FOR MEMBERS

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

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
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.

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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