Planning on renting a car in Switzerland and need some tips? Switzerland is a small and pretty easy country to travel around. Many visitors will choose to travel by public transport, but for ultimate freedom renting a car in Switzerland is best.
Here are some of our top tips for renting a car in Switzerland!
Rental Cars in Switzerland
Plan Your Trip to Switzerland
Being a mountainous country, Switzerland doesn’t have a lot of airports. That means the primary way to travel around the country is via train. But if you don’t want to be beholden to the train network, car hire is most definitely a top option.
Chances are you’ll be arriving from wherever you are in the world to Zurich International Airport. From there, it’s relatively simple to rent a car, thanks to many companies having a presence at the airport – including well known international companies such as Avis and Hertz.
Book Your Rental Vehicle
Switzerland won’t really have any shortage of vehicles that you can hire. That said, if you want the size, type, or even brand of car that you desire, it’s advisable to book in advance – especially if your whole trip relies on having your own wheels. This is easily done online, of course.
Not only does booking in advance allow the luxury of choice, but it may also mean that you get access to early bird booking deals (21 days or more is the usual), as well as discounts for booking in advance/online as opposed to walk-up bookings. Basically, it’s better to plan ahead.
Tip: It’s actually cheaper to rent your car in Austria or France and then embark on your trip to Switzerland from there. That’s if you plan to begin in Geneva, at least.
My favorites to look at are:
- RentalCars.com: Provides comparisons for car rentals in Europe.
- AutoEurope: I can often find deals here for car rentals in Europe.
- Discover Car Hire: Searches rental car prices around the globe.
Choose Your Rental Vehicle
Depending on what sort of roads you plan to be driving on, choosing your rental vehicle is important. Something larger (e.g., a sturdy 4×4) is fine if you’re hopping from city to city via the country’s very efficient superhighways, but not so much if you plan on visiting villages hidden away in valleys reachable only by narrow, winding mountain roads.
Bear in mind that cars are available in two types – manual and automatic. Manuals are always cheaper and in more abundance in Europe. If you’ve never driven manual before, we’d suggest that it’s not a good time to start learning abroad – especially not in the mountains of Switzerland. Go automatic. And if you’re feeling eco-friendly, you can opt for an electric option.
If you’re traveling Switzerland during the winter months you’ll want to make sure that you are familiar with driving in snow and slippery conditions. You’ll also want to make sure your car has winter tires.
Upfront Costs with Driving in Switzerland
Before you even start driving around and filling your new wheels up with delicious diesel or gas (whatever the case may be), the average car rental in Switzerland will be costing you an average of $359 per week. That’s $51 a day.
This price will also include the 6.5% government tax on rental cars in Switzerland, bundled in with a 12% tax that’s standard for rentals from the country’s airports. This means you may want to pick up your car further from the airports. So when you see the prices, opt to pick up from a Downtown location to miss out on those fees.
That’s the average, of course. Depending on the time of year, it could be much more expensive (the Holiday Season, Easter and the Summer Vacation, to be exact). Of course, booking online and in advence will almost certainly yield cheaper results, too.
Gas or diesel?
The cost of gas and diesel varies across the country. The general rule of thumb is that it’s more expensive along superhighways (called Autobahns) than on secondary roads or in towns. And it’s more expensive than in the U.S. if that’s where you’re coming from.
Unleaded petrol is the norm in Switzerland; you’ll find it in the green pumps at gas stations. Diesel is everywhere too. It can change, obviously, but generally, it’s 1.40 CHF (Swiss Francs) per liter for unleaded, 1.20 for diesel.
Rental Car Insurance in Switzerland
Car insurance is, thankfully, often built into the price of hiring a car in Switzerland. It’s illegal to drive without car insurance, so most often it will be part of the final cost of your rental car.
If you’re traveling around Switzerland as a couple or group and someone else wants to drive, you’ll have to specify when you go to pick up the car and have them registered as named drivers if they’re to be covered by insurance. Or you can double check if your credit card has car rental insurance on it.
