Rules and regulations

Ordering from abroad – what customs fees apply?

Expecting a parcel from abroad? You may be in for an expensive surprise. Source: iStock / alvarez

The strong franc makes online shopping in EU countries all the more tempting. However, confusing customs charges mean that your bargain purchase may not prove that attractive after all.

It seems easy, practical and, at first glance, cheap: you order goods online from EU countries and have them delivered by post to Switzerland. But consumers should look more closely at the import process. You may well have to pay customs and processing fees to clear the goods through customs, because basically every shipment from abroad is subject to customs duty and VAT – and your bargain purchase will suddenly become more expensive than you first thought.

What additional fees could be charged on a parcel from abroad?

  • Swiss VAT
  • Customs duties
  • Customs processing fees charged by the post office and courier service

When are there no customs fees to pay?

You do not have to pay customs or VAT if the amount owed is less than 5 francs. Gifts from private individuals living abroad sent to private individuals in Switzerland are also free from import duties provided the value of the goods does not exceed 100 francs.

Spot checks

Since 1 January 2018, recipients no longer have to pay the customs processing charge if their parcel undergoes a random customs check (article in German only). Prior to this date, the Swiss post office charged 13 francs for a spot check.

When must customs fees be paid?

You need to pay customs fees in the following cases:

Goods with a value of over 65 francs

If the value of the goods is 65 francs or more, the amount owed at a VAT rate of 7.7 per cent is more than 5 francs – so customs duties will be due.

Books with a value of 200 francs or more

Because a lower VAT rate of 2.5 per cent is applied to books, customs duties are only due on books with a value of 200 francs or more.

Note: VAT is calculated based on the value of the goods including shipping, customs and processing fees.

Tobacco products and alcoholic drinks

Tobacco products and alcoholic drinks must always be cleared through customs.

How are customs charges calculated?

The post office calculates the customs charges. The amount depends on the origin and value of the shipment. The basic fee for parcels from Germany, France, Austria and Italy charged by the post office and the courier services GLS, EMS and Hermes is 11.50 francs. This goes up to 16 francs for parcels from other countries. A supplement of 3 per cent of the value of the goods is also added. All together, the customs fees charged by the post office will not exceed 70 francs.

Update: change in the law as of 1 January 2019

Previously, if the tax amount owed was less than 5 francs, foreign retailers sending goods to Switzerland were not required to pay any VAT. Now, the Federal Council has passed a change in the law: as of 1 January 2019, all foreign mail-order companies generating over 100,000 francs in sales revenues from their shipments to Switzerland will be required to pay VAT. The shipments will then be treated as domestic deliveries.

How can I avoid paying customs charges?

Along the border with Germany, for example, you can find several parcel shops that will receive parcels on your behalf. Shoppers can then collect their goods in person and bring them into Switzerland.

The main advantage of this is that you can import goods up to a total value of 300 francs without paying VAT. However, there are some restrictions on certain products that you should be aware of.

Any other questions about customs charges?

If you want to find out more about customs charges on postal deliveries, we recommend you contact the post office on 0848 639 639.