Road Tolls + Vignettes

A need-to-know about the various methods of charging to use Continental roads, by country, including likely costs, links to official sources and – where appropriate – where to buy them and stick them, and the right words to use.

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The glamorous world of road charging. Photo @DriveEurope

The glamorous and exciting – certainly expensive – world of road charging. Photo @DriveEurope

There are two kinds of ‘road charging’ in Europe, traditional road tolls paid at a booth, before or after a journey, and ‘vignettes’ which allow drivers to use some or all of the road network.

To cut a long story short, most countries are eyeing new revenue streams to fund road building and maintenance. Inevitably that means some form – or forms – of road charging.

Traditional pay-as-you-go road tolls have been the dominant method in Western Europe but the ‘time-based vignette’, currently confined to Central and East Europe, is making a comeback – irritating because stopping to buy it negates the advantage of the border-free Schengen Zone.

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(MOSTLY) FREE TO DRIVE

These countries do not charge to use the roads in general but there are often charges to use bridges or tunnels:

Belgium, Denmark, UK, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Sweden.

Belgium: experimenting with a GPS-based pay-as-you-go road toll system but no final decision announced.

Germany: due to bring in a ‘foreigner vignette’ in 2016 but implementation delayed by EU objections.

Lithuania: campervans 3.5t+ need the commercial vehicle vignette.

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REGULAR ROAD TOLLS – CASH OR CARD

As used in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Greece, ItalyNorway, Poland, Serbia, Spain.

(Separate) bridge and tunnel tolls are also very expensive, currently €43.50 one-way for a car at the Mont Blanc and Frejus Tunnels (or €54.30 return). In contrast, the spectacular Millau Bridge is just €9.40 in the summer (€7.50 in the off-season; 20% discount with the Liber-T toll tag).

On top of road tolls, drivers in France are also required to pay bridge and tunnel charges. One-way for a car at the Mont Blanc and Frejus Tunnels is currently €43.50 (or €54.30 return). In contrast, the spectacular Millau Bridge above, on the A75 motorway in the South of France, costs just €9.40 in the summer or €7.50 in the off-season (plus a 20% discount with the auto toll tag, see more below).

There can be flat charges for certain sections but tolls are usually paid by the kilometre. However, because individual motorways are normally operated by different companies – in Western Europe anyway – there is no set national per-km charge. See below for ball park figures.

Just turn up at the booth, roll down the window and pay up, either cash or a debit/credit card (but watch out for card charges). The payment method and/or vehicle type normally determines the lane to use.

France: not every motorway is tolled – see here for the toll-free network – but most are and the charges quickly mount up. Expect to pay in excess of €70 to drive through France, north to south.

Typical per kilometre charges range from Calais-Avignon (8.5c/km), Calais-Bordeaux (9c/km) and Metz-Nice (7.9c/km), i.e. it is slightly cheaper in the east

However, driving across the north of France is significantly cheaper than driving across the south – 4.5c/km Rennes-Strasbourg v 8.6c/km Bordeaux-Nice or 9.8c/km Bordeaux-Annecy.

Check toll rates at Autoroutes.fr.

Italy: typically around 7c per kilometre – true for Bolzano-Milan, Milan-Bologna/Rome or Rome-Reggio Calabria – but Turin-Milan is 10.8c/km.

Check rates at Autostrade.it from the company which operates fifty percent of Italian motorways, but the site includes a trip planner for the whole network, in English (but use Italian place names).

Spain: massively cheaper than France or Italy, but not because the tolls themselves are cheaper – Zaragoza-Barcelona is 9.7c/km – but because 80% of the motorway network is free.

Only Autopistas – roads with AP in the name, like AP-2 Zaragoza-Barcelona – are charged, but not always.

Autovias – using just A in the name, like A66 Seville-Salamanca – are always free.

The typical overall charge per kilometre is around 5c but can dip as low as 3c/km, like Bilbao-Malaga.

Check out the charged and free Spanish road network, or toll rates at Autopistas.com.

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Automatic payment is compulsory in Portugal and optional in Norway and France. Depending on the road, drivers in Portugal either register their car number plate and payment details at the border crossing, or rent a transponder unit, both of which automatically tot up at at gantires above the motorways, above, and charge the users account directly. See this official info page, or better still this run down from The Portugal News. More than 30,000 British drivers use the Liber-T auto toll tag in France, via the UK-based Sanef Tolling. See more on the pros and cons. Foreign drivers have a range of methods to pay road tolls in Norway – prepay, postpay, autotag, cash or card. Read the official run down for the one that suits you best.

Automatic payment is compulsory in Portugal and Norway and optional in France. Depending on the road, drivers in Portugal either register car and payment details at the border, or rent a transponder unit, both of which automatically tot up at gantries above the road, above, and charge the user’s bank account directly. See the official info or this from The Portugal News. The tolling system has changed recently in Norway. There is now only one manual toll station in the country. Drivers have to prepay or postpay, see more here. Meanwhile, more than 30,000 British drivers use the Liber-T auto toll tag in France, via the UK-based Sanef Tolling. It doesn’t save money on the tolls but can cut down on queues and is certainly more convenient, especially for solo drivers. See more on the pros and cons.

