Different countries, different road traffic laws - anyone who drives abroad and receives a fine can potentially be faced with a hefty penalty. Take Italy, for example, where driving with a blood alcohol level of 1.5‰ can result in your car being subject to a forced auction. Offenses abroad can also have consequences in Switzerland, as our legislator aims to prevent foreign driving bans from having no effect. We explain here what to do if you're fined abroad and what legal consequences you should expect.
Should I pay foreign traffic fines, or can I ignore them?
You should definitely pay fines issued by foreign authorities. As a Swiss resident, you could face serious consequences if you don't. You might, for example, be entered in the police search system, banned from entering a particular country or ordered to pay a hefty non-payment fee.
Will failing to pay affect my next trip to the country in question?
Depending on the country, you could have problems the next time you visit if you go through a police or border check. Your vehicle could be impounded until you pay the fine, while one or more days in custody is also a possibility.
Do I have to pay fines issued by foreign private companies?
In some foreign cities, such as Florence and Milan, local authorities contract private companies to collect parking fines on public property. These are classed as debts under private law and can thus be enforced by Swiss debt collection companies.
I've received a fine from Italy, but it seems strange to me. What can I do?
If you have doubts as to whether the fine is genuine, you should contact the foreign police at their official address. If it was sent by a local or city authority or a private contractor, contact the sender directly.
What should I do if I receive a fine that seems excessive?
It's not always easy to judge whether the level of fine is justified or not. If the amount seems rather high, it's worth asking for a paying-in slip when there's a roadside check, for example, and clarifying the legitimacy of the fine in Switzerland, such as via existing legal protection. Depending on the country, however, a surcharge is applied if the fine proves to be justified after all.
Is it true that some countries give a discount if a fine is paid quickly?
There are indeed some European countries that grant a discount if a fine is paid immediately or within a short period. This is the case, for example, in France, Greece and Spain; in the latter two cases, the discount can be up to 50%.
This year, you can travel again stress free. But this also means that air traffic will probably increase again, especially during the summer vacation period. If you fly, you must therefore expect longer waiting times.
If you decided to travel by car, a lot of vacation traffic is expected, especially around the Mediterranean and in Germany. That makes it all the more important to prepare your car trip well and to check your car again thoroughly before you head off.
Our tip: Start your travel during the week. This way, you can avoid road traffic and bottlenecks at the airport – and you will arrive faster at your vacation destination.
Generally speaking, you should find out about the traffic regulations in your travel destination. It goes without saying that you shouldn't be driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, wherever you are. Here's a list of the most frequent cases that our customers regularly face when abroad.
Find out about the motorway tolls in Austria. These can be paid digitally on the internet. If you drive without a sticker, you'll first receive a demand for EUR 120; non-payment attracts a fine of between EUR 300 and 3,000. Purchase of a sticker is automatically checked digitally using cameras and your license plate.
Always pay parking fees and keep the receipts. Otherwise, you may receive post from Croatian or Austrian law firms or collection agencies. Claims generally become time-barred within five years.
Keep to the maximum speed limit. Fines are high and, if you exceed the speed limit by 40 kph or more on the motorway, the police are authorized to seize your driver's license on the spot. It is then forwarded to the Swiss authorities. Legal proceedings follow in Switzerland.
Keep to the maximum speed limit in Germany. Driving without a speed limit does not apply everywhere on the motorway. Germany often conducts distance measurements. And: There are also penalty points for foreigners in Flensburg.
Foreign vehicles can be seized on the spot if you can't pay a fine. Our advice: Stick to the regulations. Keep all payment receipts from motorway toll booths. Toll booths are often defective and it can happen that – even though you've paid – you receive post from collection agencies years later because claims from the motorway operators only become time-barred after 10 years.
And even though Italy is famed for its wine, you shouldn't be driving a car when inebriated. The consequences are a whole lot stricter than in Switzerland. Watch out for urban streets on which only local residents and public transportation are permitted to drive. Travelers often overlook the relevant traffic sign and are subject to a heavy fine.
In London, there is a Low Emission Zone for which there is a usage charge for certain diesel vehicles, in particular older motor homes . Failure to pay this charge results in a fine of between GBP 500 and 1,000. Check the internet to find out if you have to pay for your vacation vehicle.
Be careful about drinking sangria in Spain, as there's a legal alcohol limit of 0.5 per mille. Cars without legally compliant child seats may also be subject to a fine. Furthermore, you're not permitted to hold your hand outside of the car, even to enjoy the warm summer air - this can carry a fine of up to EUR 100.
The legal alcohol limit in the Netherlands is also 0.5 per mille. Drivers must be particularly careful at traffic lights, as they don't have an amber phase. But the good news is that Holland is one of the few countries in Europe not to have any road tolls.
In accordance with Article 45 of the Ordinance on Technical Requirements for Road Vehicles (VTS – Verordnung über die technischen Anforderungen an Strassenfahrzeuge), all vehicles traveling abroad from Switzerland must have a CH sticker clearly visible on the bumper. The CH sticker can be purchased at most gas stations in Switzerland.
Italy. Fines issued in Italy should be paid on time, otherwise very high non-payment fees are added. Fines can only be contested in writing and in Italian.
France. Switzerland and France have signed an agreement under which they provide mutual assistance to each other in the enforcement of penalties for traffic violations such as speeding or exceeding permitted parking times. In these cases, Swiss authorities enforce French fines and vice versa. Data are shared via the European Car and Driving Licence Information System (Eucaris), which holds records of all vehicle owners in Europe.
Germany. Germany and Switzerland have an agreement on policing that covers road traffic law. Details of specific vehicles and drivers are shared on request, regardless of the size of the fine.
Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein. Both countries mutually enforce traffic fines under an agreement with Switzerland.
Netherlands. Anyone who ignores traffic fines issued in the Netherlands can expect to face non-payment fees and be entered in the country's police search list. Switzerland works very closely with the Netherlands when it comes to identifying vehicle owners in the two countries.
(Source: Federal Office of Police fedpol)