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Driving Licenses

Switzerland - Driving Licenses

If you are visiting Switzerland, you will be able to drive using your home driving licence but should obtain an International Driving License if your national driving licence is not in one of the following languages recognised by the Swiss authorities: English, German, French or Italian. Fees apply and, if already in Switzerland, you can apply via your cantonal vehicle authority. The minimum age to drive in Switzerland is 18, or 16 for motorcycles.

If you move to Switzerland with an intention to stay, i.e. on a B or C residence permit, you will be obliged to obtain a Swiss driving licence (G: Führerausweis, F: Permis de conduire) and may only continue to use your home licence for up to a year. At the end of this year you must have fully completed the licence conversion process to a Swiss driving licence in order to legally continue to drive. The only persons exempt from exchanging their licence for a Swiss one are certain members of international organisations, CERN, and permanent missions. If you think this applies to your situation, please check specific criteria with your human resources department.

To obtain a Swiss licence, you should apply via your local road traffic authority (Strassenverkehrsamt). You may find they have the application form available on their website, as is the case with the Zurich cantonal traffic office. The application procedure involves first obtaining a sight test. You will need to submit the results, plus a recent passport photo, with your application form. This should be taken in person to the office, along with your residence permit. If this is a credit card style permit, you additionally need to obtain a certificate of residence that states the date of your entry into Switzerland.

If you are from a country outside of the EU/EFTA, you will be expected to pass a driving theory test before you will be granted a license. This can be taken in English. A practical driving test will also have to be taken by nationals of countries beyond the EU/EFTA, with some exemptions, and may be conducted in the local language. Those exempt from the practical driving exam include citizens of the USA and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan.

If you are coming to Switzerland from a country which does not have a practical test exemption, you must take the test within 3 months. Please note that the test cannot be repeated and missing the test for any reason will be marked as a 'fail' result. Provided you pass the test, the driving license will be sent to you by post. If you fail the test you will not be able to drive and will be expected to begin the application from the same point as a learner driver, i.e. you will have to sit a theory test, take driving lessons, and only then will be able to take a practical test. You can find English-speaking driving instructors in Switzerland who will be able to help you to prepare for the Swiss driving test.

The authorities recommend that you begin the licence application process with plenty of time to spare. Bear in mind also that your documents may need to be translated. The current Swiss licence does not expire so you will be eligible to use it for as long as you wish, provided there are no subsequent changes to this law. You will either have to hand in your previous licence at the time that the Swiss one is issued or will mark it with the words 'Not valid in Switzerland'. If it is an EU licence it will be taken by the authorities and returned to the issuing body in your home country, who may be able to return it to you if you leave Switzerland.

If you have held a licence for fewer than 3 years you will be classed as a new driver, which means you will have to take at least 16 hours of tuition and take both a theory and a practical test if you wish to drive in Switzerland. This may be an issue if your home country or state includes on the licence only the renewal date and not the date of first issue. You may therefore need to obtain a copy of your original vehicle licence application in order to satisfy the Swiss authorities.

You are not able to drive professionally in Switzerland without first obtaining a Swiss licence. Obtaining a licence for certain classes of large vehicles will involve a medical examination.

Traffic offences will be recorded on the criminal register and serious or repeat offences can lead to loss of licence for a number of months or years.

Useful Resources

Strassenverkehrsamt des Kantons Zürich
Motor vehicle authority for Zurich canton
Uetlibergstrasse 301, Postfach 8479, CH 8036 Zürich
Email: info@stva.zh.ch

Office cantonal des automobiles et de la navigation
Motor vehicle authority for Geneva canton
Case postale 1556, CH 1227 Carouge
Tel: +41 (0)22 388 30 30
Email: secretariat.san@etat.ge.ch

Der Schweizer Fahrlehrervergleich
Online directory of Swiss driving instructors

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