Rules and regulations

Ordering from abroad – what customs fees apply?

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

The corona crisis makes online shopping abroad all the more tempting. However, confusing customs charges mean that your bargain purchase may not prove that attractive after all.

Affordable shopping without having to leave your home: you order goods online from abroad 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 per customs declaration. Note that you will need to calculate the customs and VAT duties separately. 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.

When must customs fees be paid?

You need to pay customs fees in the following cases:

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% 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% 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. Since 1 January 2019, all foreign mail-order companies generating over 100,000 francs in sales revenues from their shipments to Switzerland have been required to pay VAT. The shipments are then treated as domestic deliveries.

Tobacco products and alcoholic drinks

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

How high are the customs duties?

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 is 11.50 francs. This goes up to 16 francs for parcels from other countries.

A supplement of 3% of the value of the goods is also charged. All together, the customs fees charged by the post office to buyers will not exceed 70 francs.

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.

Zalando and LaRedoute use their warehouses in Switzerland to circumvent customs charges for their customers. The British fashion retailer Asos.com covers the customs charges for its Swiss customers.

Amazon also gives their Swiss customers a hand: the list price on the website includes German VAT, but as soon as you enter a Swiss delivery address, the price is recalculated using Swiss VAT. This is good news: German VAT is usually 19%, whereas Swiss VAT often only amounts to 7.7%.

Here are some more tips on how to have German VAT reimbursed.

What about customs at parcel shops?

Platforms such as meineinkauf.ch and grenzpaket.ch receive parcels in Germany that are not usually delivered to Switzerland or are sold at much higher prices here, and then ship these parcels to the customers in Switzerland.

You enter the German address of the platform as the delivery address. Ideally, you then pay by credit card or bank transfer. The customs and taxes on your goods are taken care of before the parcel is delivered to your doorstep. You do not need to pay the customs charges yourself. However, you will not be reimbursed the German VAT either. These platforms also charge a service fee and might require you to pay additional charges, depending on the weight and quantity. You can find the MeinEinkauf price list here, and the Grenzpaket price list here (both only available in German).

What about Wish and AliExpress?

AliExpress and Wish are platforms known for importing cheap products directly from China. Products you buy from Wish and AliExpress are subject to the same customs charges, even though the goods are sent from China. With charges only incurred from a value of more than 65 francs, you could decide to place several orders and have them sent separately. This might be good for your wallet, but it's not exactly environmentally friendly.

Given that up to 90% of electronic components are produced in China, the coronavirus crisis is set to have a major impact on the globalized world. Virtually all planes are grounded and transport capacities are very low. The Wish and AliExpress portals have already announced delivery times of several weeks for some items.

Any other questions about customs charges?

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