Get the Right Credit Card
That’s right, if you have a US credit card, or equivalent in another country, it’s possible you already have CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance for rental car coverage and don’t know it! It’s worth it to check your documentation and call your credit card company to find out. It’s even worth considering signing up to a new credit card that does offer this so you don’t have to pay for ridiculous car rental insurance. See our favorite travel credit cards here.
Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but the primary rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put your car hire on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card you get primary rental car coverage around the world up to $75,000.
That works out great for us since we are nomadic and don’t have a car or home. Car rental companies in Switzerland and around the world love to scare customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to Switzerland.
If you don’t have a credit card that covers rental car insurance, it may be worth adding it on to your package. That way if there is an accident you won’t be stuck paying for a car hire out of pocket.
Hold charges, an amount “billed” to the credit card you use to book, are a thing and can range anywhere from a minimum of around $200 to the thousands. It’s a very common practice.
Don’t worry though; it’s not charged to your credit card, it’s on hold in case something goes wrong with the car or you do something stupid, like crashing the vehicle and trying to do a runner. Believe it or not, it happens!
Navigation in Switzerland
Navigating your way around the roads of Switzerland shouldn’t be too tricky. This is a developed country with a sophisticated road network, from well-maintained mountain roads to super slick autobahns.
Your car may come with an in-built GPS (which we recommend, just in case your own methods fail), but that may mean a more expensive rental. Google Maps, available on your smartphone, will usually work just fine. Make sure you pre-load your journey while you have wi-fi if you don’t have any data. Google Maps allows you to download offline maps so you always have turn by turn navigation.
It’s always a good idea to be able to use your phone when you’re driving a car around a foreign country. If not because you need to call somebody for assistance, then just to Google where the heck you are.
A local sim is definitely something we recommend. Data means not having to rely on pre-loaded routes, too. Pick one up from the airport from as low as 20 CHF and you’ll get 2 to 3 G.B. of data and multiple minutes calls and SMS; the national provider is Swisscom. We pick up a sim card in almost every country we visit.
Car Pick Up/Drop Off
Like most countries, the car pick up process in Switzerland is straightforward. You’ll be shown the paperwork (usually completed in an office, and with not much for you to fill in), you’ll have to sign some documents, then you’ll be shown around the car.
They’ll point out any major defects to you – at which point, you could point out some, too – as well as show you the fuel.
Dropping off the car is simple enough – you’ll just have to make sure you get there on time. Incurring a late fee adds unnecessary expense to your journey. And don’t forget to make sure the tank is full, or at least the same as it was when you picked it up.
Inspect the Rental Car
Being Switzerland, you shouldn’t be hassled or scammed too much (if at all) about alleged “damage” you’ve inflicted upon a rental vehicle. Sure, it’s not renting a motorbike in Thailand, but it’s still advisable to inspect your rental car thoroughly.
When you’re asked if you want to look at the vehicle, always say yes. Take photos or a film as proof of any dents or scratches before you drive off. If the damages aren’t noted on your rental papers you should make sure they get added before leaving the rental car agency.
Check Your Charges
It could be a mistake, but these things happen. The hold charge? That might have become an actual charge. Or the rental company may have added extra fees when they weren’t supposed to. Usually, this sort of thing is a mistake, but it still needs to be worked out.
It’s best to check before you leave the country; it will be much harder to deal with home and calling abroad. It’s easier to dispute with the company there and then, rather than sitting for hours on an expensive helpline.
Drinking and Driving in Switzerland
The current alcohol-blood limit (BAC) is 0.05%, which is 50 milligrams per 100 milliliters. That basically means you shouldn’t drink anything at all when you’re driving.
If you’re tested and your BAC comes out between 0.05 and 0.079%, you’ll either be fined or arrested. If it’s higher, the fine will be higher, you can be arrested, and your driving license could be confiscated for three months (at least). Even if you’re the passenger, you can still be held responsible – if you have a driving license, that is – and fined.
