‘Settling in Switzerland’ is a string of informative articles that Namaste Switzerland posts regularly. Earlier, we shared tips on life and settling in Switzerland followed by different options for learning German. Renting in Switzerland was another well-received article. This time, Aradhna Sethi steers you into getting behind the wheel and driving in Switzerland.

Public transport is best. But, it’s also true that driving your own car lends you a high degree of flexibility in your day-to-day life. However, getting a driving licence entails its own set of challenges – big and small. Yes, it is true that buying a car is easier than getting a licence in Switzerland. Difficult though it may sound, it is these rules, regulations and laws that ensure high safety standards in Switzerland.

Here is what you need to know

If you already have an international licence: you need to get this converted to a Swiss licence within the first year of your arrival into the country. Driving in Switzerland on a foreign driving licence is allowed only for a maximum duration of one year from the date of entry into the country. Needless to say, you should hold a valid driving licence (international or national – depending on the country that issues the licence).

If your first-year entitlement to apply for conversion of your licence into a Swiss one lapses, you need to start from scratch and apply for a valid national licence.

This would involve

Costs: Here is the average cost estimate. Please note, these prices differ from canton to canton and are subject to change over time.

  • Eye test: CHF 10 to 15
  • First aid course: CHF 100 to 200
  • Theory handbook: approx. CHF 30
  • Theory test: CHF 30 to 40
  • Provisional licence: CHF 20 to 80
  • Compulsory theory course: CHF 200 to 280
  • Driving lessons (45 to 50 Min. per lesson): CHF 80 to 90 per lesson
  • Practical driving test: CHF 120 to 130
  • Driving licence: CHF 35 to 60

 

Attending the first-aid course

These are generally weekend courses that include faux practical situations of being in a fire or in an accident, along with theory lessons on what to how and how to behave in case of an emergency. As the name suggests, the course deals with first aid and first actions in emergency situations. After the course, you will receive a first-aid certificate that is valid for six years. Now you’re set to apply for a provisional licence. (Please check with your canton and area of residence, as rules differ by location.)

Applying for a Provisional Licence

The form is available online at the ‘Strassenverkehrsamt’ or cantonal road traffic website or at their office. You will need to fill the form and send it along supporting documents including a recent passport-sized coloured photograph, your valid residence or work permit, a report of a recent eyesight test, and your first aid course certification to the local road traffic office or your cantonal/ municipal/residential area registration office. Please make sure you take all originals as copies are not accepted.

Theory test

Apply online at the ‘Strassenverkehrsamt’, which will have all the information for test dates and duration. In the cantons of Bern, Glarus, Solothurn, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Neuchâtel and Zurich, you can opt to take the test in English. This is a visual multiple-choice test on the computer. Read to ensure the rules on negative marking.

It is of utmost importance to be prepared for the theory test. Borrow or purchase the ‘Driving Today’ or ‘Autofahrt Heute’ theory textbook (highly recommended) and really study it well. You need to be prepared for this test. Fluke might not work!

Once you pass the theory exam, a provisional licence valid for 24 months will be sent to you. This is normally not renewed – which implies, you now have to pass your practical exam with enough practice and learning hours with the next 24 months.
With this provisional licence, an ‘L’ clearly visible on the front and back of your car (in the correct area), you can take your official practical driving lessons along with a qualified teacher and also practice driving under the supervision of someone over 23 years of age, withheld a driving licence for at least three years. Please put in practice hours with a reliable and experienced person only after you are comfortable and confident of driving without your teacher handling the emergency pedal brakes in his ‘training car’.

Practical driving lessons

Although expensive, take enough of these. You should literally know the basics of driving and be comfortable at the wheel before you wean off your official trainer.

The test

Your teacher will apply for a test date and accompany you for the test to the ‘Strassenverkehrsamt’. Or you will have to get your dates and be driven to the ‘Strassenverkehrsamt’ by someone in the same car that you will be appearing for this test. You need to ensure that the vehicle in which you intend to take your test is of the correct category, approved to be roadworthy, meets all regulations. Make sure you have all the registration and servicing documents in the car. The L-plate for learners should be clearly displayed on the car. In addition, please take along: a valid identity document (passport, identity card or residence permit) and your provisional driving licence.

During the practical test, an expert will assess your ability to drive a motor vehicle of your chosen category. He will give you directions, may even try and confuse you or check your observation skills by asking you to turn into a one-way street! He will be closely looking at how safely you drive, whether or not you know and follow the traffic regulations, and how observant you are (breaking in time when you see a car slowing down or a pedestrian ready to cross the road, checking and falling in line with changing speed limits, giving your indicator and taking heed of others’ indicators well in time, looking well through all mirrors and by turning to ensure there is no one at your ‘blind spot’, etc.).

Passed

Congratulations! Get ready to receive credit card format ‘probationary driving licence’ by post. This is only for new drivers who have never driven before. The new drivers will have to appear for two compulsory drivers’ education courses within three years to get a permanent licence. For those who have driven in another country and held a licence – on passing the practical test, you will get your permanent licence instead of a probationary one.

If you fail

  • The first time, you can generally take the test again after a month.
  • If you fail again, you will need to provide a certificate from a recognised driving instructor stating that you have completed your training and then are eligible to reapply as long as your theory exam result is valid (generally for two years).
  • If you are unsuccessful again – a third time – your ‘Strassenverkehrsamt’ will refer you to an appropriate service to appear for a driving aptitude test before being permitted to take another test. On failing this test, your provisional licence will no longer be valid.
  • If you fail your driving test a fourth time, or if don’t pass the driving aptitude test after your third attempt, you are allowed to appear one last time – provided you are granted a positive psychological assessment on your ability to drive.

All the best. Get set to drive to the best of your ability!

The information provided in this article provides guidelines on obtaining a driver’s licence in Switzerland. The information is provided without warranty of any kind. The author and website disclaim any responsibility or liability in connection with the use of this information as it is generalized and not locality specific. In addition, driving laws are subject to change over course of time for which we take no responsibility.