Switzerland

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Don’t Get Caught Out: Learn about Switzerland’s Customs Regulations

When moving abroad, it is always nice to bring something from home. However, before you start bulk buying your comfort food and packing your bags, make sure you are up to speed on Switzerland’s customs regulations, from duty- and VAT-free imports to prohibited items.
Avoid potential problems: read up on Swiss customs regulations before your move!

At a Glance:

  • When entering Switzerland, personal goods are typically VAT- and duty-free, provided their total value does not exceed 300 CHF per person. Quantity restrictions apply for the duty-free import of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, among others.
  • General import restrictions and prohibitions can apply especially for animal-based products, protected species, cultural property, counterfeits, plants, weaponry, and other items considered dangerous. This is especially true if they are from outside of the EU/EFTA.
  • There is no limit or need for declaration when it comes to bringing money.
  • When moving to Switzerland or establishing a secondary residence there, you can import your household goods, pets, and vehicles duty-free.

Swiss Customs Regulations regarding Duty- and VAT-Free Imports

When entering Switzerland, whether as a tourist or expat, you may bring along the following items tax- and duty-free:

  • your personal effects, such as clothes, your laptop, sports equipment, portable musical instruments, etc.
  • the fuel in your vehicle’s tank and up to 25 liters extra
  • food and drink for the day of travel
  • max. 30-day provision of medicine for your own personal use only

There is no need for an import permit or to declare such medication. Nevertheless, especially for narcotics and psychotropic substances, it is always a good idea to keep it in its original packaging and bring a doctor’s prescription to avoid potential problems. If you are unsure whether or not some of your medication is even legal in Switzerland, you can double-check what is considered a narcotic and what is legally sold in the country on the website of the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products.

The total value of your goods should not exceed 300 CHF per person. If what you bring is worth more than this, you will have to declare your items and pay value-added tax (VAT). Please note, VAT is calculated on the total worth of your goods, rather than just the excess! It is set at 8% (normal rate) or 2.5% (reduced rate for everyday consumer goods such as foodstuff and books).

When it comes to items other than the ones explicitly mentioned above, only the following quantities of certain products are duty-free:

  • up to 5 liters of alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content of up to 18% vol. (e.g. wine or beer)
  • up to 1 liter of alcoholic beverages with over 18% vol.
  • up to 250 cigars/cigarettes or 250 grams of other tobacco products
  • up to 1 kg of cream or butter
  • up to 5 kg of margarine, oil, or other fats
  • up to 1 kg of meat or meat products

For quantities that surpass these limits, you will have to pay customs duty.

Be Aware of General Customs Restrictions & Prohibitions

Animal-Based Food Products

If you are coming from an EU member state or Norway, you may import animal goods such as honey, milk products, and sea food for your personal use.

The import of edible animal products from other countries is generally prohibited! There are, however, some exceptions:

  • You can always import sweets and chocolate, although many would argue Swiss chocolate is the best, anyway.
  • The import of baked goods is also unrestricted, provided they do not include meat.
  • Each person may bring up to 10 kg of foodstuff and pet food from Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands.
  • Sea food from the Faroe Islands and Iceland is restricted to household consumption quantities.
  • From other countries, up to 20 kg of seafood, such as gutted fish and dead mussels, may be imported per person, or one single fish weighing over 20 kg.
  • Up to 2 kg per person of honey, live snails and mussels, frogs legs, baby food and milk, special non-refrigerated medical food, as well eggs may be imported, with the exception of eggs from China, South Korea, and Malaysia.

Protected Species

You also have to make sure that nothing you want to bring falls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) list. If it does — for example if you’d like to bring your piano with ivory keys to Switzerland — then it’s best to get in touch with the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO). Depending on the item, you may be able to get an import permit.

Stop Piracy: Switzerland’s Fight against Counterfeits

Please note that bringing counterfeited goods, even it if is “just” that one fake designer bag you’ve had for years, is not permitted. While you will not be fined for the private import of such items — as is the case in neighboring France — Swiss customs administration can seize and destroy them.

Other Restricted or Prohibited Items

Next to animal products, protected species, and counterfeits, there are also some further restrictions and prohibitions:

  • Only up to 2.5 kg of fireworks (category 1–3; ground explosives are forbidden) can be imported for private use without authorization.
  • (Semi-)automatic weapons and spring knives, as well as a range of other weapons are prohibited.
  • You need permits to import and carry non-prohibited weapons, including pepper spray containing CR, CN, CS, or CA irritants.
  • So-called protected cultural property needs to be declared and the proper authorization documentation provided.
  • Plants may be imported from EU countries, Norway, and Iceland for private use, with the exception of Miniatur medlar and Potonia davidiana. Bringing plants from other countries either requires authorization or is prohibited altogether.
  • Up to 3 kg of bouquet flowers per person are the exception to this rule.

Cash Is King, So How Much Money Can You Bring?

There is no limit as to how much money you can bring with you to Switzerland, or when leaving for that matter. There is also no need to declare your money, be it in cash, foreign currencies, bonds, shares, or (traveler) checks. However, if you should get checked and found carrying funds of 10,000 CHF or more, you will be questioned regarding its origin and your intentions, and it will be registered with officials.

If you are planning to carry large amounts of money, make sure you are aware of regulations in your country of origin as well as any states you will travel through. Cash and securities worth 10,000 EUR or more have to be declared when entering or leaving EU member states, for example.

Importing Household Goods When Moving to Switzerland

As an expat about to start living in Switzerland, you will likely be interested in bringing more than just personal effects, travel provisions, and money. Luckily, moving to the country means that you can import your household items duty-free, provided you meet the following requirements:

  • You are moving to Switzerland or establishing a secondary residence there.
  • The items have been in personal use by you for at least six months.
  • They will continue to be used by you.
  • The import happens within the first two years after your transfer of domicile.

In order to import your household goods, you need to the following paperwork:

  • completed application form 18.44
  • proof of transfer of domicile: visa / assurance of residence permit for non-EU-27 and non-EFTA citizens; employment contract, departure confirmation from country of origin, or similar for EU-27/EFTA nationals
  • inventory list of goods to be imported stating type and quantity/size
  • Swiss rental lease or real estate purchase contract
  • registration certificate of the vehicle transporting your goods

There is no need to declare your import of household goods in advance, but you will need to present these documents at the customs office for merchandise (Zollstelle für Handelswaren) at the time of importation. You can find information on the border crossings and opening hours (typically Monday to Friday) on the website of the Federal Customs Administration (FCA).

Your household goods can also include your car or pet(s). For more information on how to import and register your car in Switzerland, as well as what you need to know about bringing along your pet, please refer to our respective articles.

 

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