Need help on importing goods from China to Switzerland? Confused by the fact that Switzerland is in Europe but is not a member of the EU?
Since many regulations are only published in French, German and Italian languages (i.e. Switzerland official languages), sometimes it might be difficult to find specific information about regulations in the English language.
While you can find thousands of documents online and spend nights reading about the topic, we decided to write this guide to save you time and make your life easier.
In this article, we will guide you through the requirements and regulations that you must know before importing products from China to Switzerland. In particular, we will cover the following topics:
- Switzerland-China Free Trade Agreement
- Switzerland Product safety regulation
- Switzerland Labeling Requirements
- Import Taxes
- Import licenses and permits
- Shipping from China to Switzerland
Note: It is impossible to break down every detail in this article. Instead, our goal is to provide an overview and index for you to better understand the general rules when importing goods from China to Switzerland and links to the main regulations that apply in the country.
Switzerland-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
Let’s start with the Free Trade Agreement that was signed between Switzerland and China in 2013. This FTA explains the requirements when importing goods from China.
What is the Free Trade Agreement?
In short, it is an agreement that states the terms of the cooperation among the two countries, in order to reduce trade barriers such as import quotas and tariffs.
Therefore, it’s important for any Switzerland’s importer to know what are the benefits of this agreement.
We outlined the key point of this agreement for you:
- Switzerland reduced tariffs on the vast majority of products. For Switzerland’s importer, you can confirm if your products are on the list, or more importantly, what is NOT on the list. The product list reduction details are available on Annex I of the agreement.
- To benefit from the FTA, businesses importing from China to Switzerland shall provide a Certificate of Origin. You can check Annex 2 of the agreement for more details.
Switzerland Product Safety Regulations
Note that Switzerland is not in the EU, however, it’s a member of the European free trade association.
Switzerland has different product safety regulation than the EU, for example, CE marking is not required in Switzerland.
However, the EU and Switzerland signed a Mutual recognition agreement, which applies to many product sectors (for example machinery, medical devices, electrical equipment, construction products, lifts).
This means that, if your products are covered by the agreement and comply with the EU regulations, you don’t need to worry about Swiss product safety regulations, and vice-versa.
On the other hand, if your products cannot comply with EU requirements, you need to make sure your product complies with product regulations in Switzerland.
Here a non-exhaustive list of Swiss product safety regulations (note that we translate some of regulations names as not all of them are provided in the English language):
Federal Law on Product Safety 930.11
The Law provides an overview of safety products’ regulation for Switzerland. For example, it provides:
- The procedure that is required for checking the conformity of products according to the essential health and safety requirements by The Federal Council.
- For high-risk products, certification by conformity assessment may be required.
- The proof must be provided that the product has been manufactured in accordance with the state of art and technology.
Finally, the Ordinance on Product Safety 930.111 might also apply.
Ordinance on the Placing on the Market of Products Conforming to Foreign Technical Prescriptions 946.513.8
- Products containing short-chain chlorinated paraffin;
- Wood materials that do not meet the requirements of the Ordinance on Chemical Risk Reduction;
- Alcoholic beverages whose label does not mention the alcohol content.
Also, under this ordinance, you can find a list of products that are prohibited in Switzerland.
Chemical Risk Reduction Ordinance (ORRChem) 814.81
ORRChem provides a list of substances that are prohibited or require licenses when importing to Switzerland. In other words, you should avoid that your products contain the listed substances. For example:
- License from the Federal Office of the Environment (FOEN) is required for any person who wants to import Mercury for professional or commercial purposes.
- It is prohibited to place new textiles and new leather goods on the market if their components contain substances such as “tris(2,3-dibromopropyl)phosphate and tris(aziridinyl)phosphine oxide.
- It is prohibited to import electrical and electronic equipment that contains hexbromobiphenyl or brominated diphenyls ethers, Annex 2.18 applies.
If we want to make a parallel with EU regulations, we could say that ORRChem combines many elements of RoHS CE Directive and REACH Normative.
Ordinance on the Safety of Machinery 819.14
This ordinance provides guidelines when importing machinery to Switzerland. For example:
- Machines can be only placed on the market if they do not endanger the safety and health of persons and possible domestic animals, or the integrity of the property, or the environment.
- The ordinance mainly follows the requirements listed by the EU machinery directive.
Ordinance on Low Voltage Electrical Equipment 734.26
This ordinance applies to electrical equipment used at nominal voltages of 50V to 1000V AC and 75V to 1500 V DC, as defined in the EU Low Voltage Directive. However, it might also apply to equipment with a lower voltage.
Here some more information about this ordinance:
- The obligation to affix the CE marking does not apply. If the CE marking is already affixed in accordance with the EU requirements, it is not necessary to remove it (as long as the product complies with all EU applicable CE directives).
- The type, batch or serial number or any other element allowing the identification of the equipment must be affixed on equipment, packaging or in the attached documents.
