Swiss license plate: how it works


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For border countries, the Swiss license plate is a real mystery. The interchangeable plate system, which allows one plate for two vehicles, for example, can seem complex. Our team takes a look at how license plates work. You'll also find out how to apply for yours, and how to be insured, with this unusual plate system.

Having one Swiss license plate for two cars in Switzerland

First of all, here's our deciphering of the Swiss system, under which you can have a single license plate for de cars.

How do interchangeable plates work in Switzerland?

Unlike other European countries, Switzerland allows you to have a single set of license plates for two equivalent vehicles. It will thus be possible to have one set of plates for two cars, two motorcycles or even two tractors. The list of vehicles eligible for interchangeable plates may vary from one canton to another. Don't hesitate to find out about the legislation in force in the canton where you wish to register your vehicles.
The number plate can be removed, to be positioned on the other car, thanks to a clip system. Please note that there is only one set of plates. It will therefore not be possible to drive simultaneously with both cars registered with interchangeable plates.

Is the unregistered car covered in the event of damage?

The unregistered vehicle is generally covered by the insurance contract, when it is not running. For example, comprehensive insurance may provide compensation if the vehicle suffers damage.
However, be sure to read the terms and conditions of your contract carefully. You may only be insured when the vehicle is parked in a private garage.
It's not legal to drive a vehicle without a plate in Switzerland. If you have a road accident, with a car that doesn't have its number plates, you risk not being compensated by your insurer. You may even be liable to prosecution.

Why have one plate for two cars?

Having a single Swiss license plate for two cars is an excellent option, to save money.

Saving on car insurance

Most of the time, one single car insurance will serve to cover both vehicles. This allows the driver to make savings, on the totality of the contracts at his disposal.
On the other hand, certain options will be unavoidable, notably to properly protect the vehicle without plates. While some drivers opt for third-party liability only, here it's essential to have partial comprehensive.
The insured must therefore make the calculation between the relevance of two third-party liabilities, for two independently registered cars, and a comprehensive contract, enabling both cars to be covered.

Saving on road tax

In general, the canton provides that for two cars with the same set of license plates, only the more expensive one will be subject to road tax. Here, too, you can make valuable savings. Don't hesitate to check with your canton, to find out what legislation is in force.

How to apply for a number plate in Switzerland

Here are the steps to follow to apply for a number plate in Switzerland, whether you're Swiss or not.

Steps to apply for a license plate in Switzerland

To apply for a license plate in Switzerland, you need to fill in an online form, on the website of the automobile service of the canton you depend on. In general, it will need to be accompanied by the following documents:
  • Piece of identity,
  • Insurance certificate,
  • Attestation of domicile or residence, if it's a first registration,
  • Examination report 13.20A, if the vehicle is new.

Steps for applying for interchangeable plates in Switzerland

Applying for an interchangeable plate is quite similar to a simple application for registration in Switzerland. You simply need to go to the Road Traffic Office to make the request. It is sometimes possible to apply online.

Buying a Swiss car with a French license

For a Frenchman wanting a Swiss car, passing through customs is absolutely essential. You'll need to provide supporting documents, such as the sale announcement, invoice or vehicle registration document. Customs officials issue a Swiss export form, without which it is not possible to register the vehicle in France.
Once in France, the vehicle owner must apply for a customs clearance certificate. He must also pay VAT and other taxes, and then insure the vehicle.

How much does registration cost in Switzerland?

The price of registration in Switzerland depends on the canton where it is carried out. It generally costs between 20 and 60 francs, to obtain a set of license plates. In some cantons, the bill can exceed 100 francs.

How to change your Swiss license plate?

If you want to change your license plate, because it's damaged or illegible, simply fill in an online form, on the website of your canton's automobile service.
The process is the same for those wishing to change the numbers appearing on their license plate. Please note that it is possible to request precisely the number you want, provided it is available.

What information is on a Swiss license plate?

On a Swiss license plate, you'll find the following information:
  • The first two letters refer to the canton on which the registration depends,
  • These are followed by a succession of numbers,
  • The rear plate also features the cantonal coat of arms and the Swiss crest.
The information presented as such on the license plate therefore does not necessarily identify the driver of the vehicle. On the other hand, most cantons offer a search system, to simply find the owner of a car.

Is it possible to drive in France with a Swiss license plate?

It is perfectly possible to drive in France, and in all other European countries with a Swiss plate. However, the plate will have to be changed, if the vehicle is intended to be insured in France, and to be driven only in Hexagone.
Antoine Léger
Updated on: 30.01.2024Written by Antoine LégerHead of non-life insurance department at Comparea.
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