Cross-border passenger transport

In 2021, an average of 1.2 million people crossed the land border between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries. 95% of these arrivals and departures were by road, mainly by private car but also by motorcycle or coach. The remaining 5% of trips were made by rail.

In comparison with the last survey in 2015, the number of border crossings by road fell by 46% and those by rail by 32%. The main reason for this was probably the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because land border crossings were only possible under certain conditions (proof of vaccination, negative test results, etc.).

In 2021, the border with France was the busiest, with a daily average of more than 0.5 million arrivals and departures by road and rail. Chiasso motorway in Ticino was the individual border point with the most crossings, namely some 64 500 per day (2015: 105 800).

Cross-border passenger transport: average number of arrivals and departures per day
  2015 2021
Persons 2 126 400 1 158 400
Vehicles 1 126 200 779 100
Persons 80 500 55 100
1) Border crossings by passenger car, motorcycle or coach.
Source: FSO – Transalpine and cross-border passenger transport (A+GQPV)

Percentage shares of different traffic types: source and destination traffic, transit and domestic traffic

Source and destination traffic account for the largest number of border crossings in passenger transport by far. These are journeys from Switzerland to another country or vice-versa. Transit journeys on the other hand – i.e. traffic that is just passing through Switzerland – are of lesser importance: In 2021, transit journeys accounted for 14% of border crossings in both road and rail transport.

Swiss domestic transport also contributes a small share (5% by both road and rail) to cross-border traffic. This is because the shortest route between two addresses in Switzerland sometimes involves crossing foreign territory, as for example in the Basel and Schaffhausen regions.

Cross-border passenger transport by type of traffic, 2021
  Road Rail
  Average number of persons per day (arrivals and departures)1 Share in % Average number of persons per day (arrivals and departures)
Share in %
Source/destination traffic: CH – abroad or abroad – CH  
944 914 82 44 602 81
Transit traffic:
abroad – abroad
157 495 14 7 575 14
Domestic traffic:
CH – CH 
56 022 5 2 899 5
1) by passenger car, motorcycle or coach
Note: The different percentage values were rounded separately. Therefore, their sum does not always add up to exactly 100%.
Source: FSO – Transalpine and cross-border passenger transport (A+GQPV)

Purpose of travel

In 2021, most border crossings by road were generated by leisure traffic, namely 41%. Next came commuting, which accounted for 27% of people arriving and departing, ahead of shopping traffic with 22%. If one considers only the days from Monday to Friday or only weekends, the percentage shares of the different purposes change, as would be expected.

Compared with the last survey in 2015, the number of road border crossings for leisure purposes saw a particularly sharp decline (–51%). But the impact of the Covid pandemic was also very noticeable in shopping traffic (–43%) and commuting traffic (–35%). 

In 2021, the leading purpose of travel in cross-border rail transport was also leisure, accounting for 45% of inbound and outbound passengers, followed by commuting with 34%. Shopping traffic accounted for only 9% of border crossings by rail.

The purposes of travel of people living in Switzerland and those living abroad differ quite considerably. Road vehicles with Swiss number plates crossed the country's borders mainly for leisure activities and shopping. In 2021, these two purposes accounted for over a third (38% and 35%) of border crossings. In contrast, commuting accounted for a comparatively small percentage at 16%.

For foreign vehicles, however, commuting held a clear lead with 46% of border crossings in 2021. Leisure traffic accounted for just under a third (31%) and shopping traffic made up only a seventh (14%) of inbound and outbound traffic. These percentages can vary considerably depending on the border section.

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