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I am from the US, and will be traveling to Basel, Switzerland for about a week. While there, I need to get from the airport to the hotel, the hotel to a certain location every day and back, and then back to the airport.

As I am unfamiliar with the road system and driving regulations in Basel, would driving there be unsafe? Is using public transportation a better recommendation?

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Remember one rule of driving for all of Europe(save UK): Drive on the right and pass on the left and speed limit is in kilometers not miles. :) –  Karlson May 2 '12 at 20:17
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Rule two of driving in Europe: No turns on red. –  200_success May 2 '12 at 22:24
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Public transport in Switzerland is excellent. Check out the Basel network map to see if the places you want to go are conveniently reachable by train/bus/tram before you rent a car. bvb.ch/en/timetable-network/liniennetz –  200_success May 2 '12 at 22:30
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Why do you want to rent a car in Switzerland? It has the best rail system in the world. And don't expect the cities to be particular car friendly. Either the parking is not very central, or they charge you for it. –  iHaveacomputer May 3 '12 at 6:58
    
rule 3 for Europe: be prepared to yield to pedestrians and cyclists. They're used to being inviolate and will cross your path often without looking at the weirdest moments. –  jwenting May 3 '12 at 9:03
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3 Answers

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+500

You can certainly rent a car in Basel and drive around. I have driven with my European license in the States without any problem, so I asume you can drive in Europe as if you are in the US. There are certain differences in trafic rules, but if you drive carefully you'll be okay.

Having said that, I would recommend the public transport system in Basel. When you checkin at your hotel you will be handed a tourist day pass for each day that you will be staying in Basel, which will allow you to travel around Basel on the bus and trams. The price is covered by the tourist tax that is paid through your hotel bill. To get from the airport to you hotel, it enough to show proof of your hotel reservation to take the bus. When I stayed in Basel, I got directions from my hotel by email on which busses to take to get from the airport to my hotel.

Be aware that Basel airport is actually in France. A road corridor is created to drive to Switzerland. Before going through the exit, make sure you take the Swiss exit, otherwise you'll end up in France.

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Awesome, thanks! –  Eli May 2 '12 at 19:17
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Generally speaking it is no problem to rent a car at Basel airport. As you can see on the homepage of the airport, you can rent car from at least 6 major and worldwide-known companies.

It isn't a problem to drive a car with your US license, you should just provide a credit card as usual in the whole word.

The price really depends on various factors, as your age, the car category, the duration, the season etc, but you can expect to pay not less than 60 Swiss franks for a day. To quote Lonely Planet:

Car rental is expensive, especially if hiring from a multinational firm. It's cheaper to book ahead from your own country, but you're still looking at Sfr350 to Sfr500 per week. The minimum rental age is usually 25, but falls to 20 with some local firms, and you will always need a credit card. It is possible to drive Swiss hire-cars into most EU countries, including the 10 member states that joined in 2004.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/switzerland/transport/getting-around#265716#ixzz1tkFzy28x

The road conditions in Switzerland are excellent. Just beware of speeding because speeding ticket prices are enormous! For example I paid once 30 franks for 1 km/h above the limit. The speeding ticket prices are unlimited. Additionally, if you go to more remote areas you should expect very narrow and windy roads that can be covered with snow and ice in winter.

If your destination is in the city center you should be aware that parking can be very expensive in city centers. You pay there up to 5 franks for one hour. Lonely Planet has some additional tips:

Street parking in the centre (assuming traffic isn't banned, as it often is) is controlled by parking meters during working hours (8am to 7pm Monday to Saturday). Parking costs around Sfr1 to Sfr1.50 per hour, with maximum time limits from 30 minutes to two hours. Central streets outside these metered areas are usually marked as blue zones, allowing a 1½-hour stay during working hours, or as (increasingly rare) red zones, with a 15-hour maximum. In either of the latter two cases, you need to display a parking disc in your window indicating the time you first parked. Discs are available for free from tourist offices, car-rental companies and police stations.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/switzerland/transport/getting-around#265716#ixzz1tkH1kYVQ

On the other hand, public transport in Switzerland is very reliable and especially in city centers very frequent. But it is also very expensive. So it really depends if your destination you have to go day to day is also in the city center or far away. If it is in the city itself, Andra's answer is very useful. If it is not in the city center, you have to consider how much a train ticket will cost. You can expect to pay around 30 Swiss franks per 100 kilometer for long distance trains (in second class, first class is approximately 50% more expensive). I really recommend to buy a ticket, because ticket inspectors are frequent, and traveling without a valid ticket costs 80 franks for the first time, 120 for the second time and unlimited for the third time.

If you travel a lot you should consider to buy a travel pass called Halbtax. It costs 120 franks and is valid for one year. If you have that, every ticket prices is only 50% of the original price. This can be economic even if you stay in Switzerland for only a few days.

To tell you which option is cheaper, we would need to know your exact journey.

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I would recommend public transport if you can use that.

Switzerland is very wealthy, so has a decent public transport system. (It also means it has very good roads)

It is also quite strict with many laws, like speeding. There are numerous other little traffic laws that might catch you out (e.g. turning on a red (is that legal in USA?!?!?)), and then bang, fine. Some laws in Europe are more strictly enforced than in the USA, e.g. drink driving. It doesn't matter if you can walk in a straight line here when drunk, they'll breathalise you, or it's mandatory blood test time.

From what I've heard, the swiss police are strict, and even have credit card terminals to charge your credit card with the fine on the spot for things like speeding.

Have you ever driven outside the USA? Are you a good and cautious driver in the USA? Would you be OK with a manual transmission (which most cars in Europe are)? What sort of USA driving licence do you have? (In most places in Europe there are 2 types of licence, 'automatic transmission only', and 'all'. I've heard the USA combines the two. Will your USA licence be valid in Switzerland?)

Where do you want to go? Just drive around? Or go driving around switzerland? If you can only get a manual transmission you might have trouble driving up some of the scenic mountain passes (they're pretty steep).

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