The Swiss motorway vignette, and why you need one

With the final preparations for our 2019 Alps tour approaching completion, I was wondering whether I needed a ‘vignette’. What is a vignette, where would I need one, where could I get one, and why didn’t I have one on my last visit to the alps? I hope to answer these questions.

What is a vignette?

The vignette is a sticker that is purchased and placed on the window of your vehicle. It is a requirement to travel on the Swiss motorways and lasts for 12 months from purchase. Anyone being caught without one will face large on the spot fines. That doesn’t mean that you will need one to travel on other roads in Switzerland. This is perhaps why I didn’t have one last time, and avoided any fines.

Where would I need one?

This again is something that I hadn’t fully understood on my last trip. I knew that there was such thing as a vignette and I intended to get one if needed. Looking back I now understand that much of my motorway travel had been through Italy and France. In these countries you do not use a vignette and instead pay a toll. Lots of tolls! When compared to the tolls paid it looks relatively inexpensive.

Where can I get a vignette?

Vignettes can be bought at most border crossings, petrol stations, post offices and online. I purchased mine for this years trip from the Switzerland Travel Centre.

I wanted to have the peace of mind that I had the vignette. This would prevent any delay in having find a fuel station or be fumbling for cash at a border crossing. The cost of the vignette is currently CHF 40 and I paid £32 plus a small handling fee.

Why didn’t I have one on my last trip and managed not to get a fine?

To answer this I’d say that firstly I wasn’t sure of the requirements, and I was applying a suck it and see approach. Additionally much of my travel was not on the motorways or was in France or Italy. It is true that I did use the motorways. The first was through a routing error and a wrong turn. The second was on my return to Geneva. We opted for the fast route home, having being caught in a torrential downpour.

Leaving Geneva towards France

The vignette will normally be checked at border crossings, and you will be asked what roads you intend using. Presumably this is where you will be given an opportunity to buy a sticker if you don’t already have one. Hopefully you won’t immediately get the Monopoly ‘Go to Jail’ option and get presented with a CHF 400 fine. I only ever remember going through one manned checkpoint and that was crossing out of Geneva into France. This may have been down to the more scenic routes we selected.

In conclusion

Much of this can come down to experience. It is worth knowing not just for avoiding a fine, but to have a greater understanding of your route at planning stage.

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