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Driving Your Own Four Wheels in Switzerland

Having a car often means being independent. And most of the time, people don’t want to give up this independence when moving to another country. The good news: you don’t have to! Read on for all the information you need on buying or importing a car and getting the right car insurance in Switzerland.
Don’t forget to register your car at the Road Traffic Office before the twelve-month period is up.

At a Glance:

  • When buying a used car in Switzerland, make sure to check all the documents thoroughly.
  • The first step of bringing your own car into Switzerland is by declaring it at the border without delay.
  • You can drive with your foreign license plate in Switzerland for up to twelve months before you have to get a Swiss license plate.
  • Liability insurance is mandatory for every car in Switzerland. There are also three other insurance options available for cars. Since prices for premiums can vary greatly, it is advisable to shop around.

What You Need to Know about Buying a Car in Switzerland

If you do not own a car or do not want to bring yours with you, there’s always the option of buying one in Switzerland. But keep in mind that car prices might be higher than in other European countries and they also differ in the various parts of the country itself. Nonetheless, you won’t have trouble finding a car that meets your needs. When buying a new car at a dealership, always try to negotiate the price. Small discounts are very well possible. If negotiations on the price are not possible, ask for extra services like a free set of tires. An advantage about buying a new car in Switzerland is that usually the garage handles the registration process for you.

If you’re looking for a used car, you have to keep some things in mind. Make sure to check all the documents and the service records and ask the dealer if there are any malfunctions you need to be aware of. Furthermore, it is important that the official inspection and the compulsory exhaust maintenance do not lie too far in the past. Swiss comparison service Comparis offers a comprehensive check list for buying a used car.

Advertisement for cars can be found in car magazines as well as on websites like Autoscout24, Comparis, or Car4you.

No Need to Separate: Importing Your Car to Switzerland

If you already have a car and want to take it with you when relocating to Switzerland, the process is quite easy. First of all, you need to declare your vehicle at the Swiss border without delay. The customs declaration can only be made at the customs office for merchandise during office hours. If you want to clear customs at an inland office, you can get a temporary certificate (form 15.25) at the border which will be valid for two consecutive working days.

When you’re moving to Switzerland to live there and you have owned the car for at least six months, it is considered personal property and therefore free of import duty. If the car was used for less than six months, it can be used undeclared for up to two years with a customs permit (form 15.30). After this two-year period, it must either be declared and duties and taxes will be collected or it must be exported.

For customs clearance, you need to present the following documents to customs:

  • invoice or sales contract
  • proof of identity
  • residence permit
  • vehicle registration document/certificate (even if already cancelled)
  • possibly proof of origin from seller

Once your vehicle has been cleared by customs, you will get issued an inspection report (form 13.20) which costs around 20 CHF.

Registering Your Vehicle

You have twelve months to register your imported vehicle. After this period, it is illegal to drive around with your foreign license plates and you need to get Swiss license plates. In order to register your car in Switzerland, it must comply with Swiss provisions on construction and equipment. Therefore, you have to present your car for technical inspection. You need to make an appointment at the Road Traffic Office in your canton for this. If you have an older car, it is advisable to compare the value of the car to the cost of preparation for the inspection. In case of a new car, there is a check to ensure that the vehicle and the paperwork are in order. Once the car is registered, the inspection takes place at a periodic interval: for the first time four years after putting it into circulation, then after three years, and from then on every two years.

As with many other things in Switzerland, the registration process and the documents needed might vary from canton to canton. Nonetheless, you usually need to bring the following documents to the responsible Road Traffic Office:  

  • form 13.20 A (provided by the Swiss customs office)
  • insurance certificate
  • residence permit
  • foreign registration card
  • foreign license plate
  • European Certificate of Conformity (COC) or exhaust emissions and noise
  • original payment receipt

In some cantons, it’s enough to send all these documents by post but in others you need to present them in person. After the registration process, you will be issued Swiss license plates.

Better Be Safe than Sorry: The Different Insurance Options for Your Car

Every registered vehicle in Switzerland needs insurance, this also applies to cars still registered abroad. If you haven’t registered your car in Switzerland yet, you need a liability insurance that covers accidents abroad. In Switzerland, there are four different types of coverage: liability insurance, fully or partially comprehensive insurance, and passenger accident insurance. Liability insurance in mandatory by law but the other three types are optional. Liability insurance as well as fully or partially comprehensive insurance cover the vehicle and not the owner, and damages are therefore covered irrespective of who was driving the car. 

Find below a short overview over the different types of coverage:

  • The compulsory liability insurance covers injuries and damages caused by the vehicle to third parties. Most insurance companies offer similar insurance benefits, but prices can vary quite heavily. It is therefore recommended to shop around different companies.
  • Partially comprehensive insurance is optional and can cover a wide range of risks such as theft, vandalism, damage from natural events, fire, collision with animals, etc. It depends on the insurance company what exactly is included.
  • The optional fully comprehensive insurance is a combination of partially comprehensive insurance and collision insurance. Additionally to the damages covered by the partially comprehensive insurance it also covers damages to the vehicle caused by the driver. This type of coverage is the most expensive and is only recommended for new vehicles. Nonetheless, it is compulsory for leased cars.
  • Passenger accident insurance is also optional and covers any passengers’ and driver’s injuries. The insurance may include coverage for death, disability, short-term disability, and care costs. However, people working in Switzerland are usually insured against accidents — both at the workplace and beyond — by their employer. Passenger accident insurance is therefore only worthwhile when you’re not covered by your employer or regularly transport foreign residents.

As already mentioned, prices can vary greatly between insurance companies and comparing premiums can save you a great deal of money. On websites like comparis.ch or anivo.ch, you can easily compare prices of Swiss insurance companies and find the best fit for you and your car.


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