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Old 20.03.2017, 00:18
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[Drivers licence] Conversion and questions, Mark II

Time to retire the other thread (https://www.englishforum.ch/transpor...questions.html) and start a new one which is more up to date and has most information in the first post.

Much confusion arises about driving license conversion. Who has to do it, when you have to do it, and how you have to do it. So, here a comprehensive overview of the law, the time line and the process.

Note: This guide is mostly intended for private drivers driving cars and motorcycles. If you intend to drive a commercial vehicles such as taxis, ambulances, trucks, school bus, etc. please check with your employer about license conversion and other conditions (Theory exam, CZV course , medical exam, driving test etc.) before you drive. {Art. 42 Abs. 3bis Lit. b VZV}

If all this information, the FAQ, and the posts of others did not answer your questions or you think your situation is special, please feel free to contribute right here in this very thread. Even and also if the last post was made months ago. If you open your own thread be not surprised if a moderator moves it to here so that all is collected at one place.

About The structure of this post.
  • First, I will explain who has to exchange his foreign license into a Swiss on.
  • Second, I will explain what may happen if you do not exchange your license.
  • Third, I will describe the process how to convert a foreign driving license into a Swiss. It is rather simple and less complicated than expected.
  • Fourth there will be a FAQ which I intend to update over time with questions asked. Please read at least this part before you asked your own questions.
  • Fifth, I will give a rather long overview of the relevant Swiss law, international agreements, and various guidelines.
    If you are fluent in German and French as well, all answers to your questions can be found in this documents and links.
    You may skip over this part and jump directly to the next topic. If you encounter any {} you will find the exact definition and location in this part of the post.
  • Finally, I will provide my translation of the most relevant parts of the Road Traffic Licensing Ordinance as it does not exist in English so far. Please note, this is my own translation which may be legally incorrect. If in doubt always check the German/French/Italian original.

Part One.

Who has to exchange its foreign license into a Swiss one?
  • Anyone who operates a Swiss registered commercial vehicle. {Art. 42 Abs. 3bis Lit. b VZV}
  • Anyone who resides for at least 12 Months in Switzerland, and who was not been aboard for at least 3 month uninterrupted, and who wants to drive a motor vehicle in Switzerland. {Art. 42 Abs. 3bis Lit. a VZV}
  • Exception, if you have a valid foreign license, a legitimation card from the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, which grants immunity, and you are not a Swiss citizen {Art. 42 Abs. 3ter VZV}

Is there a minimum residency requirement before I can exchange my foreign license?
No, there is no minimum residency requirement apart from the fact that you must be a resident. But it might make sense to wait with the conversion till the probation period of your new job in Switzerland is over. Exception, if your foreign license expires before that as normally only valid licenses can be exchanged. If your foreign license has expired before you were able to exchange it for a Swiss license you will have to get the drivers record from the original issuing country which shows when you have acquired the driving privileges.

Part Two.

What happens if you do not exchange your license in time?
  • Your foreign license is no longer valid for driving in Switzerland.
  • No consequences if you do not drive in Switzerland. Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero consequences. There is absolutely no law which mandates a conversion.
  • If you do drive aboard you have to check the law of the foreign country if your license is still valid. Some country mandates that your driving license is valid in your country of residence.
  • And most importantly, you can still exchange your valid foreign license for a Swiss driving license.

Note: You can exchange your valid foreign driving license w/o an issues or conditions up to five years since you became a resident in Switzerland. After five years the authorities can request that you have regularly driven a car aboard {asa guidline 1, Section 351}. If requested and you can not do so you will have to do a test drive even if you are from a so called "happy country" (See steps 10a and 10b of part 3).

What happens if you drive with a non-valid driving license in Switzerland?
  • That’s very bad. There are several laws, and the possible consequences may cost you a lot of your hard-earned Swiss Francs.
  • In the best case, you are told off by the police officer and reminded that you should no longer drive and exchange your license ASAP for a Swiss one.
  • In the worst case you get a huge monetary fine for driving with non-valid license {Art. 95 Abs. 1 Lit a SVG} Note: The law allows up to three years of jail time, this is very unlikely but possible in severe cases.
  • Additionally, to that or alone for itself, you may get ban of at least 6 months in which you cannot get any Swiss driving license. {Art. 15e SVG} Such a ban comes with administrative fees in the range of CHF 300.
  • Not enough, if it was not your own car the owner may also get a monetary fine or up to three years of jail time if the owner knew or may have known by due care that you the driver had not a valid license. {Art. 95 Abs. 1 Lit. e SVG}

Can I exchange ANY license into a Swiss license?
To exchange a foreign license the following must be the fulfilled
  • It must be valid and issued by a real country or state authority.
  • Unless special circumstances, it must not been issued aboard while you were a Swiss resident.
  • If you did your driving test in a "non happy" country you may have to do a so called "test drive". See step 10 of part 3 for more details.
  • You must have acquired your license while you were not a Swiss resident (exceptions apply).
  • You will get a license on probation if you passed your driving test less than 12 months before you became a Swiss resident. (See step 11 of part 3 and the FAQ for more details).
  • You must be at least 18 years old to get a passenger car license (Age when you passed your driving test is not important.)


Part Three.

Here comes the action part. How to convert a foreign driving license into a Swiss one.

Step one: Find your still valid foreign driving license.

