How to get Swiss driving license as a foreigner

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How to get Swiss driving license as a foreigner

Mrs. The Poor Swiss, my wife, recently started the procedure to get her driving license in Switzerland. The procedure is not too difficult. But not all the steps are obvious in the process. My wife is Chinese and she already had a driving license from China.

In this post, I’m going to explain the different steps in getting a Swiss driving license for a foreigner. First, it depends if you already have a driving license in your country or not. If you already have a driving license, it will depend on your country. Since Mrs The Poor Swiss is Chinese, this post will have a Chinese bias but I’m going to try to cover other countries as well.

You already have a driving license

Car driving on a road

Here, I’m going to use Fribourg as an example. It can change a little from one state to another. But it should not change much.

If you already have a valid driving license, you can drive in Switzerland for one year. After this, you need to exchange your driving license for a Chinese driving license.

If you already have a driving license, it is easier to get a Swiss driving license. Depending on your country, there are several possible outcomes:

  1. If you are lucky, you can directly get your Swiss driving license. For a small fee, you’ll have a driving license. This is possible for almost all countries of Europe. For instance, France, Germany or Sweden. If you have a driving license of one of these countries, you can get a Swiss driving license for a small fee.
  2. In most cases, you’ll have to pass a driving test before you can get the driving license. This is a small driving test that will assert that you are able to drive. If you don’t pass the test, you’ll have to do the entire process. For instance, this is true for Taiwan, United States or Canada.
  3. In some case, you have to pass both a driving test and a theory test before you can get the driving license.  This is true for all the other countries.

You can find the list of countries for the state of Fribourg in this official document. If your driving license is not in a language recognized in Switzerland (French, German and Italian), you will have to translate it. And the translation must come with a certificate of authenticity. I would still advice you to call the traffic office before starting the procedure.

For Chinese people, the license will be valid one year. In China, you’ll have to go the traffic office to get a form with the information of your driving license (Information form of the driving license). Once you got this form, you’ll need to have to it translated by an official notary.

Before you get the final Swiss driving license, you’ll have to pass a driving test. What is very important here is that your translated Chinese driving license will only be valid for one year in Switzerland. That means you’ll have to pass the test in less that one year. After that time, you’ll have to go through the entire process again. If you are already very comfortable with driving in Switzerland, you can directly pass the test. If you are not that comfortable, you can do some hours of accompanied driving. Mrs The Poor Swiss is driving with me as often as possible. And she’s also taking courses with one of my friends that is a driving instructor.

You don’t have a driving license

Driver in the night

If you don’t have a driving license, the steps will be the same as for a Swiss person. You’ll have to go through all the long, and expensive, steps. Obtaining the Swiss permit is not very difficult, but involve many steps and each of these steps will make you open your wallet. The price will highly depend on which state you are living in. The examples in this section will be based on Fribourg.

Even before you pass the theory test, you have to pass a first-aid course. And get a certificate. For this, you can do it at most of the Swiss learning schools. It is an eight hours course that will teach you how to react in case of accident. It will also teach how to give basic help to injured people after an accident. Generally, this will go for around 150 CHF to 200 CHF. You’ll also have to do an eye control with a specialist. This will attest whether you need glasses to drive.

Once you get all this, you are ready to pass your driving license theory test. You don’t have to do any mandatory training for this. But some people do train with a driving school. You need to get the official driving theory book. There is also a computer version of the theory book. You need to be aware that these tests are only available in French, German and Italian. Once you are ready, you can go the driving office (Office Cantonal de la Navigation (OCN)) from your state. There, you’ll pass the theory test. If you pass it, you’ll directly get the temporary driving license. You’ll have to pay 180 CHF for this. If you don’t pass, you’ll have to pass the test again. You’ll have to wait at least one day until you can pass again.

Now, you got your temporary driving license. This driving license is valid for 2 years. You can start driving but must be accompanied by a valid assistant driver. An assistant driver is one that is at least 23 years old or has been driving for at least 3 years. For the car driving license, there is no mandatory driving lesson. You could pass your driving test the day after you got the temporary driving lesson. I would advice to get at least a few driving lessons. Some people do with two hours of driving lessons. But some people need ten hours. It really depends on how well your lessons are going. In any case, you should practice a lot with assistant drivers. I drove with my parents at that time.

You need to do a mandatory course before you can go to the practice test. It’s called the Sensitization course (Sensibilisation in French). It’s a 8 hours course that will go for about 150 CHF. You need to take it at one of the driving school. It’s not something difficult. You basically just have to be there.

Once you feel ready for the final test and got your Sensitization course done, you need to get an appointment for the test. Normally, your driving teacher will do that for you. The test is about one hour. It consists on some regular driving as ordered by the test official. You’ll also have to park your car correctly. If you have practiced enough, this should not be an issue. The official will directly tell you after the test if you passed or not. If you didn’t pass, you’ll have pay for the next test again. You can only fail twice. If you fail three times, you may have to do some more tests. If you pass, you’ll be delivered your driving license. After you pay some more money of course ;)

Unfortunately, this does not stop here. You driving license is not final at this point. You still have two courses to do. It’s called the Level 2 (L-2) courses. It is two days of, useless, courses. They are mandatory. You have to do the first one within 6 months of your exam. And the second one in the first three years. And they are expensive, about 700 CHF in total. Once you are done with the courses, you can go back to the traffic office and ask for your final driving license. If you have any road infraction during these three years, the probation period will be increased to four years. If you have a second infraction, your driving license will be revoked. And you’ll have to start again the entire process.

Once you have passed both L2-courses, you need to go back to traffic office and give them the certificates. They will finally deliver the final driving license.

Summary

Getting a Swiss driving license if you have a driving license from outside the European Union is not very easy. And getting it from scratch is very complicated and expensive. I really think this should be simplified. And this should be less expensive than it is. Nevertheless, I hope that these steps will help you get a Swiss Driving license if you need one ?

We don’t yet have a date for Mrs The Poor Swiss driving test. But we’ll let you know how that goes once it’s done :)

Did I forget something ? Do you have more questions ?

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