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Is shopping abroad really cheaper for Swiss consumers?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Is shopping abroad really cheaper for Swiss consumers?
Toilet paper is among non-food products that are cheaper in Switzerland. Image by Alexa from Pixabay

So-called 'shopping tourism' is very popular among Switzerland's public, as food and many other goods are less expensive in neighbour countries. But is it always the case?


Cars with Swiss registration plates are a common sight in parking lots of supermarkets in France, Italy, and Germany.

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

But is this always so?

‘Minimal’ savings

To find out whether prices abroad are really lower,  the Consumer Federation of French-Speaking Switzerland (FRC) went comparison-shopping for the same 32 products in France and Switzerland

On the Swiss side, the group shopped at Coop, Migros, Aldi, Lidl, and Denner stores in Lausanne.

Across the border, it visited the Intermarché stores in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois (Haute-Savoie), as well as Lidl in Gex and Carrefour in Divonne-les-Bains (Ain).

Though it may surprise some people in Switzerland, the FRC reported that price differences for basic necessities purchased in both countries “are minimal.”

That difference amounts to approximately 17 francs between the most expensive basket, at Coop in Lausanne, and the cheapest, at Intermarché in Saint-Julien-en-Genevois.

Here are the details of prices for the same basket of 32 products:

On the Swiss side, the FRC spent 66.37 francs at Coop, 62.20 francs at Lidl, and 57. 23 at Migros.

In France, the price at Carrefour was 58.91 euros (58.40 francs), at Lidl 58.48 euros (57.98 francs), with Intermarché being the cheapest at 49.26 euros (48.84 francs).


What else did the FRC find?

It reported that certain non-food items like toilet paper, soap, detergent, dishwashing liquid, razor blades, and sanitary napkins, among others, were found to cost less in Switzerland than in France.

Electronics are also typically cheaper in Switzerland than abroad.

One of the reasons cited for the narrower price gap between Swiss and French supermarkets is that inflation rate in France has been (and still remains) higher than in Switzerland — 2.3 versus 1.1 percent.


So is it still worthwhile shopping in France?

If you live close enough to the border and don’t have to spend much on petrol, then food and beverages are still less expensive there.

“The range of low-cost food products remains cheaper in France,” the FRC reported.

However, overall savings could become less significant in the future.

Right now, you are allowed to bring back products worth up to 300 francs which, if you shop in France, Germany, Italy, or Austria, amounts to a lot of food.

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.

This would mean that shopping abroad would become less lucrative for the Swiss.

The date to implement this change is not yet set though.



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