FFE Magazine

Driving Swiss-registered car? Be warned before crossing Borders

7jun swiss car border

Be careful before crossing borders in the EU if you are driving a Swiss-registered car, or else suffer the same penalties as one German pensioner had.


Three years ago, 73-year-old German Dieter Johann auf der Heide was visiting his daughter on the Swiss side of Lake Constance when he was asked by his daughter to assist in decorating her holiday home in Vorarlberg, Austria. To get there with the tools and materials, his son-in-law lent him a Mercedes R 320.


Rather than offer a convenience, driving the car across the border from Switzerland to Austria led Dieter to reap a criminal offence and get a penalty worth nearly €15,000.


In the border town of Höchst, Dieter recalled being stopped by police: ‘I had to get out [of the car]. The man then threw all the doors open and called a dog handler over. Both had their right hand on their gun the whole time. It was like a crime novel. I didn’t have a clue what was going on.’


When the police returned his papers, he was told he had to pay €14,767 and that he was facing a criminal conviction.



What went wrong exactly? Dieter wasn’t aware of a certain customs and tax law that prohibited Swiss registered cars from being used in an EU country.


Citizens of the Schengen agreement member states (see map below) can freely travel within the Schengen area, but crossing borders within Schengen area coming from a non-EU member country to an  EU country one has to declare and pay customs.  So since Swistzerland is not an EU member, but part of the Schengen agreement, Dieter should have registered his Swiss-registered car with the customs before entering Austria, or any EU country for that matter.


Those who fail to register their non-EU cars with the EU, before entering the EU will be considered smugglers, and if caught have to pay fine based on the value of their vehicle.




Dieter said ‘Ignorance is no excuse, but no one knows these rules.’ He tried fighting his claim in an Austrian court but was struck down three weeks ago, the court arguing that the fine was justified and that Dieter was in effect attempting to smuggle the car into Austria.


Austrian customs authorities reveal that Dieter’s case is not unique. German motor association ADAC advised drivers who wish to cross the border from Switzerland to rent a car with an EU plate.





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