Monday, April 20, 2009

Exchanging your Foreign Driver's Licence for a Swiss Driver's Licence

My new Swiss driver's license
(with some things greyed out for privacy reasons... yours will have some text on it! )

We interrupt this exciting summary of my Easter vacation to talk about:

Switching your foreign driver's license to a Swiss license!

Crowd: Yeah! Woo Hoo! Jessica, you rock!

(panties flying, cheers swell from the crowd, someone in the front row starts to cry from the emotion of it all)

So without further ado, our experience:

We knew since we arrived that we had 12 months to exchange our international driver's license for a Swiss license. And of course, we waited until the last minute - meaning we arrived in March last year, so of course we did it in March this year! If you don't exchange it within the 12 months, you have to take the driver's test (read expensive hassle) - so don't delay!

We started by picking up a form for the exchange. The first step of the process is to fill out the form and get an eye test. The form is pretty straight forward - name, address, driving class (to drive a normal car is C - no different license for stick vs. automatic) etc. and a bunch of boxes with medical illness names that you have to check to say whether or not you suffer from Nierenkrankheit (kidney illness) or Geisteskrankheit. And naturally, because we forgot to bring the forms with us to the eye test, we had to fill them out again at the eye test - so for about 20 minutes, and thankfully the place was empty, I would ask "Was ist Geisteskrankheit?" and we would play charades with the Optician until we figured out what it was and that of course we were lucky enough to not have it.

After that, the eye test is pretty painless (except we freaked out a bit and thought we were blind for a moment... oh so lustig) - you can get it at any eye doctor, or eye glass store (usually one in the same - just ask at the optometry places if they do a 'Führerausweis Sehtest'). Just pay CHF 20 per person for it, they sign off, and you are on to the next and final step.

Luckily, we figured out that instead of having to go to Zurich Strassenverkehrsamt (driver's bureau) to hand in the form, we could take it to our Gemeidehaus in Urdorf and they take care of the rest. That saved us a lot of time. I believe we paid another CHF 20 each for the pleasure and handed over 2 passport sized photos, our American driver's licenses and showed our passports and L permits as identification and that was that... did I promise them my first born, too? I can't remember exactly. Oh well...

Then about 2 weeks later... we got a letter - 2 letters to be exact, (in German of course...) - one each - saying that we should call the Strassenverkehrsamt ASAP. So the next morning I did... and here is where the trouble started. It seems that yes, you can exchange a foreign license for the US for Australia for a Swiss license (you will get them back in this case, but Europeans are not as fortunate - they don't get the European license back...). However, the foreign license has to show that you have had a license for at least 12 months (I believe, or was it 24 months?) prior to moving to Switzerland, and wouldn't it just figure that we changed our Texas licenses to Mass licenses only a few months before moving to Switzerland and the dates on them were within the last 12 months! Again - we moved to Switzerland in 2008, and the licenses we had said 2007... so they were invalid!

The lady on the telephone was really nice and said that if we had another license - like we have dozens or something - that showed we were licensed earlier, we could send those in and proceed... I asked her what kind of other license, and she said sometimes people have old licenses they keep as SOUVENIERS or something, and that perhaps one of those was older and we could send that in... I mean, WHO DOES THAT?! Um, well, it would appear we do because after searching I found our old Australian licenses from years ago and we sent those in and voila - problem solved! I don't even want to know what we would have had to do if those were not lying around. I think I have read on other forums that we would have had to contact the driver's bureau in the States and ask for a driving transcript - oh the PAIN. Toll. Thank goodness we are one of those freaks that keeps old licenses hanging around!

After about a week, we got all of our old licenses back (2 x US and 2 x AUS) and the new Swiss licenses... Yippee!!! EASY! :)

And with it was a yellow slip for CHF 85 per person for the Amt. YEAH. So all up that was CHF 125 per person for the pleasure to drive in Switzerland - considerably less, I hear, than having to do all the driver's tests and starting from scratch here!

And, the big question you all want to know - how is the driving on the new license?

HA ! I have no idea. I didn't say I used it yet, did I? I take the train everywhere... I know I am CRAZY. Mobility here I come. I have to make up that CHF 125 somewhere! ;)

So again, here's the checklist:
  • Within 12 months exchange your foreign license if you have a license from one of the ok countries (those with a license not from one of these countries have to take a driving test, too)
  • Fill out the form (in German unfortunately, the whole process is, so be patient my little German learners) and get a passport photo
  • Get the eye test at your local optician - don't forget the form
  • Then bring the form, the photo, your valid license (and any 'souvenir licenses' in case you have a new license that does not show your validation within the last 12 months and some dough to the Strassenverkehrsamt in Zurich or to your Gemeide, pay any fees
  • Wait - and pray that you did it all right!
  • Get your license in the mail, and your old license returned - Pay more... for the priveledge to drive.
  • And for goodness sakes - DRIVE around Switzerland and love every minute of it! Good luck.
More details (in German) from the Kanton Zurich Strassenverkehrsamt. Or a good write-up here from the AWC Zurich Website.

This is an essential and the latest edition is due out in July. Pre-Order your copy today! Living and Working in Switzerland, 12th Edition: A Survival Handbook


Amanda said...

yay! thanks - so helpful. It's not as bad as I thought. Someone told me that the license had to show you have been driving for THREE years. Do you think that might vary from canton to canton?