With some of the strictest DUI limits in the world, it’s just not worth it – and it’s dangerous. Be careful if you’ve been drinking the night before and drive in the morning, as the alcohol could still be in your blood.
More Switzerland Car Rental Tips
With Switzerland being a mountainous country, rental cars will (usually) be equipped with special tires in the winter season. These are a must.
Most Alpine passes can be driven all year round but, depending on danger levels, tunnels will be opened instead. You must have your headlights on at all times – day and night; not doing so will result in a fine. Keep them on low beam in tunnels; you don’t want to blind people.
They drive on the right in Switzerland, which is great if you’re from the U.S. or anywhere that applies. You have to wear a seatbelt.
If you’re on a mountain road, the ascending vehicle has priority. Postal buses, however, always have the right of way, no matter which direction they’re going.
Cost of Rental Car in Switzerland?
There are two main factors that will dictate how much your rental car will cost you in Switzerland – when you book, and where you book.
Booking online is much better; it goes without saying that the bigger companies (Avis and Hertz, as we’ve mentioned) will be more reliable, efficient, and possibly have deals.
Something to take into consideration – if you want to drop off at a different location than you picked up, you’ll have to pay a “one-way” fee, as well as parking fees (these vary).
The time of year will also affect the booking. Though booking 21 days (or more) in advance will be cheaper, it might not matter if you’re booking for Summer or Spring Vacation; this is when all of Europe goes on vacation, and prices will be at a premium. See the best time to visit Switzerland here.
Roads in Switzerland
These are well built and well-maintained. You shouldn’t have too much trouble with Switzerland’s roads. What’s more is that the roads are usually open all year round, depending on the weather, of course.
One thing to think about is the Great Saint Bernard, San Bernardino, and St Gotthard Passes. If you want to drive those, you may have to use a tunnel instead as they’re often closed.
Sometimes, you’ll have to take your car on a train… through a mountain (such as at Furka Tunnel). This is pretty cool and allows you to chill out for a little bit, though you will have to stay inside your car.
Toll Roads in Switzerland
Your automobile will come with a sticker displayed in the windshield, meaning you won’t have to worry about paying road tolls in cash. Although you might be billed at the end of your car rental contract.
Fill up Your Rental Car in Switzerland
Gas stations can be found on big highways and smaller roads alike. These are open from 8 am to 10 pm, but on autobahns, they’re usually 24-hours.
Make sure to bring enough cash with you as your foreign credit card won’t always work. Also, make sure to fill up enough so you don’t run out in remote areas. In addition, running the gas level all the way down to the red is not good for the car.
Ensure you’re putting unleaded petrol into an unleaded car and diesel into a diesel car. Mixing these two up, particularly unleaded petrol into a diesel car, can literally break the car.
Should You Travel Switzerland by Car?
If you’re a confident driver and preferably have had some experience driving abroad (and on mountainous roads), then yes – you should definitely rent a car in Switzerland. It’s a beautiful country and you’ll get to see some incredible hidden areas that you may miss out on otherwise.
Be warned, though, that tunnels are frequent. Riding in your car on the back of a train through a pitch-black tunnel can be claustrophobic.
If you’re only planning to be in city centers, however, renting a car may not be worth the money – parking fees can rack up and the public transport is great in Switzerland. Also the Swiss train system is top notch and you can pretty much get anywhere via train.
Plan and Pack for Switzerland
Switzerland Travel Planning Resources
- Packing Guide — Check out our Europe Packing Guide to help pack your bags and ensure you don’t leave anything at home.
- Rent a Car — We suggest most visitors consider renting a car for the best trip possible. Try Discover Car Hire to compare quotes from different rental agencies. Check Price Here!
- Protect Your Trip — Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance! We always carry travel insurance to protect from injury, theft, or a canceled trip. Try World Nomads for competitive short term plans. Read a review of World Nomads here.
- Tours in Switzerland— Check out our list of the best tours you can enjoy in Switzerland!
- Travel Adapter – Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.