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Swiss border crossings question

Going to be in Alsace in several weeks and thought we might go down to Basel for dinner. Has anybody done the land-crossings within the past month? If so please let me know what the lines were like (please include where you were, how long the wait was and what time of day you were crossing). If we're looking at an hour-wait, I think we'll pass but less than that...

Thanks!

Posted by
20461 posts

Border crossing lines??? What border crossing lines. Since Basel's airport is actually in France, I'm wondering where you heard this.

Posted by
8889 posts

Are you doing this by train or car?
There is no immigration (passport checks) between France and Switzerland because both countries are in the Schengen Area. There is customs, because Switzerland is not in the EU. But, customs aren't interested in private travellers, they are interested in people in commercial vehicles trying to avoid paying duty. The border runs between the city and its suburbs, through urban streets. People cross by car, city bus, tram, train, cycle and on foot. It is impractical to check everyone crossing.

  • If you are coming by road, either by the Autoroute or any of the minor roads, you have to slow down for customs, there will be a customs guy standing there and he will wave you through with a flick of the wrist. He will stop about 1 car in 20 or 50 randomly or if it looks suspicious, but otherwise you do not actually stop. Even if stopped it will take less than 5 minutes.
  • By train it is similar. There will be customs people either on the train or watching the people getting off the train. They will ignore an obvious tourist.

Be aware that Switzerland is a more expensive than Alsace. Expect to pay CHF 60 minimum per person in a restaurant, maybe up to CHF 100 if it is an expensive restaurant.
For restaurant information, on the city's official website: https://www.basel.com/en/Eating-Going-out
If you are coming by car, the city centre is pedestrianised. There are lots of car parks on the edge of the city (pay), then you walk or take a tram into the centre.

Posted by
8889 posts

Sam, this city has a rather unique way of handling borders. It is effectively split between 3 countries, but manages to function by ignoring the fact.
The airport is technically in France, but Switzerland has special extra territorial rights. Half the terminal counts as being in Switzerland, half in France. There is a line through the middle of the building, which you can walk across as long as you have a passport with you. When you land, after you pick up your luggage you can either walk through one door, past French customs into France, or through a different door, past Swiss customs into Switzerland (all in the same building). If you then leave the building by the Swiss exit, you get to a road which has special "duty free port" status. It goes direct to Basel without connecting to any French road, and you can get a Basel city bus into the city. If you exit by the French entrance, you are in France, and if you take the main Autoroute into Basel, you then go through customs at the border.

There are multiple bus routes to France and Germany (every 15 minutes), plus a tram route to Germany (every 7½ minutes) and another one under construction to France. Technically customs could stop a tram and inspect the passengers, but with 150+ people on a standing-room-only rush hour tram, they know when they are beaten.

Posted by
32266 posts

Jonathan,

I've never noticed any border controls between Alsace and Switzerland. If travelling by train, as I recall the trains from France arrive at the "old" part of the station, and you'll walk past shuttered Passport control booths. Of course given current events, perhaps there have been some changes since my last visit (but from what Chris has said, things are still the same).

One other minor point to mention. If you have to use the WC in the Basel station, they're operated by McClean and you'll need Swiss currency to pay for that. I've found in the past that they don't accept Euro.

Posted by
33330 posts

Are you going to drive or take the train, Jonathan?

It will make a difference, likely, in your pocket.

If you drive in from France, you don't drive through the most beautiful neighborhoods, but you stay off the Swiss autobahns. If you have crossed the river to visit a bit of Germany (many beautiful places, just ask) you will cross the border on an autobahn and will require a CHF 40 Vignette, which will raise the price of the day.

I strongly suggest visiting by train and using the many many trams in Basel while you are there. Seeing the beautiful city from ground level is a completely different experience than by car.

The paper museum, the walk along the river banks, I could go on. It is a fabulous little city.

Posted by
8889 posts

Nigel, your info about the Autoroute from Alsace is out-of-date. The A35 no longer ends at the border. If you want to avoid the CHF 40 Vignette (which would be silly to pay if you are only going into Basel), you have to get off the Autoroute at the last exit in France (St. Louis, the exit AFTER the airport), and cross the border by the road from St Louis into Basel.
Similar logic applies if you are coming down the Autobahn A5 on the German side of the Rhine.

I should have added that info for Jonathon: If you are crossing into Switzerland on an Autobahn or Autoroute and your vehicle does not have an Autobahn toll Vignette sticker, then you do have to stop and you will be sold one, which costs CHF 40.

Posted by
33330 posts

Thanks, Chris F.

I take it, though, that St Louis is its same beautiful self?

Does the A35 now link in to the autobahn before the tunnel?

Posted by
8889 posts

Yes St Louis is as ever. It must be a few years since you drove that way. The A35 crosses the border, becomes the Swiss A3 and within 200 metres disappears into a very expensive tunnel. This then goes round north Basel in the tunnel, crossing the Rhine as the lower deck of a double decker bridge and merges with the Autobahn from Germany to continue round Basel. All the traffic is underground and out of sight (and sound).
Link to official city map: click here

If you want to avoid the CHF 40 Autobahn Vignette you have to get off on the last exit in France, and go through St Louis to the old border post (St Louis Grenze). Don't use Burgfelden Grenze, as that is currently intermittently shut for cars (OK for pedestrians and cycles) as they are building the new tram line along the middle of that road.

@Jonathan, are you still there? Are you till intending to have a day in Basel? There is plenty to see.