: 13,7 million

3.     Geneva: 9 million

4.     Biel: 7,2 million

5.     Fribourg: 4,2 million

6.     Bern: 3,8 million

7.     St.Gallen : 3,2 million

8.     Yverdon: 3 million

9.     Basel: 2,5 million

10.  Schaffhausen: 2,3 million

On the bright side, while paying for a parking spot is never fun, keep in mind that all the money that municipalities “earn” in this way is used for public benefit in one way or another.

Registration

To drive on Swiss roads you must have your car registered. 

In addition to the permission to drive – an important component to owning a car – your registration will get you a set of licence plates, a registration certificate and you may need to have your car inspected to see if it is roadworthy. 

As with pretty much everything on this list, the cost of registering your car will depend on the canton, but it will be between CHF50 and CHF100 in most cases. If you do need to have your car inspected, that will cost roughly an additional CHF50. 

What about the motor vehicles tax?

Anyone who owns a vehicle in Switzerland must pay this tax, used to finance the maintenance of the road infrastructure.

The amount you must pay depends on where you live and what kind of car you drive, but basically it takes into account the capacity of the vehicle, its horsepower and weight, carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), or the combination thereof.

According to consumer website Comparis, cantons of Aargau, Fribourg, Glarus, Graubünden, Lucerne, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schaffhausen, Solothurn, Thurgau, Valais, and Zug base their tax on the car’s cubic capacity and horsepower.

Appenzell Innerroden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Bern, Basel-Country Jura, St. Gallen, and Uri determine the tax based on the vehicle’s weight, while Schwyz, Ticino and Vaud use both horsepower and gross vehicle weight.

In Zurich, cubic capacity and vehicle weight determine the tax, in Geneva it is based on horsepower, in Basel-City on unladen (rather than gross) weight and CO2 emissions, and in Neuchâtel only on CO2 emissions.

Your tax will be lower if you drive a car considered to be environmentally-friendly, for instance a hybrid or electrical vehicle. However, Aargau, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Schwyz and Valais don’t grant any environmental discounts at all.

A typical vehicle tax rate in Swiss cities car varies from 500 to 1,000 francs a year, though it could be more or less, depending on the car model. Motorcycles tend to vary between 200 to 500 francs. 

While vehicle taxes are compulsory, some charges are self-inflicted. For instance…

Speeding fines

A speeding ticket depends on where you are caught (a town or motorway) and by how much you exceed the speed limit.

While fines are more or less standard throughout the country, as this article explains, what changes are the administrative fees attached to each fine.

 A Comparis.ch study carried out in 2021 found that motorists in Neuchâtel are usually slapped with lowest costs (50 francs in administrative fees), followed by Lausanne (60 francs), and Fribourg (73 francs).

The further east you go, however, the higher speeding-related prices are, Comparis reports.

In Bern, exceeding the speed limit will set you back  200 francs, you will have to pay 300 francs in Glarus, 350 in Appenzell. 370 in Lucerne, 430 in Zurich, 450 in Schaffhausen, and the mind-boggling 500 francs in Aargau.

READ MORE : EXPLAINED: What you should know about speeding fines in Switzerland

Toll roads

Unlike most of Europe, Switzerland doesn’t have an abundance of toll roads; the system of stopping at a booth and paying for driving on a certain section of a road is replaced  by the 40-franc motorway sticker, which should be renewed each year.

More information about this vignette is here:

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

However, toll must be paid in two tunnels: the Grand St. Bernard and Munt la schera Tunnel. Both connect their respective cantons (Valais and Graubünden) with Italy.

In the Grand St. Bernard, the toll depends on the type of vehicle you drive (based on the number of axles), ranging from 29.50 francs or 27.80 euros for the smallest vehicle to 177 francs /167 euros for a truck. Note, however, that the franc-euro conversion was calculated in 2020; these days the two currencies are closer to parity.

You can find the tolls for all car types here.

At Munt la schera, the price of a one-way ticket for a standard passenger car from December to April is 29 francs if purchased online and 35 if paid for in the tunnel. Between May and November, the price is 15 francs online and 17 at the tunnel.

Tolls for other types of vehicles can be found here.

Fuel prices

The cost of gasoline has gone up since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, topping 2 francs per litre nearly everywhere in Switzerland. Adding up to the already high costs is the fact that since January 1st, petrol in Switzerland has been taxed an additional 3.7 cents per litre to finance environmentally friendly fuels.

Before the war in Ukraine, the cheapest fuel could be found at Rasthof Platenenhof station in Gampelen, canton Bern.

Another cheap fuelling option was a few kilometres away, at the Pit-Stop de Boudevilliers in Val-de-Ruz in canton Neuchâtel.

In fact, this whole region benefited from cheaper gasoline due to its proximity to the Cressier-Cornaux refinery and large volume of purchases.

Another low-cost location is in Samnaun, canton Graubünden in the region of Engiadina Bassa / Val Müstair.

The price there is 30 percent cheaper than in the notoriously expensive Lake Geneva region.

And while we can’t really talk about “cheap” fuel these days, you could possibly save a few cents per litre if you shop smartly.

For instance, auto club memberships often offer discounts on petrol. ACS  and TCS members can save between two and five cents per litre. 

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland can you find the cheapest fuel?

Larger petrol retailers will also often have discount deals, while stations owed by Swiss supermarkets like Coop and Migros also offer occasional deals.

Prices are usually the highest on (or close to) motorways, in or near large cities, and at branded chain stations. You can find better deals at smaller, independent stations away from main roads.

However, you should avoid going too far out of your way to save on fuel.  

“A one-cent difference on the price of the litre justifies a detour of  two to three kilometers, at most. Otherwise, the excess consumption drowns the economy on a 50-litre tank”, said TCS’s Erich Schwizer.

One useful website listing cheaper petrol options throughout Switzerland is this.

Insurance

While your car insurance will largely depend on the type of vehicle and your driving record, geographical aspects count too.

The amount of premiums for car insurance can therefore vary from one canton to another.

The most expensive insurance (as pretty much everything else) is located near borders or large cities, such as Geneva, Zurich, and Basel, for instance.

The reason is that the number of accidents and claims higher in these cantons, impacting premiums.

The cheapest insurance policies, on the other hand, can be found in Obwalden, Nidwalden, Fribourg, Bern, and Appenzell Innerrhoden.

READ MORE: Ten ways to save on car insurance in Switzerland

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