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Questions re renting a car on French side of Geneva airport

After a week in Switzerland using public transportation, we intend to take the train to the Geneva airport and rent a car on the French side, then use that car for the 2nd week of our vacation in France, returning it at the Marseille airport. The one-way return fee isn't bad, only about $90.

It would be great to get tips from anyone who has ever arrived at the Geneva airport on the Swiss side by train and rented a car on the French side. My own research indicates we'll have a 30 minute walk and there are areas we can't pass through unless we're holding a boarding pass for a flight or a confirmed car rental reservation (which we'll have). Is there a shuttle bus or tram or does the need to present this paperwork at some check point mean we'll just be walking?

We thought about spending the rest of this day on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva before heading down to our accommodations in Chamonix. The car rental co. is Sixt and I read on their website that their cars rented on either side of the Geneva airport can be driven in both France and Switzerland, with no extra fees, but if you don't return it in the same country where you rented it, a high additional fee will be charged. They also caution that if you are driving the car on any "motorways" in Switzerland, you will need to buy a 40 CHF vignette. This vignette isn't required using the car on Switzerland's "ordinary roads."

Does anyone have experience with this? Can we drive over to Montreux or Vevey, then from that area down to Chamonix at the end of the day, without having to pay this vignette? If the answer is no, we'll just reconfigure our day to rent the car at the very end.

Posted by
28804 posts

you can indeed avoid a CHF 40 vignette but it will cost you an additional 90 minutes to 2 hours. Is that OK? The straightforward route from the airport to Montreux is the A1 autoroute (vignette required) to the A9 autoroute (vignette required). That would, at rush hour now, take about 90 minutes.

If you want to avoid the autoroutes you can take the lakeside road all the way, either on the Swiss or French side and not pay for the vignette. You and everybody in the car needs to be on super-radar mode because between the airport and the road along the lake you will be guided onto short stretches of vignette requiring road, but it can be done. It is possible to avoid those but you really need to plan it out. It will take between 45 minutes and an hour longer if you don't get lost or get tempted to stop.

From Montreux to Chamonix there is again a road parallel to the A9 autoroute (vignette required) as far as Martigny where you turn towards France and the mountains. But overall the drive that day avoiding the vignette will take about 4 to 4 and a half hours, paying the CHF40 for the vignette will give you the same trip in about 2 and a half hours.

Two questions - you will be arriving in Geneva from somewhere else in Switzerland? Where? Won't the train from wherever either go through Montreux or Lausanne? Wouldn't it be easier to stop on the way to the airport instead of backtracking all that way?

Second - I know that CHF40 sounds like a lot of money but it gets you so much smooth driving (and after a while I bet the traffic lights and views of the lake will get tiring on the lakeside route), and it goes towards all those fabulous Swiss roads and tunnels. Buying one can make you feel good. Shame you only use it for a day when it is good for 14 months for people who can make use of it...

Posted by
28804 posts

I can't give you information about the Geneva airport because I've never done it. I've been in the airport there and the train station directly underneath but I've never done that task.

Posted by
1008 posts

Am I correct to assume that your advice also applies to driving directly from Chamonix to the French side of GVA? Vignette required for faster route?
Sorry to hijack but sounds like the same question in reverse. :)


Posted by
3846 posts

Perusing some online stuff, it appears that the "French Side" of the Geneva Airport is a diplomatically cordoned off part of the main terminal that is in Switzerland but everyone pretends is actually in France. I am sure there is a treaty or something making it official. Just be sure to know what you are doing, a lot of people wander in and then are refused exit unless they hire a 35 euro taxi to literally take them a few yards from the door to the "French Side" of the airport terminal to the main airport terminal entrance, i.e. they are driven out of Switzerland via tunnel under the runway into France, circle back to enter Switzerland via a roadside immigration station, then are returned to a door yards from where they got into the taxi.

From the Hertz Geneva Airport website:

To reach the French Sector after the arrival of your flight, follow the same route as the other travellers, collect your luggage, then once in the Arrivals hall, after passing through customs, go up one floor to the Check-in level.

Follow the “Destination France” signs to access the French Sector (to the right of the terminal, near the Air France ticket offices).

Warning: Following security measures imposed by the Swiss and French authorities, Genève Aéroport informs you that ONLY passengers in possession of an air ticket valid for day D +/-1 are authorised to pass between the international sector and the France sector, and vice versa.

