It’s official. I can now legally drive in Switzerland. Well, technically I’ve been driving legally here for the last 10 months, but as of today, I’m the proud new owner of a bona fide Swiss driver’s license!
Since we arrived in July of last year, Travis and I have been using our valid Oregon driver’s licenses along with our International Driver’s Permits which we purchased right before we left the States. We paid $30 for our two IDPs, plus the cost of 4 passport photos. In hindsight, I honestly think they were a waste of money. They’ve been living in our glove box for months after getting soaked in my purse from a leaky water bottle on a hiking trip. Tattered and faded, we’ve never once needed them, not even apparently in getting a Swiss driver’s license.Travel Tip: An international driver's license is not a valid substitute for a DL in your destination country. It's merely a translation of your current DL issued by your resident state/county.
Typical of my procrastinating nature, I put off “looking into” what it would take to get a valid Swiss driver’s license until the first week in June. Appropriate since my Oregon driver’s license would be expiring on June 13th, two days before our US taxes were due and 2 weeks before our Swiss visas would expire.
When it rains in Switzerland, it pours.
Last Friday I gave up on the whole process after spending a couple of frustrating hours online trying to decipher multiple expat websites’ “helpful information” and manually translating different French web pages and pdf forms from the OCN – the Swiss equivalent of our American DMV. I decided it was better to just go to the OCN in person.
Armed with the documents I thought would be important, I arrived at the OCN and almost immediately was shot down. I had brought the completed correct application to exchange my US driver’s license for a Swiss one, but the section on it for my eye exam was blank.
In the States, the DMV administers a quick eye exam which is included in the price of the licensing. In Switzerland, it’s necessary to go to an optical place to have the test done. Someone at the optical place will then complete the eye test section on the Swiss driver’s license application. I was told I also needed proof of the date when I received my first license in the US, which I didn’t have.
Phooey. How to even get that?
Luckily the gentleman at the OCN printed out a complete list of approved professionals in the Fribourg area who could complete my eye test. The incredibly nice, helpful English-speaking person there told me to specifically ask for the “driver’s license eye test” and that it would only cost 10 chf (roughly $10).
I left the OCN and headed for the optical shop nearest our house, took the test and passed – because I’m awesome.
And also because I wear glasses and just had an eye exam a year ago.
I watched while the ridiculously young guy filled out the eye portion of my driver’s application in French.
I was rather astounded when he told me that I wouldn’t be required to wear corrective lenses to drive in Switzerland – it’s a requirement on my US licence and I can’t imagine driving without them.
Another thing? Swiss licenses are valid practically forever, I think ’til the age of 65, without needing to renew every few years like in the States. The lax eye requirements are crazy here, but the extended renewal requirements are awesome!
The other document I was missing – proof of the date and state where I first received my license in the US – sounded far more difficult to get. I got my first driver’s license in Washington State in 1997, which was a loooooong time ago. Since then, I’ve had multiple licenses in several states, so I was at a loss how to acquire such proof.
Again, the helpful gentleman at the OCN showed me samples from different US states and said I should be able to contact the DMV in Washington and request my driving record. Sure enough, he was right. I was able to request a copy through the Washington DMV website and pay the $13 fee immediately. They emailed me a “certificate of driving record” less than a minute later.
Pretty snazzy, if you ask me.
So today I was back at the OCN, this time armed with everything I needed to get my Swiss license. After providing my documents and waiting a few minutes while the official processed my application, he walked around to a machine that looked like a computer CPU and out popped my brand new license.
I was so happy when I left the OCN that I practically flew over the Poya Bridge on my way home.
Look out pedestrians! Get off the sidewalk! Here I come!
For Americans with a current valid US DL applying for a Swiss DL, this info might be helpful.
Documents I needed to take with me to my Fribourg OCN/DMV:
- Original driver’s licence from country/state of origin (apply for a Swiss one before it expires!). Mine was in English and was accepted but if it’s in a non-Latin character alphabet, you might need to provide a translation of your DL.
- One color passport (35x45mm) photo. You can go to the photo booths in most train stations and select passport photo as an option. My photos were 2 chf apiece. Make sure to take off glasses, hats, head coverings, etc to ensure the photo is accepted.
- Proof of residence or residence visa (I took my permit B.)
- A completed application to exchange your driver’s license – Demande_permis_echange (for Fribourg canton)
- A copy of my driving record from the state I first was licensed
- Total cost was 80 chf and my license was issued on the spot!
Note that if your license has expired, if you’re not from the US or EU, or if you’re applying in a different Swiss canton, the rules may very well differ.