Exporting to Switzerland

An innovative country at the heart of Europe, Switzerland has a stable and reliable business, legal and regulatory environment. It is one of the UK’s closest trading partners. British companies of all sizes are trading there, and UK investment is particularly substantial in the services and manufacturing sectors.

Leader in innovation

Switzerland is number one in the Global Innovation Index. If you have a high-tech product or service to offer, you should find Switzerland a receptive market.

High purchasing power

Swiss consumers have some of the highest spending power in the world, and the country is an excellent test market for products and services.

Close relationship with the UK

Switzerland is among the UK’s most important science and innovation partners. English is widely spoken and the two countries are well connected, with flight times under 2 hours and more than 130 flights per day. In 2017 around 15,200 VAT-registered UK businesses exported goods to Switzerland (ONS, 2017).

Ease of doing business

38th

out of 190 countries (World Bank, 2019)

Currency

Swiss franc

Business language

German, French, Italian, English

You may need a translator

GDP per capita

$82,950

UK is $42,560 (IMF, 2018)

Economic growth

2.5%

(IMF, 2018)

Time zone

GMT +1

Opportunities for exporters

Switzerland is the UK’s eighth largest export market (ONS, 2018). There are excellent opportunities for companies with high-quality products that are looking for long term relationships. Strong links exist between the two countries in financial and business services, pharmaceutical products, manufactured goods, IT and retail.

Doing business in Switzerland

Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). To allow free trade with the EU, Swiss legislation has been adapted to EU law in several areas.

Preparing to export

VAT

In principle, VAT is levied on all imports of goods, even on consignments with ‘no value’. The normal tax rate is 7.7%. The rate for some basic necessities such as food is 2.5%.

The ‘destination country principle’ applies to VAT in Switzerland, where VAT is called Mehrwertsteuer (MwSt), taxe sur la valeur ajoutée (TVA) or imposta sul valore aggiunto (IVA). Goods to be exported are exempt from local tax in their country of origin, but are subject to VAT in Switzerland, making it in effect an import tax.

Product standards

Switzerland has different product safety requirements from the EU.

Products must:

  • meet relevant safety standards
  • have clear instructions for proper use
  • include warnings against possible misuse

You should adapt any documentation associated with your products to one or more of Switzerland’s 4 main languages (German, French, Italian and Romansh).

Product labelling

Product labelling needs to comply with Swiss law. However, the information required and the way it needs to be displayed depends on the product and the position of the supplier in the supply chain. Contact our team in Switzerland for advice.

Intellectual property

You’re advised to speak to an intellectual property (IP) lawyer if you think you need IP protection when exporting.

Trademarks, designs, patents and copyright are the principal forms of IP protection available under Swiss law. Swiss law also provides protection against a person passing off goods or services as those of another, and protection for confidential information or trade secrets.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) is responsible for IP protection.

Operating in Switzerland

Payment terms

Switzerland, through the EFTA, is a party to the EU Late Payment Directive (2011/7/EU). The Directive requires businesses to pay their invoices within 60 days, unless a longer payment term is expressly agreed in the contract, and provided that the payment term is not grossly unfair to the creditor.

Business behaviour

In Switzerland, the saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is certainly true. This is a demanding, complex market, with 4 national languages and subtly different business cultures. It’s useful to know how the local cantonal system works and how to access decision makers.

Next steps

DIT can advise you on doing business abroad, and help put you in touch with other people who can help such as lawyers and distributors.