Driving in Switzerland with a foreign license


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To drive in Switzerland with a foreign license, you may need to obtain validation of the license in Switzerland. In this article, we take a look at the documents you need to be able to drive on Swiss roads. Our guide will help you to be able to drive within the rules, presenting the correct driving license in the event of a police check.

What driving license to drive foreign in Switzerland?

It's article 42 of the ordinance regulating the admission of persons and vehicles to road traffic, which stipulates which licenses are valid on Swiss roads.

The national driving license

In Switzerland, it's possible to drive with a valid national license. This means, for example, that a French national can drive on Swiss roads with his or her French driving license.
Beware, depending on the country in which you obtained your driving license, a translation may be required. In fact, the license must be translated into one of the following languages, to enable it to be checked by the Swiss authorities:
  • French,
  • German,
  • English,
  • Italian.
It must also be an official translation, validated by a notary or translator.

The International Driving Permit

Foreign nationals can also present what is known as the International Driving Permit or IDP. This is a permit valid in many countries, enabling you to travel simply with a single document. If you have to travel through several countries, don't hesitate to get one.

Zoom on the international permit

If you need an international permit to drive in Switzerland and elsewhere with a foreign license, here's some information that might interest you.

In which countries do you need an international permit?

The countries for which you need a pic are, for example, the USA, South Africa, New Zealand and the province of Quebec in Canada.
As you'll have gathered, you'll be able to travel to several destinations, if you're the holder of this document. In Switzerland, for example, the international permit is recommended for French nationals, but it is not compulsory. A simple national license may suffice.

How to apply for an IDP?

The administrative procedures for obtaining an international driving license vary from country to country point for example in France, you need to apply online on the ANTS website. Various supporting documents are required, such as an identity card, driving license or proof of address.

How long does it take to obtain an international driving license?

Once again, the time it takes to obtain an IDP depends on the country in which it is requested. In France, for example, it is estimated to take 6 months to obtain. The procedure must therefore be anticipated well in advance of the trip requiring the document.
Be aware that in an emergency, you can justify your need to obtain your permit more quickly to the administration.

How long is an international driving license valid for?

An international driving license is valid for 3 years. However, if you lose the license obtained in your country, the international driving license is no longer valid.
If your basic license has a shorter validity date than this 3-year period, the international license expires at the same time.

What document should you present in the event of an inspection when you have a foreign license?

When you have a foreign license, it's important to always carry it with you when driving on Swiss roads. It may indeed be requested by the authorities. As mentioned above, if it's not in a language potentially understood by the Swiss authorities, it must be accompanied by a translation.
Also be aware that if you present an international driving license, it must be accompanied by your country's license. On its own, this document has no value.

How long can you drive with a foreign license?

In Switzerland, if you only have your foreign license, you can drive on Swiss roads for a period of 12 months. After this period, you'll need to take the Swiss license, to be allowed to continue driving.
This 12-month period can be interrupted by a stay of 3 consecutive months in another country. The validity period of the foreign license then starts from zero. This means that if you don't live year-round in Switzerland, you have the option of continuing to drive with your foreign license.

Who must pass the Swiss driver's license?

As you'll have gathered, people who reside in Switzerland for more than 12 consecutive months must imperatively pass the Swiss driver's license.
Transport professionals, driving Swiss-registered vehicles must also obtain the latter. Here, they cannot benefit from the 12-month period, and must hold it, before starting to exercise their functions.
It is the license categories C, C1, D where D1 that require the driving license. You can also obtain a simple authorization as stipulated in article 25 of the OAC.

How to obtain a Swiss driving license as a foreigner?

To convert a foreign license into a Swiss license, several procedures are possible. Depending on the nationality or profession of the person claiming the Swiss license, he or she may be required to take atheoretical test or even a driving test.
The Swiss authorities assess the need to take one or other of these tests, depending on the similarities between the driving rules of the foreign national's country, and that of Switzerland. For example, most European countries have similar highway codes. A simple theory test may therefore suffice.

Is it possible to drive in Switzerland with a foreign car and license?

It is perfectly possible to drive in Switzerland, with a car and license that are not Swiss. There are no special formalities to complete, as long as the journeys remain occasional, and you don't plan to reside in Switzerland on a long-term basis.
Furthermore, it's important to point out that when it comes to auto insurance, a civil liability policy is compulsory in Switzerland. It covers third parties in the event of responsible damage caused by the foreign driver.

Swiss highway code: what you need to know

In Switzerland, drivers need to be aware of a few rules. For example, it's compulsory to always have your insurance certificate and driving license with you.
In the absence of other signs, right of way takes precedence.
It's also worth pointing out that the tolerated limit for alcohol is 0.05 g/l of blood. This is much lower than in neighboring countries.
Finally, seatbelts are compulsory. Children under 1m50 must also be positioned in an approved car seat.
Antoine Léger
Updated on: 30.01.2024Written by Antoine LégerHead of non-life insurance department at Comparea.
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