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VIGNETTES

There are two types of vignette, sticker or paper (also called e-Vignette). They apply to the whole road network or just the ‘national network’ of motorways and some dual carriageways (expressways).

Almost all countries that use vignettes sell a range, depending on the length of the visit, though one day/transit passes are no longer available. One week/ten days is the modern minimum, then one month/two-months and one year. The prices also vary by vehicle category – motorbike, car, minibus/motorhome, truck, etc.

Vignettes are widely available – from most petrol stations, even in neighbouring countries near the border, or at or around border crossings.

Needless to say, fines for not buying vignettes – or not displaying them correctly – can be hefty, and always buy the vignette before driving on the charged network.

Vignette Stickers

As used in Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria.

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Sticker vignettes need to be validated, either by writing the vehicle details on the reverse or, in Austria, by attaching it to the windscreen – only by the sticky surface on the front, on pain of a €120 fine, see more – on the opposite side to the driver. Instructions are fine printed on the sticker itself. Double check the seller has punched the correct dates around the outside and keep all counterfoils and receipts.

Switzerland: only sells an annual vignette, for 40CHF. After de-pegging its currency from the Euro this year, the price increased for foreigners for the first time in more than a decade. It still costs 40CHF but this now equates to €40 (up from €33). There are a limited number of places outside Switzerland where they can be bought but they are available at border crossings. Drivers can pay in pounds sterling or dollars but the change is in Swiss francs. See the charged network (type Switzerland in the bottom box).

Bulgaria: is the only country where the vignette applies to the whole road network.

Austria: the vignette is needed to drive on the national motorway and expressway (dual carriageway) network, but also to use motorway service stations. Also, some roads (and tunnels) – notably the A13 Brenner autobahn south from Innsbruck – have traditional pay-as-you-go tolls and drivers do not need the vignette to use them. See more.

Costs: improbably the Austrian vignette is the cheapest of its neighbours at €8.70 for ten days for a car, rising to €10 in Slovakia and the Czech Republic and €15 in Slovenia. The Bulgarian weekly pass is £3.75.

Paper or e-Vignettes

As used in: Hungary, Romania.

e-Vignettes have to be ‘applied for’ (the ‘e’ means electronic though they come in paper form).

Even though the application is done on an as-you-wait basis it’s longwinded compared to picking up a vignette sticker from a garage and can be a hassle, especially with a long queue…

Take all your ID including car registration. The vignettes should also be kept in a safe place and presented on demand to police/law enforcement.

Hungary: vignette should be kept for one year (the authorities can track you down back in the UK). Only needed for the motorway network. Costs from 2,975HUF (£6.90) for a week for a car but 5,950HUF (£13.80) for a campervan.

Romania: the vignette is needed to drive on all main roads outside towns and cities. It costs from €3 per week for a car.

 

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Maut is the German word for road toll (the Austrian name for the toll sticker is Pickerl). Peage - pronounced pay-arge - is the almost universal word work toll booths. Vignette - pronounced vin-yet - is also widely recognised, even in the Balkans.

Maut is the German word for road toll. Peage – pronounced pay-arge – is the almost universal word for a toll booth plaza. Vignette – pronounced vin-yet – is also widely recognised, even in the Balkans, but the Austrians also call them ‘Pickerl’.

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10 thoughts on “Road Tolls + Vignettes

  1. Where do you pay a fine for not buying a vignette for Romania ? Is there an online or phone number. We forgot to pay and our car has Bulgarian plates so any fine would have gone there, but we are going back to UK for several months and worried about a possible fine being sent to our Bulgarian address

  2. Hi travelling from Lindau Germamy to Zell am see Austria then Innsbruck and on to interlaken Switzerland then to Berny-Riviere What rd passes will i need .Really appreciate some help Thanks

    • Hi Barbara – presuming you are using the motorways (autobahns) in Austria and Switzerland you will need to buy vignettes (windscreen – windshield – stickers) for both countries. No tolls in Germany of course – French tolls are pay as you go. Buy the Austrian vignette at fuel stations at or around the border – for 10 days, two months or a year – starting at €8.90. Buy the Swiss vignette – sadly only a 12 month pass is available – at the border crossing for 40CHF (€38.50 – can pay in € but get change in CHF). If you don’t use the motorways you do not need the vignette sticker (to make it complicated some Austria fast roads have road tolls too but I don’t think this will affect you Lindau-Zell). If you do buy a vignette you *must* stick it to the windscreen (see instructions on the reverse). Hope this is useful – have a great trip!

  3. Although I live in Germany, I was unaware of the vignette system in neighbouring countries (my complete, inexcusable ignorance), and within a km of crossing from Austria into Slovenia a stationary police van flagged me over.

    Initially I thought it must have been for speeding.

    It was very expensive, something like €100.

    As I drove from Eastern Germany, through Czech, Slovakia, Austria and Slovenia all the way down to central Croatia it was a miracle I was only fined once, as I remained blissfully ignorant until I returned to Germany.

    I’m about to embark on another trip to Croatia, this time via Hungary, Serbia and BIH.

    Your information on this site is just what I need.

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