Key points for getting through Swiss customs without a hassle
Updated December 2008, as Switzerland joins the Schengen AreaInformation provided by the Customs Office in Geneva.
Details for particular items are available online from Swiss Federal Customs Administration.
General rules for all travelers
- Declare any merchandise that is subject to tax. Import taxes are generally low, especially for small quantities, but if you are caught not declaring something, you pay the duty plus a fine that is generally two times the TVA (sales tax) on the goods.
- Systematic passport controls are still in effect at Swiss border airports, until March 2009, but they have stopped at road borders. If you’re driving, you should still carry identity papers. For details on the passport control changes, check the Swiss Office for Migration Office web site.
If you are flying
It’s easy to walk through the green channel at the airport and declare nothing, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they won’t notice you if you have a small bag. A Geneva-based executive in his sixties recounts how embarrassed he was to be pulled over when, for once, he’d brought home in his briefcase a nice gift for his wife, a small but expensive necklace he hadn’t bothered to declare.
If you’re a believer in buying fake goods, watches in Hong Kong or designer apparel in Bangkok, note that the Swiss have cracked down on these in the past year and border guards take their role in the Stop Piracy group seriously. If you’re caught with a fake trademarked or designer brand product it will be confiscated. You are, however, allowed to make personal copies for your own use, so DVDs and CDs are not an issue. Switzerland does not, unlike some neighbours, fine you for bringing in counterfeit products: you simply lose it.
If you are driving
- Routine passport checks have stopped, but customs officers will continue to check sporadically that rules on importing goods are being respected. Have identity papers ready to show.
- If you have nothing to declare, take the green channel. Customs offices have small booklets with the green octagan and “RIEN A DECLARER” symbol. Place this in your front windshield and you have the right to take the green lane. You can also drive through the red lane and slow down in case they want you to stop.
Tax-free imports and duty limits
SFr300 of merchandise is allowed duty-free, per person. Important note: if you have SFr400 of goods, the entire SFr400 is taxed, not just the amount above 300.
Couples: SFr300 per person is allowed as long as these are separate goods. If, together, you import one object worth SFr500, you must pay tax on the full value of it.
Children: they are now considered people, with the same SFr300 allowance. If a couple and their baby bring in 9 bottles of wine, this is tax free even though the child will presumably not drink it.
The rule used to be that goods had to be for your own consumption. Today you are allowed to bring in goods as gifts, so you will not be asked if your baby can really chew that meat.
All customs offices have a small booklet, in French, detailing specific restrictions on goods. The main ones are:
- Cash – no restrictions on the amount you can carry, but large amounts can be subject to international crime laws.
- Butter and cream – 1 litre or kg; tax after that is CHF16/kg
Milk and other dairy products – 5 litres or kg; tax after that is CHF3/kg
- Eggs – 2.5 kg (tax after is CHF3.70)
- Fruits and vegetables – 20 kg per variety, excluding oranges
- Apple, pear and raisin juice and related products – 3 litres (tax: CHF.90)
- Meat – this is still protected. Each person has a 500 gram allowance, including children, which makes it possible today to buy a roast in France without asking them to cut it in half. Overshoot your allowance and you are subject to SFr20/kg in tax. You can bring in larger quantities of poultry (3.5kg) and other meat such as rabbit and ostrich (20kg) before any additional tax kicks in.
- Cigarettes – one carton
- Alcohol – to 15%, which includes still wine, 2 litres (3 bottles) and over 15%, 1 litre, per day per person, tax free. Duty is CHF.60 per litre up to 20 litres and CHF3 per litre above that quantity.
One of the oddest on the list of protected food products is potatoes: spuds themselves and all derivative products (frozen french fries, for example) have an import limit of 2.5kg and after that you pay CHF7.50/kg. Swiss fries are definitely a better deal, at that price.
Customs offices provide booklets on exporting and importing pets, plants, cars, arms and munitions. They no longer provide information on sending and receiving by post, as this is published by La Poste: details online in English, with rates.