FAQ about imports: customs and VAT
Answers to FAQs on essential import topics

FAQs

As a rule, every consignment from abroad is liable to customs duty and VAT. As the recipient of a consignment from abroad, you pay the necessary VAT on the value of the goods and customs duty on the gross weight. Depending on the goods, other fees may be charged. These costs should nevertheless not be confused with the carriage charges paid by the sender when the consignment is posted.

In general, all items must be registered. Exceptions include:

  • Postcards 
  • Letters which contain only personal or business communications

As a rule, every consignment from abroad is liable to customs duty and VAT.

There is no special tax-free limit as with passenger traffic, only a fee exemption limit. Accordingly, customs duties and value added tax are not charged if the amount calculated is less than CHF 5.00 per customs declaration, whereby customs and VAT charges are considered separately. Gifts sent from private individuals living abroad to private individuals in Switzerland are duty-free up to a goods value of CHF 100.00. Goods purchased on the Internet do not satisfy these conditions. They are subject to duty in accordance with the general provisions.

The upper limit of the goods value (incl. transport costs) for an import exempt from VAT is:

  • 7.7% VAT (applicable to majority of all consignments) => CHF 65.00 
  • 2.5% VAT (special goods such as books) => CHF 200.00

The Swiss postal customs clearance blocks false or incorrectly declared import consignments. As the recipient, a letter of advice will be sent to you requesting that you provide the missing information. With regard to delivery, you can then choose between the following two options:

You provide postal customs clearance with the information required to release the item and you pay the additional processing charges when the item is delivered to you. 

You do not want to pay for the sender’s mistake and therefore refuse delivery. Postal customs clearance then returns the consignment to the sender.

Further details on the current fees can be found under Levies, Fees/Surcharges (Inspection, Value Declaration and Storage).

Swiss Post does not recognize collective items and does not have the logistical capability to process parcels from a collective item in a series and to identify them accordingly. The sender is therefore instructed to enclose a correct commercial invoice with each parcel indicating the exact value of the parcel.

Insofar as the postal customs clearance recognizes that a consignment is a collective items, it adapts the goods value accordingly, e.g. with the remark "1 of 5 parcels". In this case, however, five customs clearances are required which are invoiced individually.

If the consignment was not recognized as a collective items, Swisspost can request a correction for the difference of the VAT paid in excess to the Swiss Customs Administration. It is crucial that the number of packages is visible on the commercial invoice or on the package.

Only legal entities which have a billing relationship with Swiss Post can take advantage of this option. For an import duty to be charged to the monthly invoice, you must register with Swiss Post.

You can register at www.swisspost.ch/import.

You can indicate your ZAZ account for customs or ZAZ account for VAT online at www.swisspost.ch/import. We charge import duties and VAT to the relevant accounts; the customs clearance fees are charged to your monthly Swiss Post invoice.

Swiss Post applies the surcharge:

  • if a consignment cannot clear customs due to missing, unreliable or incomplete customs documents and must therefore be opened 
  • if, due to missing or incomplete customs documents or due to the contents, a consignment must be placed in storage until the missing information is received or until the recipient or customs authorities take the decision concerning customs clearance.

The inspection, value declaration and storage surcharge is only applied once per consignment and totals CHF 13.00 excl. VAT. No supplement will be charged for duty-free consignments.

Advise the sender that he must declare the postal item adequately. He must indicate the contents and value of the goods on the consignment for customs clearance purposes (either in the form of a customs declaration CN22/CN23 or a commercial invoice). These customs documents must be affixed on the outside of the consignment.

Please contact the service provider responsible for the customs clearance of your consignment. Swiss Post’s Postal customs clearance customer service will be able to help you further. Please observe the time limits prescribed by the Federal Customs Administration (FCA) for objections (in accordance with Article 34 and 116 of the Customs Act).

  • 60 days from the issue date of the electronic tax assessment decision for change of procedure, address corrections, correction of customs duties and the related customs tariff numbers or declarations of origin.
  • 5 years from the end of the calendar year in which the electronic tax assessment was issued for matters regarding the assessment of VAT, such as an inflated goods value or incorrect VAT calculation.

The appeal must be received within the time limit mentioned above. Appeals submitted outside these time limits cannot not be dealt with (case will not be considered). Further information can be found at https://www.ezv.admin.ch.

