Driving in Geneva and Switzerland : For Newcomers.


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Driving in a country other than your own can be a challenge. Below are a few basic but important facts to know regarding driving in Geneva and Switzerland.

Exchange your Foreign Driver’s License

Upon registering to live in Geneva, you have one year to trade your foreign driver’s license for a Swiss driver’s license (permit de conduire). The cost is CHF 150 (for more information click here). If you don’t exchange it in that period of time, you may have to follow the entire process of obtaining a Swiss driver’s license which is a time consuming and costly process.

A relocation agent recently told me that new-comers often ask what happens if you don’t trade your license. She informs her clients that in that situation you had better not be stopped by the police nor get into an accident because your insurance will not be valid.


Right-of-way in Switzerland (and Europe) can be tricky.

The above signs, that you have probably never noticed, indicate if your road is a principle route or not. If the road is not a principle route, cars entering from the right have priority unless they have a stop sign, yield sign or “sharks teeth” painted on the road. Here are a few tricky examples of priority, with the answers, provided by the Swiss Touring Club (TCS).

TCS who has priority? TCS who has priority

Traffic Tickets

You can not drive “on automatic” in Geneva. Speed limits can change every hundred meters and if you’re not paying attention you can get huge fines, or worse, lose your license. For example, I drive a road where the speed limit goes from 50km to 60km to 70km back to 50km then to 60km in just a 3 km stretch. To make matters more challenging there is a speed camera in the on 30 meter section of the 50km zone.

If you’re a new-comer to Geneva, these are examples speed and traffic light cameras.

Speeding tickets start at CHF20 and go up to CHF 260 as well as the loss your driver’s license. Running through a red light can cost CHF 250. To see the rates click here.

The Free Blue Parking Zones

In order to park in the blue zones between 7:00 and 19:00, you must have a blue parking disk.The instructions are written on the back but unless the zone states otherwise you can park for one hour; except at lunch which can be up to 2 hours.

Other useful knowledge

  • Buses have priority. Once the bus signals to join traffic, you must let him merge.
  • People in Switzerland tend to flash their lights to say “you go first” or “thank you.” Sometimes it can also mean “move over and let us pass.”
  • When driving in the mountains the person driving up has right-of-way.
  • It is the law to drive with your headlights on at all times.

Stay tuned for part two of Driving in Geneva and Switzerland: Rules You May Not Know.

We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland.  If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at  http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/ 


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