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Holiday and Customs - for a safe return to Switzerland

Posted by on 15 July 2016

Upon entering Switzerland after well-deserved vacation your luggage may be subject to Swiss customs scrutiny. Customs are looking for objects which are relevant for VAT and customs duty purposes. Bearing some basic rules in mind while preparing the homeward journey unnecessary inconveniences can be avoided.

Froriep-Samuel-Ramp-Roman-Cincelli-holiday-customs.jpgGenerally speaking the value of the items is relevant for VAT purposes whereas the quantity and kind of the goods is relevant for customs. The specific implications are summarized in the following overview.


As a basic rule goods that value more than CHF 300 (after deduction of foreign VAT) are subject to Swiss VAT upon importation. However, some exemptions apply to that rule. Personal effects, traveling provisions and fuel in your private vehicle are in any case not subject to VAT. If other items are brought into Switzerland for the first time and value more than CHF 300 they have to be declared at the customs and are subsequently taxed with either 8% or 2.5% VAT depending on the object. 

Duty-free allowances

Generally, the import of privately used goods or gifts is duty-free. However, for some goods as for example alcoholic beverages and cigarettes certain thresholds have been established. Exceeding these limits triggers customs duty. The allowances are shown in the in the subsequent table:

VAT or customs-duty relevant items have to be declared spontaneously.

Tax-free limit for more than one person

If you travel with several people each person's duty-free allowance will be taken into account. This rule also applies to children with the exception of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products, which can only be assigned to people older than 17 years.

One person can submit a joint customs declaration for several people travelling together. This person assumes responsibility for the declaration. If the total value of all of the goods being carried exceeds the sum of the tax-free limits of the people travelling together, unlike the other fellow travelers, the person making the declaration is not entitled to the tax-free limit.


Disregarding that obligation may cause harsh sanctions, since the fines amount to a great deal more than the duties that would normally be due.

With regard to customs duties the fines can amount up to the fivefold of the original amount due, whether intentional or due to negligence.

Concerning VAT evasion the sanctions foreseen in the Swiss VAT Act may seem comparatively draconic as the fines can amount up to CHF 800'000. However, the Swiss customs administration usually punishes VAT evasion in connection with passenger traffic with the threefold of the normally owed amount.

In obvious cases and if the fine does not exceed CHF 2'000 the prosecution can be conducted as an abbreviated procedure, whereat the accused has to waive his right to appeal. All other cases are being dealt within ordinary proceedings.

If you happen to bring items into Switzerland, which are either subject to VAT or customs duties, without having declared them and your bad conscience haunts you, there is the possibility of a voluntary disclosure.

We wish you a safe return to Switzerland.

Photo: shutterstock/Africa Studio

Topics: Private Clients | Tax

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Samuel Ramp

Samuel is an attorney and a certified tax expert in our tax team, advising national and international corporations, entrepreneurs and private clients. Samuel joined Froriep as an associate in 2014 and became a partner in 2016. He advises clients on all aspects of Swiss and international tax law. He focuses on real estate transactions and on financing and restructuring of national and international corporations. Other areas of Samuel's tax practice include tax litigation and tax planning for private clients. Samuel teaches at SIST, the Swiss Institute for Tax Studies (Schweizerisches Institut für Steuerlehre) and Treuhand Suisse.

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Roman Cincelli

Roman joined Froriep in May 2016 as a trainee lawyer. His principal area of practice is banking and finance law. He graduated in law from the University of Fribourg in 2011. After obtaining his degree, he worked at the University of Fribourg as a research assistant (in contract law, international private law and comparative law) and worked on his PhD thesis in trust law. Roman completed one internship as a law clerk at the Administrative Court of St Gallen in 2015 and another at the District Court of Rorschach in 2016. His working languages are German and English, and he has a good knowledge of French. Roman has not yet been admitted to the Bar.

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