If you have a driving licence in English or in one of the national languages of Switzerland, you should not have any problem renting a car. An International Drivers Licence or Permit (IDP) might be demanded by some car rental companies, so before arranging to rent a car, you should call the rental company to ask about the documents they require.
If you have a commercial licence, you must exchange it immediately upon moving to Switzerland. The requirements for the exchange vary according to the authority that will grant the licence exchange. They can range from a simple visit to a doctor to a full driving test.
Exchanging your driver's licence
The driving age in Switzerland is 18.
You can exchange your driver's licence to a Swiss one without taking any tests if:
- Your licence is from an EU/EEA country
- The exchange has been requested before five years of residency in Switzerland
Only a practical test is required for those with licences from: Andorra, Australia, Canada, Korea, Croatia, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Monaco, New Zealand, Saint-Martin, Morocco, Taiwan, Tunisia, USA and Singapore.
If you have a licence from any other country, then both the theory test and the driving test will have to be passed. These tests cost 40chf and 100chf, respectively (with minor price variations depending on which canton you live in).
To exchange your licence for a Swiss one, you will need the following documents:
- Original driving licence
- Official translation of the licence if it's written in non-Latin characters
- Two colour passport (35x45mm) pictures - your full name must be written on the back, and you cannot be wearing anything covering your head, or a uniform
- Proof of residence or residence visa
- A filled-out foreign licence exchange form
You will then need to go to the Transport Service of the canton where you live. You can find further details on the Swiss driving authority website.
The cost for the issuing of your driving licence is 30chf.
Getting a driver's licence
In 2005, Switzerland introduced a probational license, which is given to all new drivers.
New drivers must take two courses - one for accident prevention, and another one for ecological driving. Those cost 500chf. Once three years have passed, drivers are given a full licence provided that they have taken the courses and have not committed any major infractions.
The documents you will need are:
- Request form asserted by the city council department for population ("control des habitants")
- A sight test completed by an authorized and recognized optician
- Colour passport-sized photograph (35x45mm) with name and surname on the back (without any head-covers or uniforms)
- Swiss residence permit
For professional driving licences you will need to submit proof of clean criminal record, and a medical evaluation must also be provided. Visit www.cemac.ch for more information.
The theory exam
Before registering or even studying for the theory test in Switzerland, a first aid course (that costs 115chf) and a driving awareness course (costing between 60chf and 90chf depending on your canton) must be followed.
You don't need to go to a driving school to study for your theory exam, as there are plenty o study materials available both online and in bookstores. You can buy a preparatory book-CD combo for around 100 chf. On the CD, there are roughly 500 preparatory questions. Your theory exam will have 50 of those 500 questions. The exam can be taken in a number of languages, and the preparatory books and CDs cater to different languages. The theory test is easy if you study for it, since you will know in advance the questions that could be asked.
You should register for your theory exam as soon as you start studying, as it usually takes a while before you're able to get an appointment.
When taking the theory exam, you are allowed 14 error points. Since the questions can have multiple answers, the number of error points can decrease fast. For example, a question with the right answers A and B - i you answer C, this counts as three error points.
The practical exam
Once the theory has been passed, you can practice driving with anyone older than 23 who has had a driving licence for more than three years. You can also choose to take driving lessons from a licenced driving school. Driving school lessons cost around 85chf for 50min.
When you're ready for the practical exam, you will have to pay around 200chf to the driving school for sitting the exam. This fee includes the use of the car and the waiting time for the instructor. You also have to pay 150chf to the licensing authority for the examiner, and the issue of the licence upon success.
If you fail the practical exam more than three times, you will have to see an official psychologist in Berne who can assess the reasons for your previous failures. Once the psychologist reports that you are once again ready to take the exam, you can try again.