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TAXES

Reader question: Can I deduct working-from-home costs from my Swiss taxes?

Due to Covid, working from home has been mandatory for part of the previous tax year. Does this mean you can deduct household expenses?

A person works on their computer at home on a wooden desk
Working from home is increasingly popular in Switzerland - but what can you claim back on tax? Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash

Many employees in Switzerland have been working from home since the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

In fact, working from home was for a period of time made mandatory in Switzerland. In early 2022 this was changed to a recommendation, while from February 17th the recommendation to work from home was removed completely. 

More information about the rules of mandatory working from home can be found at the following link. 

READ MORE: What are the rules of Switzerland’s new working from home obligation? 

While the obligation may have been lifted, with the tax filing deadline on March 31st, the question of what household expenses can be legitimately deducted remain pertinent. 

Let’s say you had to purchase a new computer or another piece or equipment in order to set up your home office.

Or you incurred other expenses related to home work, such as cost of meals.

Can these be deducted? Here’s what you need to know. 

Can you deduct working-from-home costs from your taxes?

The specific answer depends on where you live, as rules may vary in each canton, according to a report by Switzerland’s SRF public broadcaster. 

Generally speaking, most cantons will allow deduction for professional costs such as work-related travel costs, as though the employee had driven to the office every day.

The same applies to commuters who had purchased tickets for public transportation before the home work obligation went into effect. However, the amount of the deductions varies greatly from canton to canton.

READ MORE: How the pandemic has triggered a boom in home working jobs in Switzerland

And the actual guidelines vary and can be quite confusing.

For instance, some cantons allow meal and commuting expenses to be deducted only when actual costs are incurred, while others permit employees working from home to claim full meal and commuting deductions, whether or not they have actually worked remotely.

What about rent, electricity and other costs? 

The amount of time you worked from home will also be relevant, with tax advisors saying a minimum of three days per week should be worked from home in order to justify deductions. 

There are also different rules regarding home office costs — some cantons don’t accept these costs as a deduction, while others allow to deduct the portion of the rent for the part of the house used exclusively for working.

Important here is that you have a separate room or area which is deemed to be an office. This needs to be set up as an office or a study and needs to be separate from the bedroom or living quarters. 

The rent for this space can then be deducted, which will be calculated according to the square meterage of the office compared with the overall square meterage of the home. 

Speaking with Swiss news outlet 20 Minutes, Swiss tax expert Markus Stoll said even a guest room with a sofa or bed may not be sufficiently to be deemed an office. 

Costs for meals may also be deducted, although this is usually lower than what would be included in travel costs. 

Keep in mind that this is subject to cantonal differences. In Zurich, for instance, employees working from home are entitled to claim full meal expenses

In yet other cases, home office costs are covered by the 3 percent lump-sum deduction that is allowed for professional expenses.

Most of the cantonal tax offices have published information on the special Covid-related regulations on their websites. 

READ MORE: Switzerland’s strangest taxes – and what happens if you don’t pay them

What if I buy stuff so that I can work from home?

Unfortunately for most employees who worked from home, they will have to foot the bill for equipment bought to work from home – and will not be able to deduct most of it. 

Despite requiring employees to work from home, the Swiss government said companies were under no obligation to cover the costs of equipment or other technology, i.e. printers, computers etc. 

In most cantons, the costs of buying these items will also not be tax deductible, notes Swiss tax advisors Accurity

What about Covid-related expenses?

In some cases, expenses directly related to the Covid pandemic can be deducted. 

Masks, for instance, can be deducted as medical expenses in some cantons. 

Testing and vaccinations however were largely free as their costs were covered by the Swiss government, which means associated expenses cannot be deducted. 

Those tests which were not covered by the government – for instance for travel abroad or for visiting clubs – cannot be deducted, Stoll says. 

Please note: This report is intended as a guide only and should not take the place of financial advice from a qualified tax advisor. 

