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COST OF LIVING

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

Six no-gimmick websites that help you save money in Switzerland

Sure, there are many adverts on the internet that claim to offer cheaper this and that, but more often than not, clicking on the link could cost you even more money (and time). However, there are also credible sites in Switzerland that will actually help you spend less.

Six no-gimmick websites that help you save money in Switzerland

When you live in an expensive country like Switzerland, getting more bang for your buck (or franc) may seem like an impossible feat.

Some residents of border areas save money by shopping for groceries in France, Italy, or Germany, where most products are much cheaper.

But not everyone in Switzerland has access to these stores and some people may actually prefer to support their own economy, even if it costs more.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the cost of living in Switzerland

These six sites will not help you save money on everything, but they will help you in that direction.

Comparis.ch is an independent comparison platform that provides well-researched and impartial information on best deals in a variety of areas.

They include lowest prices for insurance (health, life, travel, car, and others); properties (including loans and mortgages); vehicles; and mobile phone and internet plans.

You can also find price comparison for various electronics; toys; beauty and wellness services; car and motorcycle accessories, and other products and services.

Moneyland.ch is another, though similar, cost comparison website, where lowest prices for banking, insurance and telecom services can be found.

Like Comparis, Moneyland will often produce reports ranking certain products and services, such as healthcare and insurance plans, which can give you a valuable insight on how to save in Switzerland. 

We can’t tell you which of the two resources is better; visit both and see which one fits your needs. Both have a English-language pages, as well as producing reports in Switzerland’s national languages. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Toppreise.ch

This comprehensive portal also lists prices for hundreds of products in a wide range of categories, including electronics; household items, and appliances; clothing and jewellery; and even wine.

You can get good deals on wine if you look around. Image by Holger Detje from Pixabay

Bonus.ch

This site compares prices of items ranging from foods to body care products at Coop, Migros, and Lidl.

The prices may not always be up to date (and may change as the war in Ukraine and inflation progress), but the site will nevertheless give you a good idea of which products are cheapest where.

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

Consumer sites

While these websites aim primarily at protecting and defending consumer rights, they also have some useful information on how to save money on various purchases.

For instance, the Swiss-German chapter, Stiftung für Konsumentenschutz has advice on how to save on customs taxes when purchasing goods online in foreign countries.

In the French speaking cantons, Féderation  Romande des Consommateurs has information on where in the region you can pick your own strawberries and save money while doing so, and in Ticino, Associazione consumatrici e consumatori della Svizzera italiana has similar information.

If you visit these consumer sites regularly, you will find helpful advice on how and where to spend less on certain products and services at that particular time.

Find out where picking your own strawberries will save you money. Photo: Anna Tarazevich / Pexels

And then there is this…
 
If you want to know how much the price of communal services such as water and waste management is in your commune and how it compares with other Swiss municipalities, you can check it out on this official government website.
 
It doesn’t tell you per se how to save money on these services but it is a useful resource nevertheless.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland so expensive?

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