- The electrical equipment must meet the safety objectives set out in Annex I of Low Voltage EU Directive.
As for the machinery ordinance, this ordinance follows many of the guidelines provided by the corresponding EU CE Directive.
Ordinance on Electromagnetic Compatibility 734.5
As you may have already guessed by its name, this ordinance has a scope that is very similar to the Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) EU CE Directive.
More in detail, the Ordinance, applies to “apparatus and fixed installations liable to generate electromagnetic disturbance and to apparatus and fixed installations whose performance can be affected by such disturbance”. For example:
- it provides the procedure to place the product into the market and install it
- it provides information about lab testing and conformity assessment
Other Swiss Technical Regulations
The portal published by the Swiss government provides an overview of products that require specific requirements, including the following:
Foodstuffs, animal products, animals, plants and means of production
For example, imported organic food must meet the provisions of the Organic Farming Ordinance with the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG).
For example, imported boats must comply with the Ordinance on Navigation on Swiss Waterways.
Cosmetics, jewelry, wood and Children’s articles
For example, Hair dye products that contain substances dangerous to health, are regulated in the Ordinance on Foodstuffs and Household Goods.
Other products with sectoral regulations
For example, Personal protection equipment (PPE) is regulated by the Safety Ordinance Personal Protective Equipment. Also, Precious Metal Control must bear the mark of standard of fineness and register at the Central Office for Precious Metals Control.
Switzerland Labeling Requirements
As already mentioned, CE marking is not required in Switzerland, although is accepted for many categories of products.
But what are the labeling requirements in Switzerland? Take a look at the information below to learn more!
- Product information including the label must be written in at least one official Swiss language (German, French or Italian).
- The “Cassis de Dijon” principle, which expresses a concept similar to the above mentioned Mutual recognition agreement, applies also to labeling regulation in Switzerland.
According to Ginetex, “The instructions of textile labels in general and fiber content labels have not been made yet in Switzerland.”
However, it shall be noted that labeling shall not be misleading as defined by the Federal Law Against Unfair Competition.
In order to be “safe” and provide comprehensive information to your clients, you could comply with EU regulations to avoid complexity.
Here are some references for textiles labeling:
- As stated in ANNEX V in the FTA aforementioned, the labeling shall be limited to size, fiber content and care instructions.
- The labeling and marking shall be visible, easy to read, permanent, and attached to the products.
- There is no legal obligation to specify the country of origin for textile products produced outside the EU.
- The care of textile shall be provided for the maximum level of treatment the products can withstand without being damaged.
- Care symbols are globally standardized (ISO 3758, CEN 23758)
Packaged Food Products Labeling
In Switzerland, packaged food products shall label with the following:
- Name of food
- List of Ingredients + allergens
- Country of origin
- Date marking
- Alcoholic strength
- Identity and Principal Place of Business
- Net quantity (Mandatory)
- Instruction for use (Mandatory)
- QUID (Mandatory)
- Storage conditions (Mandatory)
- Nutrition Labeling (Mandatory)
The Import Duties information is available online for free. You can select the date, the country of origin, destination all related data to obtain the information you might worry.
In fact, many goods can be imported duty-free or at a reduced rate as the signed FTA mentioned above.
Here we list the import duties for some common products:
- Wrist-watches (Duty rate reduced from 15% to 9.3% (2019))
- Trousers of cotton, knitted or crocheted (Duty rate reduced from 16% to 9.6%(2019))
- T-shirts, singlets, etc, of silk or silk waste, knitted/crocheted(Duty rate reduced from 14% to 7% (2019)
- Knitted/crocheted fabrics of artificial fibers (Duty rate reduced from 10% to 0%)
- Hand-made lace in pieces, in strips or in motifs(Duty rate reduced from 10% to 0%)
- Footwear with textile uppers (Duty rate reduced from 22% to 11%)
For more, you can find the tariff schedule in Annex I in the FTA.
Customs Value and Import Duty
When importing goods to Switzerland, you also need to pay attention to the customs clearance fee, the VAT of the goods, transit clearance, etc.
Swiss Post, a public company owned by the Swiss Confederation, can provide an estimation of charges when importing goods from other countries.
Switzerland follows the valuation method CIF, which stands for Cost, Insurance, Freight, exactly as EU countries.
CIF Value = Cost of goods and tools + Delivery to the port of loading + Export clearance + Shipping to the port of destination + Insurance
Switzerland has a way to calculate duty rates which is unique, as it depends on both weight and product (while most countries calculated duty rates based on value and product).
Click here to learn more about the topic.
Value Added Tax (VAT)
Switzerland has its own VAT rates.
The current rates are as follows:
- Switzerland standard VAT rate: 7.7%.
- Switzerland special VAT rate: 3.7% (Hotels).