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For members

COST OF LIVING

Switzerland: How to get money back when cross-border shopping in Germany

Crossing into Germany to go shopping is usually cheaper - and that’s before you add the tax savings. Here’s how you can claim back tax when shopping in Germany.

Switzerland: How to get money back when cross-border shopping in Germany

There are a range of reasons why most things are cheaper in Germany than in Switzerland. 

While there are some exceptions to this – the most notable one being petrol – generally speaking you pay a premium on goods purchased in Switzerland. 

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

If you shop in Germany, you can also save on VAT, which is generally 19 percent and added to most goods. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What are the tax rules for shopping in Germany? 

Residents of Switzerland, as a non-EU country, do not need to pay VAT in Germany on purchases over 50 euros. 

Your country of residence rather than nationality is important here. 

Therefore, a German living in Switzerland and shopping in Germany does not need to pay the tax. 

A Swiss living in Germany however would need to pay the amount. 

Importantly, you need to physically be in Germany when you make the purchase. 

In order to qualify for the tax exemption, you must bring the goods back to Switzerland with you. 

The specific rules for this are laid out by German Customs here, but they need to be either in your carry on or checked baggage, or in a car that you are travelling in personally. 

These rules are to ensure people are buying the goods for themselves rather than intending to sell them on. 

What kind of goods? 

Goods bought in Germany and taken back to Switzerland are exempt from VAT. 

You will generally however be required to pay tax on services rendered or completed in Germany. 

For instance, bus or train tickets in Germany, restaurant bills, hotel stays, massages etc. 

There are also a range of rules which apply to vehicles. 

If you are getting your car repaired, filling up with petrol, affixing bumpers, mirrors or other additions or even getting a car wash, you will need to pay VAT. 

How do I get the money back? 

Unfortunately, you do not get a discount at the place of purchase.

Instead, you need to claim the money back after you have purchased the product on which you paid the tax. 

In most large stores or shopping centres, you will be able to do this on site. 

You need to have a copy of the receipt and fill in the VAT refund form (Ausfuhrschein) with your name, address and Swiss residency permit number. 

You can get one of these forms at larger stores or you can download it and print it here. 

You will need to do one for each invoice. 

Once you have done that, you can take the completed form to the German customs office (Zoll), which you can find at most border crossings and get the paper stamped. 

Then, you need to return the paper to the place of purchase, where they will issue with a refund of the VAT. 

Some stores require you to return after three months, some six and some 12, so be sure to check the store policy. 

Note that some online stores will automatically deduct the VAT if you have a Swiss delivery address. 

Cost of living in Switzerland: How to save money if you live in Zurich

One thing to keep in mind however is that Switzerland charges its own VAT, which is either 2.5 percent or 8 percent. More on that below. 

What’s with all this paper? 

For anyone who’s spent even a few hours in Germany, the country’s reluctance to embrace digital methods of payment and record keeping is clear. 

While cash remains king in many stores and restaurants, claiming back money from shopping in Germany is also a paper-heavy endeavour. 

Fortunately for people not so keen on paperwork, a change is afoot – although exactly when it will take place remains unclear. 

In February 2022, the German government announced it had kicked off a project to make a digital export certificate possible. 

In addition to saving time and paper, the government indicated it expected to save around 6.2 million euros in personnel expenses as around 100 customs officers are currently assigned to the Swiss border alone. 

No deadline has been given for when the change will come into effect. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Swiss customs rules

When bringing goods into Switzerland, you will need to pay VAT if the amount exceeds 300 francs. 

While border patrols are rare, those who make a habit of exceeding this amount – even if it is for goods for personal use – run the risk of falling foul of the authorities. 

There are several different rules in place for bringing in different items, including meats, cheeses and alcohol. 

The limits for each of these items can be found here. 

Keep in mind that while the CHF300 applies now, Switzerland is set to reduce this to CHF50 in the future – although final approval of this has not yet been secured. 

Tax change: Switzerland to introduce 50 franc limit on cross-border shopping

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