Driving in Switzerland

Two things shocked me about driving in Switzerland when I first entered the country with a car. First, the general speed limit sign on the border. Second, when I realized that cutting others off was kind of a habit in Zurich. And then honking. But more on all these later.

Let’s first see our most useful tips on driving in Switzerland so that you can understand how to drive in this beautiful country, should you plan to visit it by car.

Drive as in Europe

Switzerland is a European country. Even if it’s not a member of the EU, there are a lot of similarities with other European countries, and this applies to driving as well.

This means that if you come from another European country, you just basically have to know your own rules, adapt to some of the driving habits here, and voilá, you know how to drive in Switzerland.

On the other hand, if you come from the US or Canada where road signs are different, driving in Switzerland can be a little more confusing. But don’t worry, European road signs are very easy to understand.

I’ll talk about them right next in this article, after addressing one important point.

Switzerland Toll Sticker

In Switzerland, you have to pay a toll for using freeways.

I know this sounds kind of as a paradox–freeways should be free, shouldn’t they? But freeway is basically the American term for what’s called a motorway or an expressway in Europe. We are talking about dual carriageways with grade separation and restricted access. You know, where you are supposed to be able to cruise freely. That’s why it’s called a freeway anyways.

Long story short, if you want to use these fast roads in Switzerland, you have to buy a sticker. It’s not expensive at all, only CHF 40 per year. The only option is the yearly one, no monthly or shorter periods are available. And it is still an actual sticker as of 2023 and 2024 that you must place on your windshield.

Switzerland toll sticker

There is no online sale for the Switzerland toll sticker or motorway vignette, you must purchase it on or around the Swiss border. We actually bought it at an Austrian highway stop coming from Germany, next to Bregenz.

Switzerland Road Signs

Road signs in Switzerland are mainly the same that you see all across Europe. The main difference between American and European road sign is that in Europe they use pictograms that can be understood even if you don’t speak the local language.

A must turn right sign

This is good news, considering that there are 3 different regions of Switzerland using 3 different languages. Everything roadside will be written in German, French, or Italian respectively, depending on which part of the country you are in.

But luckily the Swiss road signs are easy to understand even without understanding the language. And once you get used to them, it’s a pretty straightforward system. If you are new to driving in Europe, check out this very long Wikipedia article about road signs in Switzerland.

A no left turn sign

General Speed Limits

In every European country there is a general speed limit. This varies by country and by road type, but it is applied generally everywhere if there is no other speed limit sign.

The following are those road types, and you can see a sign at every European border, including Switzerland, indicating the actual speed limits for that country:

  • Motorways (high speed freeways)
  • Expressways (freeways built with slower standards)
  • Highways (any other road outside cities)
  • In cities
Switzerland general speed limits

And this is where I can talk about my first shock regarding driving in Switzerland.

We entered Switzerland through Liechtenstein, but the two countries are kind of joined together in several ways. This applies to driving rules.

General speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour in both countries, and freeway (motorway) speed limit is 120. That’s just surprisingly lower of what you see in other European countries. I actually haven’t seen a country in the last decades where the general speed limit was lower than 90 and the motorway limit lower than 130.

But anyways, those are the rules. And the Swiss are famous for their countless roadside speed radars. So simply obey these speed limits if you don’t want to get a huge speeding ticket months after you’ve left the country.

People’s Attitude

I figure when you want to learn how to drive in a specific country, one of the first things you need to know is people’s general habit on the road. Are they patient or will they honk at you for basically anything? Are they obeying speed limits in general or kind of everyone is speeding?

I find people in Switzerland, in general, are polite, as you would expect. They also obey speed limits. You wouldn’t want to behave otherwise considering the enormous number of speed radars in the country anyways.

If you come from a different country, you don’t have to worry about people being rude. They will let you decide which way you want to go, they will let you change lanes. On the other hand, be prepared that the Swiss are kind of dynamic when driving. They will keep a nice and steady flow of traffic, and expect everyone to do the same.

Cutting off and Honking in Zurich

This is when my second surprise, related to driving in Switzerland, comes in. We arrived in Zurich at the afternoon rush hour, lot’s of traffic all around the city.

There was a huge line of cars wanting to turn left at the following intersection. I sort of expected everyone to be polite and wait in their lane. And yes, most drivers did that. But at every minute there was a couple of others who just drove up until the intersection in the free lane to cut off the patient ones and turn left without waiting.

So according to our experience, if there is a huge line of cars waiting at an intersection, there will always be one or two cars cutting off the whole queue. It’s kind of frustrating when you are waiting patiently, selecting your lane in time, and the whole line is moving slow just because a couple of cars sneak in at every traffic light cycle.

And then the honking. It seems that others are not that patient with these idiots. Once, at another intersection, wee saw a truck cutting off a taxi driver in downtown Zurich. Man, the driver just sat on his honk and was blaring for like 30 seconds or more constantly.

I thought this was kind of an Eastern and Southern European habit, talking about honking endlessly in Europe. But even if the Swiss people are patient in general, this doesn’t seem to be the case on the roads every time.

As I said, they will be tolerant if you act like someone with good intentions. And foreign drivers, we are like that in most cases, a bit slow, a bit wonky, but with good intentions. But don’t try to cut off others or be rude, they won’t be forgiving at all!