Click on each topic for more information



Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties



Customs duties
Switzerland applies the Harmonised Customs System. The customs duties are calculated on the nature of the goods, mostly in relation to the weight, with a taxation in Swiss francs (CHF) for 100 kg gross or sometimes per unit, per metre or per litre. The gross weight includes the net weight of the goods and the weight of the packaging.


Import taxes
There are also taxes for the environment which are collected as prepaid royalties for the elimination of waste by the importer / distributor and which are included in the retail selling price. These taxes are enforced by the Federal Office of the Environment, Forests and the Landscape.



In 2004, Swiss retail business was worth 54.8 million euros, a growth of 1.6% as compared to 2003. Swiss consumers now shop more frequently from neighbouring countries like France, Italy and Germany, because prices there are 20% less, on average, than in Switzerland.

The Business to Consumer (B to C) market
Retail business has known limited growth: in 2003, the Swiss spent 380 billion Swiss francs (CHF) but the market-share of spending on retail business is in decline, with more being spent on entertainment. Retail business in 2003 represented only 36% of spendingf, as against 69% in 1980.
The food sector is dominated by the duopoly Migros et Coop which together controlled 60% of the Swiss food business in 2003. The other players are:
- Bon appétit, a Swiss group which owns the stores Frimago and DiscountPay.
- The wholesaler Usego.
The number of discount stores is on the rise with the entry of Aldi and Lidl. Aldi opened its first discount store on 27th October 2005 while Lidl is still looking for a site. They hope to open 120 retail outlets in Switzerland.

In the specialised distribution sector, the market is becoming internationalised with various foreign brands having successfully establishing themselves in the country:

- Ikea in the furniture segment,
- H&M, C&A in the clothes segment.

The Business to Business (B to B) market
The Swiss market is rather complex due to the existence of multiple languages (French in Lausanne and Geneva, German in Zurich and Berne, Italian in Lugano) and also due to administrative decentralisation. The principal commercial zones are located around Zurich, Bale, Geneva and Lausanne. Considering the high purchasing power of people and the fundamental demand for quality, this market has the reputation of being very difficult and is considered a model for the rest of Europe. One of the typical characteristics of the Swiss market is the fidelity of the Swiss importer towards his suppliers. Generally, importers demand national or regional exclusivity for imported products.
Importation and distribution in Switzerland takes various forms, local agents have good contacts and have a thorough knowledge of the market, and together they belong to the Swiss Association of Agents and Representatives.
A large number of salons spécialisés (specialised exhibitions and fairs) take place every year. It is a very good medium for obtaining information for entering the market.


Transportation of goods

By road
The Swiss road network extends over 1,530 km of highways and main roads which connect the main cities of the country, plus 18,500 km of cantonal roads and 52,000 km of municipal roads. In general the road network is excellent even if in mountainous zones, but the climate can sometimes block certain ways. 4/5 of trips are made by road. The federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication (DETEC) in co-operation with the federal Office of Roads (OFROU) and the Federal Office of transport (OFT) want to promote an ecological policy of transport by combining the assets of the various ways of transportation; for example the use of rail transport for heavy traffic of goods on long distances.

By rail
The Swiss railroad network extends over 5,313 km of lines with very good services but at a very high cost. The network is run by The Federal Railroads (CFF). The traffic of goods represents 37,8% of the total traffic. The Swiss railroad network is almost entirely electrified. About 7% of the network passes through 694 tunnels. Two transalpine tunnels under the mountains Holy Gotard and Lotschberg are under construction and will be operational by 2015. The construction of high speed lines to connect the French network between Geneva and Basel, is in project. In 1997, 62 million tons of goods were forwarded by the Swiss railroads.

By air
Switzerland possesses 3 international airports in Zurich (Kloten), Geneva (Cointrin) and Bâle/Mulhouse (EuroAirport), as well two secondary airports in Berne and Lugano. Geneva remains the airlines' main destination. In 1999, 378,449 tons of freight transited through Zurich airport. The ministry in charge of air transport is the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA). The national air company is the Swiss, replacing the air company Swissair, which went bankrupt.


The body responsible for standardisation and certification in Switzerland is the Schweizerische Normen-Vereinigung mit internationalem Service (SNV). This body includes specialised sub-offices dealing with products certification: the interdisciplinary Schweizerische Normen-Vereinigung (INB), the Verein Schweizerischer Maschinen-Industrieller (VSM), specialised in machinery and metal working industry, the Schweizerischer Ingenieur- und Architekten-Verein (SIA) managing the Building industry, the Vereinigung Schweizerischer Strassenfachleute (VSS) for road network, the Standardisation Bureau for the Swiss Watch Industry NIHS), the Schweizerischer Electroteknischer Verein (SEV) for electrotechnical industry and Pro Telecom (PTC) for telecommunications. Other standardisation bodies, such as the Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs-Und Forschungsanstalt (EMPA), the Swiss Institute for therapeutic products (Swissmedic) and the Schweizerische Unfallversicherungs-Anstalt (SUVA)

Patents and brands

The body in charge with the protection of intellectual property in Switzerland is the Federal Institute of the Intellectual property (IGE).
Switzerland signed the agreement of Paris for the protection of industrial property and the agreement establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO). As for patents, Switzerland signed the agreement of Munich for European patents, the Patents Co-operation Treaty (PCT) and the agreement of Strasbourg for the International Classification of Patents.
Switzerland signed the agreement of Madrid for the international classification of trademarks and the agreement of Nice for the international classification of goods and services for the register of trademarks.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Patent Act 1954 Period of validity of 20 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
Export Entreprises©, All rights reserved