- Switzerland reduced VAT rate: 2.5% (Foodstuffs, books, foodstuffs, water).
- Exempt from Swiss VAT: insurance, financial services, education, health.
Reduced VAT rate 2.5% applied to certain everyday consumer goods such as newspapers or books. The special VAT rate applied to hotels that provide overnight service. And the standard VAT rate applies to most goods and services.
VAT is calculated as follows: VAT rate*(Customs Value + Duty Rate).
Import Licenses and Permits
For certain products such as agricultural, plant products and others, you will be required to obtain a permit before importing to Switzerland. Here is the overview of what you will need:
- Customs tariff number of the product
- General import permits (GIPS) from the Federal Office of Agriculture (FOAG)
- Plant products require a plant passport issued by FOAG
- Or import permit granted by the Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) for protected plant
- Some protected species of plants are also prohibited or only approved by the CITES convention.
For other products that require Licenses or Permits, make sure you check the list on the Federal Customs Administration Webpage before import.
Shipping from China to Switzerland
Shipping by air freight
Here we list some carriers that provide service for air freight shipping from China to Switzerland for your reference:
Estimated cost: US$1-5/kilogram
Min.Order: 1 Kilogram
Departure: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong
Est. Time: 3 Days
Estimated cost: US$1-2/kilogram
Min.Order: 1 Kilogram
Departure: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong
Est. Time: 3-5 Working Days
Estimated cost: US$1-5/kilogram
Min.Order: 1 Kilogram
Departure: Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Yiwu, etc
Est. Time: 3-4 Working Days
Main cargo hub in Switzerland
Swiss WorldCargo is the air freight division of Swiss International Air Lines, and they offer a comprehensive range of logistics solutions for transporting any type of cargo.
According to the SwissWorldCargo, “95% of Swiss WorldCargo’s shipments are handled via their hub Zurich.”
Shipping by sea freight
Sea freight is usually the most economical way to overcome long distances, and it also allows the shipping of the greatest quantity of goods due to its large storage capacity.
Here we list some carriers that provide sea freight shipping from China to Switzerland for your reference:
Estimation cost: US $25-75 / Cubic Meter
Min.Order: 1 Cubic Meter
Departure: All port in China
Est. Time: 22~28 Days via ocean & 7~10 days via railway
Packing or repacking: USD 8-10/carton
Sunny Worldwide Logistics
Estimation cost: US $10-90 / Cubic Meter
Min.Order: 1 Cubic Meter
Departure: Shenzhen / Guangzhou / Ningbo
Est. Time: 15-25 Days
Estimation cost: US $140-145 / Cubic Meter
Min.Order: 1 Cubic Meter
Departure: All ports in China
Est. Time: 43-47 Days
Main Routes by sea freight
Switzerland is a landlocked country. However, there are two main routes when delivering goods from China by sea freight:
- Deliver to Antwerp, Rotterdam, or Hamburg ports via ocean vessels, and then transit the goods by railway train to Switzerland points.
- Delivered to Basel port from China directly.
Main port hubs in Switzerland
Birsfelden, Muttenz, Basel-Kleinhuningen are the three main ports in Switzerland, with the last one being the largest.
Basel-Kleinhuningen is located right next to the city of Basel, Switzerland. It provides a major transport hub for the southern part of the Upper Rhine. Basel’s Port also provides transshipment of goods, storage, terminal railway network, etcetera.
Shipping by railway
Since the New ”Silk Road” freight train was launched between China and Europe in 2011, it offers an alternative to both full container loads (FCL) and consolidated cargo (LCL) shipments.
There is no direct route for shipping from China to Switzerland via train, for now. However, there are options for people who want to ship from China to Germany first by railway as below:
China to Germany
The nearest country you can ship from China to is Germany. At the moment, the available routes include:
- Chongqing, China → Duisburg, Germany (Est. 11000km, ~15Days)
- Zhengzhou, China → Hamburg, Germany (Est. 10245km, ~15Days)
- Changsha, China → Duisburg, Germany (Est. 11808km, ~18Days)
- Haerbin, China → Hamburg, Germany (Est. 9820km, ~14Days)
- Lanzhou, China → Hamburg, Germany (Est. 8027km, ~15Days)
- Changchun, China → Hamburg, Germany (Est. ~15Days)
- Wuhan, China → Hamburg, Germany (Est. ~12000km)
- Wulumuqi, China → Duisburg, Germany (Est. 8000km, ~10Days)
- Chengdu, China → Nuremberg, Germany (Est. ~13Days)
Germany to Switzerland
After the goods arrive in Germany (in Hamburg, Duisburg or Nuremberg), there are two main options to transport cargo from Germany to Switzerland such as below:
- SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) Cargo International: Duisburg, Germany → Basel, Switzerland ( Est. 600km, ~1Day)
- Cargo Truck: Germany → Switzerland (Est. Time and distance based on location)
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