Having a Swiss driving licence is essential if you would like to drive in Switzerland for work or for your family. You are able to use a foreign driver’s licence for up to a year before it must be exchanged for a Swiss licence. Each county (canton) has its own traffic office with different rules for applicants. The process of exchanging a licence depends on the validity of your old licence and where it was issued.
Foreign driver’s licences in Switzerland
For all nationalities, you can use your old licence for up to one year while you live in Switzerland, provided that your licence was issued by an authority deemed “competent” by the Association of Road Traffic Offices (ASA). This definition usually refers to licences from nations with rigorous tests. Do check with your local traffic office for more information. Typically, most licences are valid for up to a year before they must be exchanged. If you wish to become a resident in Switzerland, it is best to apply for a Swiss licence as soon as possible.
Foreign licences in a non-Swiss language
If your licence is not in an official language of Switzerland or English, you will have to apply for an international driver’s licence or international driving permit. These permits are translations of your licence to be used should you ever be pulled over or given a speeding ticket while on conventional roads or motorways. If you are planning to live in Switzerland for longer than a year, it is recommended to simply apply for a Swiss licence instead.
Driving a non-Swiss car
You are able to continue to drive your imported car in Switzerland for more than 12 months, but you must have it re-registered with the ASA. The car will then be given Swiss licence plates after you complete the following:
- Apply for registration with the local ASA traffic office.
- Arrange for car insurance coverage in Switzerland.
- Book and complete a full technical inspection of the car as done by the ASA.
Exchanging a driving licence in Switzerland
If you plan to live in Switzerland for more than a year and want to drive, you must exchange your licence for a Swiss one. The process of exchanging a licence is dependent on the origin of your permit and what agreement your nation has with Switzerland.
All members of the European Union, European Economic Area and the United Kingdom are allowed to exchange their licence freely. Citizens of other nations must take some form of driving test in order to exchange their licences.
Nations with a licence exchange agreement with Switzerland
Many countries have agreements with Switzerland that allow them to exchange their licence with only a practical driving test. These nations are:
- Korea (North)
- Korea (South)
- New Zealand
- United States
All other nations that are not on this list, in the EU, EEA, or the United Kingdom, must take both a practical and a theory test. In order to prepare for these tests, you can check out our guide to learning how to drive in Switzerland.
Process for exchanging a licence in Switzerland
The process to exchange a driver’s licence in Switzerland is done at the local traffic office in the canton where you are a resident in Switzerland. There is typically one office per canton and it will have an online portal where you are able to book an appointment to exchange your driver’s licence.
Key documents you must provide to change to a Swiss licence
In order to complete the exchange and get your Swiss licence, you must provide a number of documents and tests. These are:
- A completed application form for your county of residence.
- The original foreign driving licence, plus a translation or international driver’s permit if the licence is not in English, German, French or Italian.
- A completed eye test from an optician.
- Two passport size photographs.
- Proof of a residence permit for Switzerland or long-term visa.
- A form of ID such as a passport.
- If you are a non-EU, EEA or UK citizen, a pass certificate for a theory test, practical test, or both completed recently.
Further documents required for lorries and heavy machinery licences
In addition to these criteria, licences for lorries, heavy machinery or any heavy vehicle required for working can also require a full examination from your doctor. This is to make sure that you are physically and mentally capable of driving heavy vehicles.
Once your application is complete and has been accepted, you will be issued with a Swiss driving licence. The licence can be sent to your address in the post or picked up from your local traffic office in the capital of your county. Please be aware that you must surrender your foreign driver’s licence, which will either be sent back to your country of origin or destroyed.
What is the cost of exchanging a licence in Switzerland?
The cost of exchanging a licence in Switzerland is dependent on your county of residence and whether you require medical screening. On average, the cost of exchanging a licence ranges e from 80 to 140 Swiss francs, plus 20 francs for an eye test. If you require a driving test, you will have to factor in this additional cost for exchanging your licence.
How long are Swiss driver's licences valid for?
Once you have received a Swiss driver’s licence, you are legally allowed to drive the vehicles you are qualified for. The licence is valid for a probationary period of three years if you have recently passed your driving test. If you have exchanged your old foreign licence, your Swiss licence is valid for life and must only be renewed once you reach the age of 70.
Renewing a driver’s licence in Switzerland
The only occasion when you will have to renew a Swiss driver’s licence is when you reach the age of 70. At 70, you will receive a letter from your local traffic office who will invite you for medical screening and an eye test. These tests are done to ensure that you still have the capacity to drive a vehicle safely. Thereafter, these tests are done every two to five years depending on your canton of residence.
Renewing a foreign driving licence in Switzerland
Renewing a foreign driving licence in Switzerland is not possible while you are a resident. If you have a driver’s licence that will expire soon, it is recommended that you apply for a Swiss one.
Lost Swiss driving licence
If you have lost your driving licence or it has been stolen, you must report the loss immediately to your local traffic office. If your licence is stolen, you must report the theft to your local police. Once this is complete, you can get a new one by providing the following documents to your local traffic office:
- Proof of identification such as a passport or residence permit
- A passport photo
Your old licence will be invalidated immediately, and you will be sent a new one within a few weeks. During this time, you are not allowed to keep driving without a licence.