Jessica said...

You know - I can't recall... perhaps it was 3 years. I just know that Jace found a license that went back to 1997 and I found one that went back to 2004 so we were in the clear! Perhaps it was 3 years... can anyone help here?

Habebi said...

Congratulations! Now for some serious driving through the Swiss countryside?

juanitatortilla said...

What, I can't believe you waited for 12 months to get this done. Tsk tsk.

Hey, I think your Auslanderausweis (whatcumacullit) determines the validity of your Swiss license. I THINK (have to stress that -- really not sure).
You see, Hubs and I have surrendered our 2007 NJ licenses -- in return, Hubs received a *permanent* Swiss driver's license, while I got a 2 year probational one, requiring me to take a couple of lessons (o.m.g.).

Someone might want to help me out here. I wasn't sure if I was given an explanation by the lady at the Strassenverkehrsamt.

Well, not like I was going to be doing any driving anyway :D

M'dame Jo said...

I'm curious... Do they check (or ask) if you can drive a stick shift?

Jessica said...

M'dame Jo - No, they did not. Not was it a different license which Jace was wondering about, too, as in Australia you need a special license to drive stick. In the US, you don't.

juanita - on the back of the license under number 11 is the 'Ablaufsdatum' and mine just says '*******'... so I am assuming mine, like the rest of the Swiss' licenses, does not have an expiry date. I wonder why you have to take driving lessons!

Jackie said...

Seth and I have been thinking that we need to do this. We were wondering, in particular, about the eye exam. Do you know if they'd accept eye exam info from a doctor in the US from less than a year? If not, where and with whom does this eye exam take place? Do you have to find an ophthalmologist or optometrist just for the occasion, or are there a list of people provided to you or something?

M'dame Jo said...

I don't you don't in the US... but the stick shift is the hardest part if driving, hence my question. Do you know how to?

Jessica said...

Jackie - good question. You can go to any eye doctor in Switzerland, I believe. We walked into an optologist in Urdorf, and they did it in like 5 minutes. You just have to read a chart and then cover each eye and read it again. Easy. Only CHF 20. I enquired at another eye glass place and they did it too.

M'dame Jo - No, I can't drive stick... nor would I even try! :) But interesting that the licenses are not specific like in the US.

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The Antiques Diva™ said...

Hola Jessica,
Funnily enough just last week I went into the Drivers License office here in Berlin to exchange my drivers license. The process was surprisingly easy (fingers crossed no phone calls come later!!) - my husband and I filled out a few papers, gave photo copies of our US licenses and were told to return in 3 months to pick up our German licenses at which point we'd have to turn in our Oklahoma licenses. Now, here's where it gets tricky... it's up to the issuing state to decide if they will return your US license or not. We've been told that in Oklahoma they usually don't... but we'll cross that road when we get there!!!! Fingers crossed for good luck!!!

Virginia said...

How helpful! I always like to hear all your experiences and the details for these official kinds of things. I also love taking all the great public transportation here rather than drive, but I guess I'd better get my driver's license too.

M'dame Jo said...

I have a few friends who passed their driving license in the US and simply exchanged it when they came back to Switzerland (well, I have a Californian driving license, but I didn't spend enough time overseas to qualify). They took a few lessons when they returned and saved themselves the trouble and money of the swiss driving license... It's totally worth spending on a few driving lessons, rather than going through the actual process (first aid lessons, fees and all). And it's totally ok if you go to a driving school and tell you need to learn how to drive a stick ;-)

Vivian said...

Super helpful! Thanks for the info. Will do this ASAP!

Romy said...

I got my license in the States while I was in college and was advised to get a copy of my driving record and bring it over with me to CH, as it shows the date I acquired my American license (the license itself does not). It was invaluable to prove I had already been driving for 3 years. It's also doubly important if you're planning on getting car insurance, because otherwise the insurance company bases your driving experience on the date you got your Swiss license (instead of the date you got any driver's license) and would classify you as a new driver with sky-high rates.

Anyway.. congrats on getting yours! :)

Maybelstar said...

Hi, I'm about to exchange my US driver's license, but I have one problem. Althoug I've had my license for many years now, I have been in England for the last couple of years and my license is expired. Therefore, I renewed it from abroad. It's completely valid, but WITHOUT a picture or signature on it. Do you think they will accept this like any other licenses? I also have my old one which has a picture/signature. Btw, I am a swiss citizen...

Your help would be much appreciated!

Jessica said...

Hey Maybelstar - I think they will take it. I would actually send both the latest copy and the old one with signature and photo to prove that you have had a license for the required time... I think it is 2 years prio to moving to Switzerland but I do not recall. Either way, if they need something else you will get a letter in the mail telling you to call them. ;) Good luck!

Vinu said...

Hey Jessica,
Know what?? you really rock!
i am applying for driving licence, unfortunately, i dont have one in my own country(i m pretty young uhh!!)

I like your writing style...keep going...may be i would say "Bonjour" to you in person in vevey..

bye bye for now

bluemoon said...

i passed my driving test here in Jerussalem, ISRAEL
. Im visiting switzerland in march 2010 (i have swiss passport)
i would like to obtain a SWISS DRIVERS LICENSE but I only drive for 3months
do i have to wait 1year ntil i can get my swiss license?
for any help thanks now allready


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