Rules and regulations

Wine, tobacco, meat – the duty regulations for Switzerland

INFORMATION
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Be aware: the customs office sets limits on shopping across the border. Source: Thinkstock

Up to 5 litres of wine and beer as well as 250 cigarettes: the current duty-free allowances for the import of food and alcohol/tobacco into Switzerland came into effect on 1 July 2014. Read about what the Federal Council has otherwise determined.

Shopping tourism in neighbouring Germany, France and Italy continues to boom because the prices of most products there are considerably lower. In 2013 alone, Swiss shoppers spent roughly 10 billion francs across the border. According to a study carried out by the market research institution GfK, they put up with ever increasing distances to benefit from lower prices – the current average is at 74 kilometres. One in five shoppers even drive more than 101 kilometres.

However, shopping without borders does have its limits: depending on the product and amount, customs fees must be paid on crossing the border back into Switzerland – independently of the 300 franc duty-free allowance for value added tax. The federal government has overhauled the catalog of customs duties and revised the Customs and Agricultural Import Ordinance.

On 1 July 2014, the following rules and limits entered into force:

 

Beer and wine

Instead of 2 litres as before, it is now allowed to import 5 litres duty-free. If more is brought over, 2 francs must be paid for each additional litre. Especially with wine, the across-the-border prices plus duties should in many cases still come out clearly below the Swiss prices.

The former customs duties were 60 centimes per litre up to 20 litres and 3 francs for greater amounts.

Spirits

The one-litre limit will continue to apply for liquor with over 18% alcohol content. Up to now, this has applied to liquor with more than 15% alcohol content.

Meat

The new customs allowance for meat is only one kilogram, regardless if it is fresh or processed. The trick until now of getting around the limit with marinated, and therefore processed, meat no longer works from now on. Game meat remains exempt from the 1 kg duty-free limit.

The new regulations should especially upset those who like to barbecue since the old regulations allowed 0.5 kg of fresh meat and 3.5 kg of processed meat.

Tobacco

Smokers have reason to celebrate. Swiss residents can now take home 250 cigarettes or cigars or 250 grams of tobacco duty free. The previous limit used to be 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco.

Dairy products and eggs

There are no longer any duties placed on milk, dairy products or eggs. But watch out: only up to one kilogram of butter or one litre of cream is duty free; each kilogram or litre over the limit cost 16 francs.

Other duty-free products

Since 1 July 2014, cut flowers, vegetables, fruit and cereal products have been duty-free.

Clearing customs over the smartphone

It should be possible in the near future to report goods to the customs office by smartphone or tablet. Consumers can thereby determine how much they must pay in duties and value added tax for their imported goods. This process will not only be faster and more customer friendly, but it will also allow Swiss residents to avoid expensive surprises at customs on the way home.

Value added tax is not the same as customs duties

Do not confuse customs duties with value added tax. Separate from customs duties, a value added tax of 8 percent is placed on the total value of all imports over 300 francs. However, Swiss residents can get their paid foreign sales tax reimbursed. In Germany, for example, this is 19 percent. For most foods, a reduced rate of 7 percent applies.

These customs fees have to be paid

If you import goods that exceed the duty-free allowance, you will have to declare them. Since 1 July 2014, the following customs duties have applied to excess quantities:

  • Meat and processed meat: 17 francs per kilogramme
  • Butter and cream: 16 francs per kilogramme or litre
  • Oils, fats, margarines: 2 francs per kilogramme or litre
  • Alcoholic beverages up to 18% alcohol content: 2 francs per litre
  • Alcoholic beverages over 18% alcohol content: 15 francs per litre
  • Cigarettes, cigars: 25 centimes apiece
  • Tobacco products: 10 centimes per gram

No customs officer at the border: what to do?

If you have something to declare, but there is no border guard in sight, you may not simply pass through. There are boxes with registration forms at every customs station. Complete one of the two forms there and send it to the customs directorate along with the receipt. You will be sent an invoice to your address.

Be aware: Mobile customs officers carry out inspections even at several kilometres' distance from the border and also at Zurich Main Station. If you are caught with goods in dutiable amounts without a registration form, you are liable to prosecution.

Very important: Entering a country across the green border is prohibited if you are carrying declarable goods.