Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Driving in Switzerland

A new resident of Switzerland has one year to obtain a Swiss driving license. 


Before you can apply for the driving license, you must have your "Ausländerausweis" or your residency card - the Swiss version of a green card. 

The license process begins with passing a simple eye examination at any optician of which there are many. (there is a fee involved). The next step is to take the completed optician's form along with a passport size photo to the Gemeindehaus (town hall). At this point, you must also relinquish your previous license and pay another fee.  

The materials I had read warned me of this. Trying to prepare in advance, I went to New Jersey's DMV, told them I lost my license and paid for a duplicate license.  I'm not sure about other states, but each time you renew your NJ license, it says it was issued that year. I've had a NJ license since 1976, but there is no way to know that from the license itself. The duplicate license had an issue date of August 2012. I didn't examine the license closely and gave my duplicate license along with the application.

A few days later, I received a letter in the mail (in German, of course). Since there was no Swiss license included, I knew it was not good news. Tom translated it for me and we learned that they thought I'd only been driving for 3 months and weren't going to give me a license. If I had proof that I'd been driving longer, I should send it to them. 

I made a copy of my other NJ license (effective 5 years ago) and also my Belgian license (issued in 1997 and permanent) and sent them to the Swiss DMV. A few days later, another letter arrives with no Swiss license. This time they asked me to send in my original Belgian license. Do I have a choice? I send it along with a note requesting it be returned. (I think it's a pretty cool souvenir.) A few days later, two more envelopes arrive. One has my NJ duplicate license complete with a "not valid in Switzerland" sticker. The other envelope has my Swiss license! Yay! A week has passed and my Belgian license has not been returned. I might get it when we leave the country - or I might not. Next time, I shouldn't try to outsmart the Swiss. From Tom's experience, I know there will be one more fee to pay. Sometime soon I'll get the bill in the mail. 

It was a hassle and frustrating, but I'm just glad I'm not from China, India or South Africa. Those people have to take driving tests. I don't know why.

With or without the Swiss license, I have been very careful with my driving. I have learned from others that the Swiss give speeding tickets when you're only a couple km over the speed limit. I know someone who got a 250 CHF fine for stopping beyond the white stop line. (this actually happened to her twice - ouch!) We put snow tires on the car not just for bad weather. We were told if you are involved in an accident in wintry conditions and you don't have snow tires, you will be declared at fault. I have an appointment for next week to take the car in and get Swiss plates. Once I have Swiss plates, I hope people will no longer stare at the car when they see it.