Understanding the Swiss Federal Customs Administration

03 September, 2018


Customs considerations are a reality for any business shipping goods overseas. If your target market is Switzerland then it is the Swiss Federal Customs Administration that you will be dealing with.

Swiss customs are not particularly onerous for businesses shipping into Switzerland from the UK but it’s still important to understand the role that the Swiss Federal Customs Administration has to play, and how this could affect your trade.

What is the Swiss Federal Customs Administration?

The Swiss Federal Customs Administration is the responsible body for regulating and monitoring what comes into and out of the country. This includes people arriving by transport and parcels that are being sent to Switzerland by post. It is part of the Finance Department of the Swiss government and has a legal basis to operate under Article 133 of the Federal Constitution and the Customs Act. The purpose of the Swiss Federal Customs Administration is to protect the people and the environment in Switzerland, whether that is by combating illegal cross border activities or carrying out customs checks on what is coming into the country. As Switzerland is not within the EU, the local customs administration applies duties to goods coming into the country from EU locations – these are designed to protect the domestic economy.

What does it do?

There are a variety of different roles attributable to the Swiss Federal Customs Administration. These include:

  • Facilitating the import of vehicles into Switzerland. Individuals looking to import a car, or spare parts, will need to comply with local customs regulations.
  • Customs tariffs. Whether goods are being imported to Switzerland, or exported from the country, they must be declared to the Swiss Federal Customs Administration in accordance with the customs tariff. Switzerland uses the international Harmonised System. While

Switzerland uses the international Harmonised System, the Swiss tariff codes may differ from those used in other countries

  • Supporting those moving to Switzerland. Anyone moving to this part of the world will need to work with the Swiss Federal Customs Administration to transfer domicile to Switzerland in order to avoid duty on importing possessions.
  • The rules for importing goods. It’s the Swiss Federal Customs Administration that determines how much individuals can import for private use, what restrictions are in place and what the costs are likely to be.
  • Ordering goods from overseas. Anyone who orders items from retailers overseas will need to be familiar with the Swiss Federal Customs Administration rules on what you can order and whether any duty will apply.

What should you be aware of?

If you’re importing items into Switzerland then you may have some contact with the Swiss Federal Customs Administration, even if it is minimal.

  • Parcels must be clear about content. It’s important to find the right Swiss Harmonised System code for the contents of the parcel and to include information about weight and what it is in the package to avoid delays and inspection by the customs authorities.
  • Different Swiss customs duties apply. These amounts are determined by the weight of an item, as opposed to its value. So, heavier items will cost more.
  • VAT will also apply to items imported into Switzerland. The local rate of 7.7% VAT applies to any items coming into the country. If what you’re sending could be considered essential goods, such as food, this drops to 2.5%.
  • Some items will be duty free. If duties and VAT amount to CHF 5 or less then this won’t be charged. As this rule is applied per import, it can be assumed that shipments which are customs cleared in bulk, duties and taxes are always charged.
  • The Swiss Federal Customs Administration enforces its rules and regulations. For example, in 2002, Swiss customs officials intervened in 69 cases of suspicious trademark or copyright infringement. By 2004 the number had risen to 495.

Before you begin trading with customers in Switzerland, it’s important to ensure that you have a good understanding of how the Swiss Federal Customs Administration rules and regulations apply to an e-Commerce business. The information above is a good place to start.


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