Car hire trouble at Geneva airport!

Hiring a car on arrival at Geneva and want to drive it over the border into France??  Well… its not as easy as you think due to some new EU laws.

When hiring a car for collection upon landing at Geneva Airport, you have two options. You can rent from the Swiss side of the airport through the usual rental companies, or from the French side of the airport. Typically, the Swiss rental companies are slightly cheaper than their French counterparts in our experience, probably because there’s more competition between the various companies. Swiss rental cars also come with the necessary vignette required to drive on Swiss roads. During the winter season, Swiss rental cars are usually ‘winterized’ as standard, so you don’t have to pay extra for snow tyres.

However, when you arrive to collect your pre-booked rental vehicle these days, you’ll be asked where you’re travelling to. Swiss registered cars can no longer be driven into France in accordance with a new EU regulation that came into force on 1st May. These days, EU citizens must apply for a customs clearance and a registration document before entering the EU with a car that does not have an EU registration. And of course Switzerland is not part of the EU. Popular rental website Holiday Autos now states on their website “Due to revised legal regulations in Switzerland, cross-border is not allowed for EU residents as of May 1st 2016.” ‘What’s the point of all this?’ we hear you ask. The prevention of car smuggling, apparently.

Mass confusion ensues. Not only did vehicle rental companies fail to notify their staff on their rental desks about the change in the law until the very last minute, they also failed to notify their customers in advance of this rule change, and imagine how many travellers land in Geneva en-route to France every year. We heard tales of vehicles being stopped at the Swiss / French boarder and being impounded, leaving travellers stranded and seriously out of pocket.

If you’re now thinking the solution might be to ‘forget’ to mention that you’re heading into France with your Swiss registered hire vehicle, think again. Rental companies are asking customers the question ‘Are you driving into France with this vehicle?’ Answer yes, and you’ll be refused your rental car, even if you’ve pre-paid. Answer no, and you’ll be asked to sign a disclaimer to cover the costs of repatriating the vehicle, should it pass onto French soil and be impounded. It’s also worth noting that the insurance policy on your rental car would be void too.

Earlier this week it looked like there’d been some progress. Rental company Sixt told Source that they’d found a way around the problem by bringing German registered cars to their Geneva base. Therefore, should you be travelling into France using a rental car, yours would already be EU registered. Avis emailed their clients with the following message:

“A new EU Directive means that any customer wishing to drive into another country must advise Avis at time of pick up. EU residents can only drive a vehicle with an EU license plate out of Switzerland therefore all customers will be asked to sign a document when collecting the car to advise of their plans. Avis endeavour to provide all EU customers wanting to drive out of the country an EU plate car. If you are given a non-EU plate car and you drive out of the country you could be liable for a charge at the border (10% of the value of the car). This charge is made at the border therefore it is imperative you sign the document at the depot so that Avis can give you the correct vehicle for your plans.

As part of our commitment to customer service, we like to ensure that our customers are made aware of such information prior to travel. This email is for clarification purposes and I trust this will not affect your stay or enjoyment in any way.”

Rental agent responded to our request for clarification with the following statement:

“There are some suppliers who still allow cross border with an EU registered car and Europcar is one of them. The rental conditions states that there is no charge for cross border.”

The Manager of Hertz at Geneva Airport was also interviewed on Geneva World Radio this week, claiming that there were no problems in taking a Hertz rental car into France. It’s also been rumoured that if you’re a French home owner, you can take a Swiss registered hire vehicle for travel directly to your home, but travel elsewhere is prohibited.

By now you’re probably wondering what you can do to avoid these ongoing problems this summer. You could rent from the French side of the airport, but take note. It’s quite a hike, especially if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage and kids. Navigating your way back to the French rental vehicle drop-off zone is also quite a task if you haven’t done it before. Alternatively, you could rent from the Swiss side and take as many practical measures as possible to notify them of your intention to travel into France with their vehicle, requesting an EU registered car along the way. However, as anyone who’s ever requested snow tyres or child seats from a rental company in advance will no doubt know, most requests are lost in the ether of electronic communication. There’s a reasonable chance that you’ll be left at the airport with a vehicle that can’t take you to your French destination. Or, you could fly to Lyon, Grenoble or Chambery airports, where French registered hire cars are readily available.

This ongoing problem seems too ridiculous to last and we’ll keep this page updated with news and updates. Please do get in touch to let us know your experiences of car rental at Geneva Airport in the meantime!

(Thanks to Morzine Source Magazine for the article).