Step two: Make photo copies of your foreign license!
Photo copies are very useful if your license gets stolen or it somehow gets lost during the process.

Step three: Check the issue date of the license. Is it at least one year before you established residence in Switzerland? Everything is O.K. Goto Step 4.

Step three B: If the stated issue date is less than twelve month before you entered Switzerland and you did your driving test more than twelve month ago contact your foreign driving license authority and get a statement when you did your driving test or for how long you had your license. If you acquired your foreign driving license less than one year before you became a Swiss resident you can still proceed but read carefully all of step eleven at the end.

Step three C: If your license has an issue date while your were already a Swiss resident you may not convert it into a Swiss license! Unless, you can show and proof that you were during the time you acquired or after you acquired that license at least 3 months a proper resident in the country you acquired the license. {Art. 45 Abs. 5 VZV}

Step four: Get a nice photo. Some authorities allow you to smile. But to save trouble and cost best follow these guidelines, the photo must be on photo paper. https://www.schweizerpass.admin.ch/d...ustertafel.pdf

Step five: Download and print the application Form. It can be found on the website of your local SAN/StVA. See in link section.

Here as an example the form for canton Zurich: http://www.stva.zh.ch/internet/siche...AUSL201607.pdf

Basel Stadt:
http://www.polizei.bs.ch/dam/jcr:db3...25.11.2016.pdf

Basel Land:
https://www.baselland.ch/politik-und...sl_ausweis.pdf

Step six: Read the form and fill in the relevant details. Do not forget to tick all the boxes of the license categories you wish to convert. Be aware that if you miss one it might not added later unless you go the official route with a proper practical exam.

Step eight: Take the form and go to an approved optometrist for a simple sight and hearing test. Cost CHF 15 - 20.
Some category such as C (trucks) and D (coaches) in particular will need additional physical exams by a doctor.

Step nine: Take the form with the photo, your permit, ID or passport, and your foreign driving license and go to your local StVA/SAN, communal office, Police station etc. (check application form where it can be handed in. This may be different from one canton to the next). Depending on canton (Basel Land for ex.) you may have to pay an initial processing fee (bill may come by post or has to be paid on spot).

Step ten A: If you have valid driving license from a “happy country” you will get your shiny new Swiss driving license plus a bill in a few days, normally maximum a week. Until you get your Swiss license you should not drive aboard (as they have your foreign driving license). So, time your exchange accordingly if you have to travel aboard and need a driving license. For driving in Switzerland you should get a written statement or a photocopy of your old license when you hand in the form in person (you may have to ask).

The “happy countries” are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (Republic), Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Tunisia, USA.

This list can be found in the {FEDRO circular license exchange}

If your license is from an EU or EEA country, it will be sent back to the issuing state. Otherwise you will get it back with a removable sticker that it is no longer valid in Switzerland or you may also request that the license is destroyed/invalidated (holes punched into it).

If you have a license from a happy country please goto step eleven, otherwise read further a step ten B.

Step ten B: If you have a valid driving license but not from one of the happy country you will not get a Swiss driving license right away. You must do a “test drive” (German Kontrolfahrt) first. In this test drive, they will check if you know the Swiss traffic rules and can safely maneuver on the streets (no parking). It is like a short, relaxed version of a driving exam and takes about 20 to 30 minutes. You will have to provide a car, it can be an automatic or manual car.

Be aware, you have only only try. If you botch the test drive you will not get a Swiss driving license and you are no longer allowed to drive on any Swiss roads. To get a Swiss driving license you have to start from zero as a beginner driver. This means first aid course, theory exam, basic road awareness course, practical exam etc.

If more than one year has passed since you became a Swiss resident you are normally no longer allowed to drive in Switzerland. So how can you practice? When you apply for a license conversion you can get a request an exemptions which allows you to drive and practice for the test drive.

If you pass the test drive you will get your shiny new Swiss driving license plus a bill in a few days, normally maximum a week. You will also get your foreign license back with a removable sticker that it is no longer valid in Switzerland or you may also request that the license is destroyed/invalidated (holes punched into it). Until you get your Swiss license you should not drive aboard (as they also have your foreign driving license). So, time your exchange accordingly if you have to travel aboard and need a driving license. For driving in Switzerland you should get a written statement or a photocopy of your old license (you may have to ask).

Details on the test drive can be found in the {asa guideline 19}.

Step elven: Enjoy the roads and drive safely. If had your foreign driving license for less than twelve months before you moved to Switzerland your driving license will be a one "on probation". Do not worry, this not a student license, but a fully valid Swiss driving license with some "benefits". It means your license has an expiration date. Until the expiration date you must attend one two (the law has changed) safety/economic driving course https://2-phasen.ch, cannot have a BAC of more than 0.01%, and must exchange it into an unlimited license at the end of the probation period. The provisional license is valid anywhere in the world where the unlimited Swiss driving license is valid. The probation period will be: 36 months - Number of months you had the foreign license before you became a Swiss resident - Number of months you had been a Swiss resident but not more than twelve months.
If you are Australien: Yes, it is a bit like a P1 license, but different.

Step twelve: Pay the bill(s). Nothing is free and specially not in Switzerland. Depending on the canton, if you had to do a Kontrollfahrt you will get one or more bill in the range of total CHF 100 up to CHF 400.
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Last edited by aSwissInTheUS; 20.02.2021 at 13:54.
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