Therefore, car rental agencies’ clients that do not meet this condition must imperatively move from one sector to another by road (car, taxi, etc.), by passing through the Ferney-Voltaire customs. Pedestrians and cyclists are not allowed to use this road.

Genève Aéroport thanks you for your understanding.

It appears to be misleading to call this the "French Side" (Côté Français) because it is not on the French side of the runway. It's more like a "French Sector" or "French Zone" with a fenced, dedicated roadway connecting this enclave inside Switzerland to France.

Posted by
409 posts

In reply to Nigel, we'll have spent 5 nights in the Berner Oberland just prior to our car rental. We looked into going up to Montreux, Vevey, Chillon Castle as a day trip, but it's too far away. That gave us the idea to see those places on the day we're up there to pick up the cars so we can drive to Chamonix to start the France half of our vacation. I thought we'd get up to Montreux by train, arriving at around 11:30 to 1:00 depending on whether it's the fast route or the Golden Pass Route. Then spend all day on that eastern end of Lake Geneva, and after we've seen/done all we want to see/do, we'll take the train to the airport to get our rental cars. It might be 8 or 9 p.m. by the time we pick up cars, but the drive to Chamonix is short, only about 1 hour 20 min.

But that plan was thwarted because the rental car company's counter closes at 5:00. It's Sixt. The agency that booked the car for us,, said that their hours might be reduced right now because tourism is down, and they could have longer hours by the time we travel (next year). However, they said that if we change our reservation to specify a later pick up time, it will be treated as a new booking at whatever rates are then applicable. We got a great rate by booking now.

If we have to pick up the cars by 5:00, we have inadequate time to do all we wanted to do on the eastern end of Lake Geneva.

So that gave me the idea to head straight to the airport from the Berner Oberland, pick up the cars, and then drive to the other end of the lake for whatever we might want to do on Lake Geneva before we head to Chamonix.

Maybe we'll just pay the vignette because I'm getting a headache trying to figure this out any other way!

To Tom_MN, thanks for finding that warning about foot passengers not being able to cross from the Swiss side of the airport to the French sector. It contradicts what I'd been reading on some other travel forums, that if you didn't arrive by plane and are going there just to pick up your rental car, you need to have your car reservation in hand. However, what you posted does appear to be the official word right from the airport's website.

We'll have 10 in our group. It's frustrating that it appears we'll have to use 3 cabs at $35 each to get all ten of us a few yards away to the French side! We are renting three cars. If we send just the 3 drivers in one cab to go get the cars, then we have the issue of whether they're going to be able to drive back over to pick the rest of us up on the Swiss side without buying the vignette.

Anyone have other ideas for us?

Posted by
4720 posts

How about renting the cars in Chamonix? There is at least Europcar there.

You can go by train from the Berner Oberland to Montreux via the scenic Golden Pass railway, then Montreux to Martigny, and Martigny to Chamonix with a quick change in border station Vallorcine.

And you can probably do without a car in Chamonix, too.
If Chamonix does not work out as a car rental location, there is also a branch of Avis at Saint Gervais station, which is easily reached by train from Chamonix (and scenic, too).

Posted by
409 posts

In reply to Balso, our original thought was to take the train to Chamonix, where we won't even need cars, and then on our departure day, rent from the EuropCar facility there. But the person I'm working with at told me, "Auto Europe, our broker for 29 years, has ended its relationship with Europcar in Chamonix. The location is a franchisee, not corporately owned, and has been removed from the AE reservation system due to unacceptable service." did tell me, however, about the Avis in Saint Gervais, and now that you've mentioned that as well, I'm going to look into it! Thanks.

Posted by
3846 posts

More info about this odd situation. Apparently the access to the French area is not always manned so a person can get into the French enclave without a boarding pass most of the time, but not always as someone posted on this link, which talks about how to take the public bus from the terminal into France (ignoring the French enclave altogether) and simply renting there.

Bus 66 starts at the Geneva Airport and goes right to Ferney-Mairie, France, just minutes away.

Posted by
3707 posts

In reply to Balso, our original thought was to take the train to
Chamonix, where we won't even need cars, and then on our departure
day, rent from the EuropCar facility there. But the person I'm working
with at told me, "Auto Europe, our broker for 29 years, has
ended its relationship with Europcar in Chamonix. […]"

That sounds like a much better option. If the travel agent can't book that, why not book it yourself direct from Europcar? If a travel agent can't arrange what I wan't, my strategy is to arrange it myself instead of settle for a worse option.