FAQs about customs duties

For items sent from one private individual to another, no customs clearance is required if the consignment

  • is intended for personal/private use;
  • has a goods value of up to CHF 100.00;
  • is declared as a gift or is clearly a gift.

Customs clearance is nevertheless always required for the following exceptions:

  • Tobacco products 
  • Alcoholic beverages

The customs clearance fee depends on the origin of the consignment and the value of the goods sent. For consignments from Germany, France, Austria and Italy, the basic fee is CHF 11.50 while for consignments from any other country, the basic fee is CHF 16.00. A surcharge corresponding to 3% of the declared value of the goods is then applied (not including import levies and customs control).

Examples:

A parcel from France with a value of CHF 100.00:

Basic fee: CHF 11.50
Surcharge: CHF 3.00 (3% of the declared value of the goods)
Customs clearance fee: CHF 14.50

A parcel from the US with a value of CHF 300.00:

Basic fee: CHF 16.00
Surcharge: CHF 9.00 (3% of the declared value of the goods)
Customs clearance fee: CHF 25.00

The variable element of the customs clearance fee totalling “3% of the value of the goods” is charged on the basis of the value of the goods declared on the commercial invoice or other customs forms.

Swiss Post, together with the Swiss federal price regulator, has agreed a simple pricing model which makes it possible to offer as many customers as possible (in particular private customers) attractive customs clearance fees. It must ensure that the customs clearance fees are commensurate with the complexity of the operation and the risk involved.

This model means that consignments which are generally more complex to process with regard to customs formalities are subject to a higher basic price. Consignments from neighbouring countries, which account for well over half of all import consignments and are therefore generally easier to handle in terms of customs formalities, are subject to a comparatively low basic price.

The 3% surcharge allows Swiss Post to offer customs clearance prices that depend on the value of the goods.

The supplement of CHF 13.00 is charged if the import of a good is subject to an order not prescribed by customs law, e.g. precious metals, CITES or an additional levy (alcohol, tobacco).

For questions concerning the customs clearance of postal items of any kind, contact us by phone on 0848 639 639.

Yes, for goods consignments returned to the sender because of refusal to accept, rescission of the sale, returns of unsatisfactory goods, damage or defects. This does not apply to consignments for which it was clear from the outset that they are only being temporarily imported into Switzerland.

You can find more information here.

FAQs about VAT

The value is calculated on the basis of numerous elements: Example of a consignment from Germany (all amounts in CHF):
Invoice amount 123.50[1]
– Foreign VAT – 23.50
– Discount
– Cash discount
– Deposit on packaging
+ Credits
+ Commission
+ Licence rights
+ Transport costs + 15.00.
+ Import duties, possibly customs duties, border veterinary controls, precious metals controls
+ Customs clearance + 14.95.
= VAT value of the consignment = 129.95, rounded down to 129.00
1  The amount invoiced is converted from a foreign currency to CHF using exchange rates provided by the customs office and updated daily (always on the basis of the previous day’s exchange rates).

When you perform the customs declaration, you have the following means of determining the transport costs:

  • If the transport costs are indicated on the accompanying documents, they are included in the calculation of the value of the goods. 
  • If the transport costs are not indicated on the accompanying documents, you can determine them using the stamp value. 
  • In the case of gifts sent by private individuals to other private individuals up to a value of CHF 100.00, the transport costs are not included in the value added tax amount. 
  • If the transport costs are indicated on the accompanying documents as part of the value of the goods, no additional transport costs will be included in the value added tax amount.

Since 1 January 2018, the following VAT rates apply:

Type VAT rate
Normal rate on taxable deliveries and services 7.7%
Reduced rate on taxable deliveries and services (e.g. books) 2.5%

In general, all services relating to an import consignment are liable for VAT, irrespective of whether they concern transport or customs clearance. All services which are provided before and during effective customs clearance are to be taken into account in the VAT amount in accordance with customs regulations and are to be taxed accordingly (for example the customs clearance itself, see VAT Act, article 52). Services which arise during the customs clearance process and which cannot be foreseen are taxed on the Swiss Post invoice at a rate of 7.7%.

