French Tolls and Swiss Taxes
We crossed the Swiss border last year without knowing what we were doing. As in France and Spain, there’s a fee in Switzerland to use the motorway network. Unlike French and Spanish charges, Swiss fees are calculated by time rather than by distance. Drivers don’t need to pay Swiss road tax if they avoid major highways. Unfortunately for us, using minor roads often involves negotiating high and narrow passes frequently covered in thick snow during the winter and early spring. Our heavily laden front wheel drive Hymer performs poorly if there’s a little sleet or ice, even on a flat surface. Attempting snow-covered twenty-five percent gradients flanked by unprotected vertical drops into distant river beds would be asking for trouble.
Switzerland’s motorway vignette is like an old style UK road tax disc. It’s available at all border crossings if the checkpoint is manned, or in nearby shops if it’s not. Complying with the motorway tax regulations is simple; you part with forty Swiss francs for a twelve months permit, regardless of the time you plan to spend in Switzerland, and then you place the paper disc on your windscreen. It must be fixed in the right position using the correct adhesive. Any deviation from the precise mounting instructions is likely to result in a stiff fine and immersion in a giant vat filled with bubbling fondue.
Last year’s border crossing was at an unmanned checkpoint. We purchased a vignette from a nearby store, spent an eternity making sure that the disc placement was correct and then enjoyed ten glorious days in mountainous Switzerland. We congratulated ourselves on a trouble free stay as we crossed the Swiss border into Lichtenstein. Our smugness was premature. A gun-toting border control officer flagged us down to ask why we were using an inappropriate tax disc.
We discovered that vignettes are for vehicles weighing less than three and a half tonnes. Our Hymer is two tonnes over the vignette weight limit. We endured a lengthy roadside interrogation followed by half an hour of laborious form filling in the border control office. We expected a hefty fine for rule breaking. Much to our delight we were given a refund for the difference between the vignette purchase price and the total big vehicle tax due for our ten-day stay. The cash was handed over with an unsmiling recommendation to buy the correct road tax on our next visit.
Frustratingly, vehicle tax for heavy vehicles can only be purchased at manned border crossings. A form has to be completed which isn’t available anywhere else. More by luck than judgement our checkpoint this year was fully staffed.
We slowed down to ask an officer glaring at passing vehicles where we could pay our tax. He waved in the general direction of a steel and glass roadside office next to four lanes of crawling traffic. We couldn’t understand why there was so little parking available for the hundreds of lorries, buses and large motorhomes passing through the checkpoint every day. Most are too big to use many of the mountain roads. They need to use the motorway network. The owners are obliged to complete a written form before they can drive on the country’s major highways, so there should have been acres of large vehicle parking available. There wasn’t.
I squeezed the Hymer into a small space on an empty disabled parking bay. I conveniently ignored the disapproving stare from a nearby policeman and many honking horns from frustrated lorry drivers trying to avoid the Hymer’s protruding back end. We marched into the tax office to pay our fee and to complain about the checkpoint’s meagre parking facilities.
Imagine my surprise when a solitary clerk in an otherwise empty building smiled and offered me some unexpected advice. “We have an agreement with the Swiss government. They’ve promised not to offer currency exchange as long as we don’t offer road tax.” He pointed to a large neon sign above his building’s front door. “That’s why the sign says twenty-four-hour money exchange. The tax office is next door.” He shook his head as he returned to his paperwork.
There was, of course, acres of available parking for drivers needing to stop for tax. We purchased ours and left as quickly as we could before we made any more foolish mistakes.
Our last two days on the road have strained our modest travel budget. We have driven four hundred miles, mainly on the excellent French motorway network. Pain-free driving in France comes at a cost. Ours was £73.21 in toll charges, £0.21 per motorway mile, plus £0.26 a mile for diesel. Pricey, but not a bad total for moving our house and all our worldly goods to another country.