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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?
Parking, and other car-related costs, can be expensive. Image by Florian Pircher from Pixabay

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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COST OF LIVING

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels. 

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