Reports in the international press have claimed that car hire companies in Switzerland are stopping foreigners and tourists from the EU driving Swiss cars over the border to neighbouring countries. The reason is a recent tightening of EU law.
In an internet forum drivers have been describing how they are being turned away from car hire desks on the Swiss side of Geneva airport, which is located on the border with France, once they said they intended to take the car into the neighbouring country.
The problem was picked up by a British newspaper and concerns EU citizens who wish to take a car registered in non-EU country Switzerland, to an EU nation such as France.
Answer from the Swiss government
On June 13, Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer confirmed that recent EU legislation had removed the previous eight-day grace period for driving a car rented in Switzerland within the 28-member European Union. He said that the Swiss government is working on solutions to the issue with the EU but that in the meantime, car hire companies have been offered the option of purchasing and registering cars in the EU specifically for use outside Switzerland.
In July of 2015, the European Union introduced legislation pertaining to people who drive foreign cars from outside the 28-nation bloc into the EU. The law states that such vehicles must be taxed unless they are being used for work purposes, the driver is directly returning to his or her home within the Union or is in the process of leaving the Union.
Therefore, the legislation affects customers driving rental cars from Switzerland in any neighbouring country, during holidays for example.
Spokesperson Stabsadj Attila Lardori of the Swiss Customs Administration told swissinfo.ch that his office had sent information to car rental companies following the EU law change and suggested, as an option, that those companies purchase some cars in the EU and pay the necessary tax on them so that they can specifically be rented to people who intend to leave Switzerland.
But France's application of the law could be different than Germany or Austria's, he said.
"We can't comment on how individual countries will interpret the EU legislation."
In the Geneva area, the airport really is sandwiched between Switzerland and France, making the question of crossing borders a difficult one.
Car rental customers report differing practices on the part of companies when it comes to renting Swiss cars for use across the border. One user on the snowheads forum wrote, “I had booked a car with Alamo on the Swiss side of GVA [Geneva airport] last Friday (5th May). The counter staff refused to rent the car (pre-paid) because I had answered yes to the question 'are you going into France'.” The user added, “The car hire hall was in some chaos (at a quiet time of year) with people trying to transfer reservations to the French side.”
Another commented, “We are hiring a car out of Geneva in two weeks’ time and Holiday Autos told me that it would not be possible to hire from Swiss side and drive to France, so have had to go French side, costs more”.
On the other hand, another forum user posted this update on May 28: “Just managed to get hold of 'Dollar', the car hire company and they have assured me that there will be no issue taking their 'swiss plated' hire car into France”.
I was given this information on twitter.
A spokesperson for Holiday Autos told swissinfo.ch that “[We] have very clear guidelines with regard to pick-up at Geneva airport. Since 1 May 2016, supplier’s terms and conditions have been updated to highlight whether cross border travel is permissible or not. If a customer has booked a car with a supplier that allows cross border travel and is subsequently asked to go to the French side of the airport, please contact us as soon as possible so that we look to resolve the issue as a matter of urgency”.
Information in German on the Alamo website about rentals in Switzerland states that “the renter must disclose at the time of rental that they would like to take the vehicle over an international border”. It goes on to say that this is permitted for a number of countries, including Switzerland’s neighbours; France, Austria, Germany and Italy.
Are you an EU citizen who has been told you cannot take a hire car from Switzerland out of the country?