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The rules Swiss cross-border shoppers in France and Italy should know

If you live in Swiss regions of Geneva, Vaud, Jura, Neuchâtel or Ticino you probably shop in France or Italy more or less regularly. Here are the rules you should know about.

These groceries are much cheaper across the border. Photo by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash
These groceries are much cheaper across the border. Photo by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash

Due to lower prices and greater variety, Swiss residents have been shopping in border regions of France for decades.

But if you think shopping in France got more complicated during the pandemic, consider this: “It’s not easy to go shopping in France, when you live in Geneva. At each passage through customs, there are checks. In the other direction too, there are many hassles, since the French francs are no longer accepted in Geneva stores”.

Confused? Don’t be — this is just a blast from the past, specifically from May 31st, 1968, about cross-border shopping on RTS public broadcasting.

The video included in this report shows that while cross-border shopping was as popular half a century ago as it is now, the process was much more complex and involved, for instance, a border guard asking drivers to open their wallets.

The situation is much simpler in January 2022. According to French Embassy in Switzerland, people living within a radius of 30km from the French border and travelling to France for less than 24 hours, are exempted from the obligation to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result required from ‘regular’ tourists.

However, once you are in France and want to get a bite to eat or a drink, you must show your Covid certificate (‘pass sanitaire’) to enter, the same way you would in Switzerland. Swiss certificate is accepted across the border, and vice-versa.

Please note that all the rules outlined in this article pertain to people who permanently reside in Switzerland, regardless of their nationality.

So if you have a UK (or any other) passport but live in Switzerland, these regulations apply to you.

READ MORE: 13 things that are actually ‘cheaper’ in Switzerland

Swiss customs rules

When bringing goods into Switzerland, whether from France or another border country, you will need to pay VAT if the amount exceeds 300 francs. 

While border checks 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 300-franc limit applies now, Switzerland looks set to reduce this to 50 francs in the future – although final approval of this is pending. 

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

What about French customs?

Swiss residents are entitled to tax free shopping in France, as Switzerland is a non-EU country. 

The rules state you must be at least 16 years of age and be visiting France for a period of less than six months.

French Customs is not responsible for reimbursing the VAT paid on purchases made in France. Only the retailer from whom you purchased the goods can do so, according to the French Customs site.

To qualify, the total amount of your purchases, inclusive of all taxes, must be greater than €100. They must have been bought in the same shop and on the same day. At the time of purchase, the retailer will give you a VAT refund form, which must be signed by both the retailer and you.

More information about how to claim your refund can be found here.

What about shopping in Italy?

Ticino residents are used to hop across the border for money-saving shopping sprees, but they will have to wait until at least January 31st to resume this activity.

That’s because since December 16th and until the end of this month, anyone crossing the border into Italy must meet certain requirements, according to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

  • Complete the Digital Passenger Locator Form
  • Present a Digital COVID Certificate or other equivalent certification which attests the full vaccination or full recovery from coronavirus in the past six months
  • Present a PCR test (carried out within 48 hours) or antigenic swab test (carried out within 24 hours) prior to entry into Italy, with negative test result.

Obviously, these conditions, with no exemption for border residents, don’t make it worthwhile to cross into Italy with the mere purpose of shopping.

READ MORE: What are the current rules for Swiss cross-border shopping in Germany?

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COST OF LIVING

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels. 

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