Expats will have access to some of the world’s best public transport in Switzerland. Trains run like clockwork and its scenic driving routes are generally well maintained, so new arrivals should have little trouble getting around.
Public transport in Switzerland
Public transport in Switzerland consists of buses and trains. The system is modern, comprehensive, integrated and punctual.
The ticketing system can seem complex, but numerous discounts are on offer because costs are generally high. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) mobile app available for Android and iOS greatly simplifies buying tickets and researching timetables.
Travellers can buy a Swiss Half Fare card, which gives a 50 percent discount on most trains, boats, trams and buses. Expat families can also take advantage of the Swiss Family Card and Junior Travelcard. Nowadays, the Swiss Pass integrates various services through a single chipped card that can be loaded with different passes.
Tickets can be bought online or at station ticket offices and automated machines.
The Swiss railway network is extensive and consists of several kinds of trains, so it can seem daunting at first.
Making reservations on InterCity trains usually isn’t necessary, except for popular routes like the Bernina Express between Chur and Tirano, or the Glacier Express from St Moritz to Zermatt. Expats can buy tickets online on the SBB website or at the station.
Trains are widespread and faster than buses in Switzerland, so the bus network plays a smaller role in the country's public transport infrastructure.
Intercity bus services connect cities, but the number of buses on each route varies and services might not be regular, so it's best to consult timetables.
Tickets can be purchased online or at major stations, and Half Fare Cards are usually valid on long distance buses.
Driving in Switzerland
Driving in Switzerland can be a scenic pleasure, as long as drivers stick to the speed limit. The authorities are strict when it comes to upholding road rules, and drivers who are caught speeding face hefty fines and possibly jail time.
The Swiss road network is well maintained and signage is clear, but parking can be expensive and scarce in busy city centres.
Cars drive on the right, but expats will need a Swiss Motorway Sticker to use the major Autoroutes or motorways. These vignette stickers are valid for a year and driving a car without one will result in a fine.
Winter driving will be a new experience for many expats. Cars in Switzerland are often equipped with snow tyres, but in areas with heavy snow, drivers may have to chain their tyres. Signs warn drivers in advance when this is the case. The authorities may also close some roads during heavy snowfalls, especially mountain passes.
Expats will need to get a Swiss driving licence after 12 months of living in the country, and depending on the country they're from, may have to take a local driving test.
Air travel in Switzerland
Domestic flights in Switzerland connect its largest cities, but travelling by train can be more cost effective and faster. The main Swiss airports are Geneva International Airport (Genève Aéroport), Zurich Kloten Airport, Bern Airport and Lugano Airport.
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"Public transport in Geneva is amazing. They are always on time and very clean. There are buses, trams, and trains to get where you need to go. I don’t think it’s necessary to own a car, unless you want to go into the mountains or on weekend trips. But even then, you could always rent one or ride with friends."
Read our interview with American expat Melissa to learn more about living in Switzerland.
Are you an expat living in Switzerland?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Switzerland. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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