There are two possible scenarios:

  • If the recipient is a company which can claim the deduction of input tax, VAT paid twice will not be refunded. The company can claim it as part of the input tax payment process (Article 80, para. 2 of the Swiss VAT Act). The recipient has this right if he will be using the imported items for business-related purposes (Article 38, paragraph 1c, paragraph 2 and paragraph 7c of the VAT Act).
    As the customs clearance service has been provided twice, it is payable twice. Consequently, both invoices must be paid in full. 
  • If the recipient is a private individual, he must prove to the customs authorities the existence of an import, a subsequent export and another import. A corresponding import customs clearance document and proof of export (export customs clearance document, waybill specifying contents or similar) will be accepted as proof. With this proof, the VAT can be claimed back. Please provide all the documents (i.e. import documents, export documents and proof of re-import) with a corresponding note.

For active repair traffic, i.e. for goods that you import to Switzerland for repair, the following rules apply:

  • Items of Swiss origin imported for repair can be cleared as duty-free provided the VAT value is no higher than CHF 1,250.00.
  • Goods imported for repair originating abroad are cleared for customs as normal or with free passage.
  • You can claim the VAT back after re-export or clam the deduction of input tax (subject to a fee).

For passive repair traffic, the goods have been repaired abroad and are returning to Switzerland. In this case, VAT is only charged on the new material and the labour costs. However, these two elements must be clearly stated on the commercial invoice.

Yes, for goods consignments returned to the sender because of refusal to accept, rescission of the sale, returns of unsatisfactory goods, damage or defects. This does not apply to consignments for which it was clear from the outset that they are only being temporarily imported into Switzerland.

You can find more information here.

Various questions about precious metal controls, stamp values, etc.

The fees for precious metal controls, CITES, plant protection and border veterinary controls are charged when the relevant control bodies inspect the goods which are therefore subject to duty.

The additional customs tariff numbers supplement applies if a consignment covers more than five customs tariff numbers. Customs clearance of a consignment containing between one and five customs tariff numbers is included in the customs clearance fee. From the sixth customs tariff number onwards, a supplement of CHF 10.00 is charged per additional customs tariff number.

Example:

For the customs clearance of a consignment with eight customs tariff numbers, a surcharge of CHF 30.00 applies.

Swiss Post applies the surcharge:

  • if a consignment cannot clear customs due to missing, unreliable or incomplete customs documents and must therefore be opened 
  • if, due to missing or incomplete customs documents or due to the contents, a consignment must be placed in storage until the missing information is received or until the recipient or customs authorities take the decision concerning customs clearance.
    The inspection, value declaration and storage surcharge is only applied once per consignment and totals CHF 13.00. No supplement will be charged for duty-free consignments. 
The additional customs tariff numbers supplement applies if a consignment covers more than five customs tariff numbers. Customs clearance of a consignment containing between one and five customs tariff numbers is included in the customs clearance fee. From the sixth customs tariff number onwards, a supplement of CHF 10.00 is charged per additional customs tariff number.

Example:

For the customs clearance of a consignment with eight customs tariff numbers, a surcharge of CHF 30.00 applies.

The customs office cooperates in enforcing federal orders not prescribed by customs law. These orders exist in numerous fields of law. These include:

  • Security:
    munitions, weapons, blasting material, nuclear energy, goods for civil and military use, seditious propaganda material
  • Intellectual property:
    precious metals, trademarks and indications of origin, design right, copyright, lotteries and wagers
  • Economic and financial measures:
    restriction and monitoring of imports and exports
  • Health:
    food, doping, narcotics, corpses, medicines
  • State monopolies and monopolies:
    alcohol, tobacco, mail, coins, bank notes, salt
  • Environment:
    epizootic diseases, animal welfare, fisheries, plant protection, refuse
  • Cultural property / antiques more than 100 years old:
    stamps, postcards, coins, pictures, sculptures, maps, antique books and other items which are clearly more than 100 years old must be registered upon import with the customs office and the Federal Office of Culture (FOC) in accordance with the provisions of the federal law (KGTG/KGTV). Additional cost-related customs clearance fees apply as part of this process. More information can be found at www.bak.admin.ch/kulturerbe.

According to Swiss VAT law (Art. 54 paragraph 3) transport costs are part of the goods value. The goods value is used as the basis for calculating VAT. If the postage for consignments is not explicitly excluded from the goods value, Swiss Post will assume that they are included in the invoice amount, provided that the information seems plausible overall. If the postage for consignments is explicitly excluded from the goods value, Swiss Post will calculate a flat rate for transport costs (known as the “postage stamp value”). The postage stamp value of a letter is CHF 9. For parcel consignments, the postage stamp value depends on the country of posting. You can find more detailed information in the overview of postage stamp values.

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