As a Swiss resident, you probably already know how to reclaim value added tax (VAT) after a shopping tour abroad. But do you know how to save on taxes when shopping online?
Numerous online stores abroad, like Amazon, have made special arrangements for customers in Switzerland. Although Amazon maintains neither a dedicated Swiss website (such as Amazon.ch) nor warehouses in Switzerland, the German, French, and Italian Amazon stores (Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it) will welcome you with open arms.
So you can enjoy a service similar to what EU residents receive, but with one big difference: you will only pay the net price. Bye bye Value Added Tax (VAT)! :-)
There are two ways to go about tax-free shopping on Amazon:
- Receive an international shipment at your home address in Switzerland (home delivery)
- Ship to a parcel shop abroad, then personally import the package into Switzerland
Let me show you in this blog post how the home-delivery option works on Amazon.de, Amazon’s German retail website.
Should you already be familiar with this approach, jump to the second part of the series focusing on the personal import method.
Step-by-Step Guide to Home Delivery
The order process is pretty straightforward:
- Go to Amazon.de and log in to your account or sign up for a new one.
- Fill your cart with items sold by Amazon.
- Enter your Swiss residence as both the shipping and billing addresses.
- Amazon automatically deducts the German VAT and displays the net price.
- Confirm your order and wait for delivery!
It's as simple as that! No forms, no customs officers, and no stamps required.
Since your items are delivered from abroad, you won't be personally involved in their processing at the border. Nevertheless, beware of the pitfalls associated with importing goods to Switzerland! In order to truly benefit from home delivery, you should bear three important things in mind:
- Your package might still be subject to Swiss import tax or customs duties if it exceeds a certain price limit or amount.
- Shipping to Switzerland might be expensive depending on the price, type, and weight of the package.
- The automatic tax deduction in step 4 works only if you buy directly from Amazon and not from a third-party seller.
Don't hang your head! I wouldn't be writing this post if there wasn't a simple way to avoid these pitfalls. Here are all the tricks you need know.
Tax- and Duty-Free Shipping to Switzerland
Your package will be exempt from the import tax (Swiss VAT) and customs processing fees if the import tax is 5 CHF or less. This means that import to Switzerland is free if the total net value of your order does not exceed
- 62 CHF for articles taxed at 8% (e.g., DVDs, Blu-rays), or
- 200 CHF for articles taxed at 2.5% (e.g., books, groceries).
The total net value of the order includes the package price and the shipping cost (which you can also avoid, as described below). Try to stay under the limit by splitting your order into several individual shipments as necessary.
Learn more about saving tax and duty fees on Amazon.de's info page for Swiss-based shoppers (in German). You can also read up on Swiss Post’s Customs processing prices or just watch their official explanation video with English subtitles.
Free Amazon Shipping to Switzerland
For certain product categories (books, music, DVDs, etc.), Amazon grants free shipping from Germany to Switzerland if
- at least one book is included in your package, or
- the total gross value of your order exceeds 29 EUR.
Otherwise, you'll be charged 3.25 EUR per package plus 0.5 EUR per kilo. The corresponding shipping speed is called "Standardversand" (standard shipping). Expect your delivery within 3-7 business days once your package hits the road.
So if you're a bookworm, paying for shipping will be an alien concept to you (read my Amazon book guide to get the big picture). If you aren't, just try to keep the value of the order above 29 EUR (but below the taxation limit described above).
Should your package contain articles from unsubsidized categories (clothes, software, electronics, etc.), the "Standardversand" is an option you won’t be a ble to select, and costly shipping rates might apply. The same is true if you buy from a third-party seller who delivers through logistics partners other than Amazon. To avoid these extra costs or to reduce the overall delivery time, you could try out the other shopping hack I’ve found: Tax-Free Shopping on Amazon, Part 2: Personal Import.
You can find the complete info about Amazon.de’s options and limitations regarding shipping to Switzerland on their info page about international shipping. Also, their info page about free delivery is worth a glance. In any case, the shipping cost and presumed delivery date of your package will be displayed on Amazon’s site during checkout.
Amazon vs. Third-Party Sellers
It’s important to distinguish between Amazon as a vendor and third-party sellers distributing through Amazon (via the Amazon Marketplace). In addition, we can split these sellers into two categories—those who use their own storage and logistics partners and those who rely on Amazon’s infrastructure. Why is this an important distinction you need to make? Well, there are two reasons:
- To enjoy Amazon's awesome shipping conditions, as described above, be sure that your products are shipped from Amazon itself, no matter who the actual seller is. Look for the phrase "Versand durch Amazon" (ships from Amazon) at the top of the product page. If your product doesn't ship from Amazon, you should clarify the shipping policy with your third-party seller. With some exceptions, home delivery under these circumstances could be pricey, time-consuming, or perhaps even impossible. Most likely, shipping to a German destination and personally importing your package would make more sense. To read up on that alternative, head on over to the
second post in this series about tax-free shopping on Amazon.
- The automatic tax deduction mentioned in step 4 above will take place only if you make your purchase directly from Amazon. This is indicated by the phrase "Verkauf und Versand durch Amazon" (ships from and sold by Amazon) at the top of the product page. If your product is merely available from a third-party seller, you should contact them and inquire about their tax-refund policy. In my experience, there are plenty of sellers on Amazon (as well as other online retailers) who will gladly reimburse these taxes to you after your purchase.
In addition to the comparatively low prices you’ll find on Amazon.de, it’s possible to save the foreign VAT without accruing any additional expenses. There are easy ways to enjoy tax-free shopping as well as free shipping and importing for a variety of common order requests.
If you’re not able to eliminate the shipping costs and/or the import costs, or if your item cannot be delivered to Switzerland, you still have the option of picking up your package abroad and importing it personally.
For all the book lovers out there, it seems that Amazon is putting you on a pedestal! Their goodies, freebies and money-saving opportunities (especially for Swiss-based book shoppers) are truly awesome. So I dedicated a whole blog post to buying books, e-books and audiobooks on Amazon.
Now that you know the most convenient and cost-effective way of shopping on Amazon.de, you’ll also want to compare this method with domestic alternatives—such as galaxus.ch or exlibris.ch. So let me give you the most important advantages and disadvantages of Amazon.de home delivery as opposed to online shopping within Switzerland:
|+ less expensive products from abroad||- restrictions for certain product categories|
|+ automatic savings on foreign VAT||- slower delivery|
The chart above should be considered a rough guideline. Of course, it’s always wise to make your final decision on a case-by-case basis.
Again, keep in mind that these pros and cons are valid only if you’ve committed to have your package delivered to your Swiss address. Should you want to give the personal import method a shot when shopping on Amazon, you’d be in a completely different situation with even more exciting possibilities.
Have questions or want to share your experiences? Leave a comment below!
Whichever choices you make, happy shopping!