I am a big, no, HUGE fan of Swiss Post. They are super efficient and well organized that they became my preferred method of shipping and receiving parcels – Yes, I still prefer our postman/lady vs the UPS guy 😉 However, when things run smoothly it was easy to take these things for granted and there were things that I learned only after bitter surprises and years of dealing with Swiss Post…

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Receiving International Parcels : VAT and Handling Fee

Many years ago a postman surprised me by asking a VAT (value added tax) payment when he delivered my parcels. And I was even more surprised to find that I had to pay only chf 5 for the VAT, but with a shocking chf 18* for the handling  — so an extra chf 23 for a parcel worth chf 68. When I saw that invoice I was super annoyed, as I didn’t expect it at all. But now I understand the system and know how to deal with it.

For international parcels, you will have to pay VAT when the value of the goods can already generate at least CHF5. With the current standard VAT (8%), this is around CHF62 (but some things, like books, are taxed at reduced rate — see below). And as mentioned, there are also handling and supplement fees charged by the Swiss Post. So, if your order worth more than CHF62, be prepared to pay extra. Importantly, which makes this even more complicated, the postage fee is included in this CHF62 limit! Most of the time you pay it directly to the postman on delivery or when you pick up the parcel at the post office. Sometimes they send the invoice later.

So, shop wisely. Even if shopping abroad with the currently strong CHF seems like a good deal, keep this VAT thing in mind. You may want to restrict your shopping to stores that automatically calculate and pay your Swiss VAT when you checkout. Thankfully, there are more and more offering this now. Or simply keep it less than CHF62! (yeah, I know it’s tough, especially when the shipping fee is already high).

Current VAT in Switzerland:

  • 8% standard rate
  • 2.5% reduced rate (e.g. food, medicine, newspapers, books)

General rules:

  • The current minimum value for goods sent from a merchant that is eligible for tax is CHF62 (incl. shipping fee)
  • The current minimum value for books sent from a merchant that is eligible for tax is CHF200 (incl. shipping fee)
  • There are 2 basic handling fees: CHF11.50 (for consignments from Germany, France, Austria and Italy) and CHF16.00 (from any other country)
  • There is a supplement fee: 3% of declared value of the goods
  • Gifts are tax-free until CHF100, but it has to come from a person (not a company/store) and addressed to another person. For gifts, shipping fee is not calculated into the CHF100 limit
  • For more information about import and customs/VAT, see this FAQ.

P.S.1

Be careful about the shipping cost, as if there was no shipping cost stated on the parcel, the custom would add CHF9-11 (local parcel stamp) into the total value depending on the weight. This will also be done even when the company sends the order for FREE. This has been dutifully done. One friend had carefully ordered less than CHF62 but had to pay VAT anyway because of the added local stamp value.

P.S.2

When you expect to receive parcels from family abroad, remind them to ALWAYS declare the correct value, as if there was no declaration and/or the Customs became suspicious, they may open the parcel and estimate the value themselves. Yes it happened to me a few years ago, when I bought a quilted throw which only cost US$45 but due to lack of value declaration, the Swiss Custom estimated CHF90 🙁

P.S.3

I have heard those who claimed that their parcels were not always checked, that the check is so random that sometimes they don’t have to pay. I personally doubt it, as I believe all parcels are checked, although not by opening it. I’m sure they scan all parcels, as all my parcels came with stickers, the green one (below) for those VAT-free, or rarely a red/orange one when a VAT+handling fees were to be paid for.

VATfree-sticker

Shipping International Parcels

There are a few things to know before you ship anything abroad:

  • There are everyday things that you may not ship, such as perfume containing alcohol or batteries – more info here
  • All shipment must have clear declaration of content and value. For accompanying documents and custom clearance go here. Most forms, if not all, can be filled electronically, but it requires registration on the Swiss Post site
  • You can find FAQ about export here
  • For a surcharge of CHF 0.15 you can have “pro clima” added, thus your parcel will ship in carbon-neutral way
  • If you are shipping a small item weighing less than 2kg, you can use MiniPac International. The shipping may take longer, but it’s cheaper and you only need the green label for content and value declaration (you get this label at the counter)

 

*The rate at the time this post first went out (Aug 2009)

**Photograph courtesy of Vertigogen, used under Creative Common License