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Why cross-border shopping could become less lucrative for Swiss consumers

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Why cross-border shopping could become less lucrative for Swiss consumers
You will have to declare the goods you bought abroad (here, the border between Switzerland and France). Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

So-called ‘shopping tourism’ is very popular among Switzerland’s public, as food and many other goods are cheaper in neighbour countries. But moves are under way to make this practice less attractive.

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Even though the Swiss inflation rate is well below neighbouring nations, prices for many products are still lower in France, Germany, Italy, and Austria compared to Switzerland. 

For people living in Switzerland’s border regions, driving to nearby supermarkets abroad to stock up on groceries has been a profitable undertaking, especially since Swiss wages are higher than those of its neighbours, and the franc-euro ratio is favourable too.

This has been the case for many years, even though cross-border shoppers have had to comply with certain rules:

READ ALSO: The rules Swiss cross-border shoppers need to know 

However, this long-standing practice may soon become much less appealing for Switzerland’s consumers.

This is why
 
Right now, if you shop abroad, you are allowed to bring back products for up to 300 francs which, if you shop in France, Germany, Italy, or Austria, amounts to a lot of food (certainly more than you would be able to buy in Switzerland for the same money).

If you exceed 300 francs, you must declare your purchases at the border and pay Swiss Value Added Tax (VAT) on the amount over 300 francs. 

However, responding to several motions filed to this effect in the parliament, Finance Minister Karin Keller-Sutter wants to cut the tax-free allowance on foreign purchases by half — from 300 to 150 francs.

The date to implement this change is not yet set.

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Why is there a push towards making cross-border shopping less attractive for Swiss consumers?
 
This move is the result of growing difficulties in Switzerland’s retail sector, which has not yet fully recovered from the setbacks it suffered during the Covid pandemic.

Meanwhile, Swiss residents spend more than 8 billion francs while shopping abroad each year – money that could benefit Switzerland’s economy in general and retail sector in particular.

Lowering the tax exemption from 300 to 150 francs is therefore seen as a way to lessen the financial appeal of cross-border shopping and to keep the money in the country — at least to some extent.

When there is a will, there is a way...

However, some savvy cross-border have already figured out a way to bypass the new system, Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reports.

One possibility they've found is to go abroad more often, and purchase fewer products at a time, so the total never exceeds 150 francs.

Another strategy would be to make purchases as a family or in a group, since the value allowance applies per adult person.

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Do you actually have to comply with the law?

If you do your shopping abroad often, you know that customs checks on the Swiss side are random, and some border crossings are unmanned.

Many people have therefore tried (and succeeded) to ‘sneak in’ their excess shopping with no problem.

However, the Swiss Customs office encourages all consumers to honestly and voluntarily declare all goods they purchase abroad, and pay VAT if applicable, using the QuickZoll app
 
Whether you actually do so is up to you and your conscience. 

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