After six years in Switzerland, I finally did my first shopping trip to Germany in Dec 2011, processing the VAT refund and everything. It was awesome! I did a bunch of my Christmas shopping there and it made me so happy to buy more for less. Plus there is a different/better selection than in Switzerland. Since then, I’ve gone back many times and gained a little experience. Keep reading for tips on where to go and how to process your VAT refund.
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Where to go?
Since I first wrote this post in 2012, I’ve been back many times to shop in Singen, Konstanz and Waldshut, all within an hour drive of Zurich. For toys, my top choices are:
- Müller Spielwaren in Konstanz
- Real in Singen
In Konstanz: this is my preferred place to shop. It’s much more attractive than Singen and there are many more store options and nice places to eat. In town, you find lots and lots of fun stores. When I’m on a time constraint, I usually stop at H&M, Müller, Karstadt, Dosenbach, an apotheke, etc.
For toys, the best option is Müller toy store in the middle of town, on Tirolergasse, the alley behind big H&M. They have a big selection, good prices and free wrapping service. Nearby at Marktstätte 13, you will find the Müller Drogeriemarkt, which lots of home goods and a nice art supply section on the top floor. I found some good stocking stuffers there. See also Müller website and their online toy catelog.
Lago mall has pretty much everything you need except regular groceries. You’ll find among other things H&M, Zara, DM, Karstadt Sports, Humanic shoes, etc. There is a nice toy store but the prices are much higher than Müller or Real. Lago has a parking garage, pricey, but convenient.
For groceries, you can drive five mins from the downtown Konstanz area to Kaufland (Carl-Benz-Straße 22 78467 Konstanz), which is an enormous mid-range grocery store. It’s not super fancy but not trashy either. It has a wide selection of products, great prices, free toilets, and free parking. There are other boxes stores nearby like Obi and a pet food store, etc.
In Singen: most people go to Singen to shop at Real, like a Walmart with groceries. I go to Singen if I’m mostly shopping for food. They have good prices and a wide selection. The toys section is small, but has good deals. You can browse their online store to get an idea of what they have and compare prices. Singen is not particularly attractive, but it does has a small pedestrian shopping area with other obvious shopping options like Karstadt and H&M. Karstadt is a nice department store with quality clothing and home goods. The toys section is pretty good. The prices were better than Switzerland but higher than Real. H&M has the same stuff you see in Switzerland but for about 30% less.
Georg-Fischer-Str. 15, 78224 Singen Deutschland
Open Mon-Sat 7:00-22:00Uhr
Online shop, toys section
Bahnhofstraße 19-21, 78224 Singen Deutschland
Open Mon-Sat 9:15-19:00Uhr
Online toy catalog
Anyone have any other favorite places to shop in Germany?
What about online shopping?
Amazon.de is an obvious choice for books (English too!) and other media, but I’ve also had a good experience buying toys there. Shipping is always free for books and other media, and sometimes free for other goods if you spend over a certain amount 20CHF. Amazon.de deducts VAT on checkout, so your purchase total suddenly is lower on the final confirmation page – what a nice surprise!
The customs policy for online shopping is confusing. The official rules say that all goods arriving in Switzerland by post are subject to tax and there is no duty-free limit, except gifts for which there is a 100CHF duty-free limit. Customs is charged on not only the value of the good but also the shipping charges.
However, I’ve never been heard of anyone being charged customs on items purchased from Amazon.de. I don’t know why. I’ve heard there is a 60CHf or 80CHF duty-free limit and that books and other media are exempt. But the official rules don’t say anything about this. In an abundance of caution, I always keep my orders small, under 50EUR, breaking my order up into multiple batches if necessary.
Amazon and other sellers will not ship certain items to Switzerland, like electronics and kitchen appliances (I don’t know what the official rules are). You often won’t realize this until you try to checkout and enter your Swiss shipping address. So don’t wait to buy at the last minute, only to find out they won’t ship to Switzerland. I usually just order items that say they are both fulfilled and shipped from Amazon.de.
Post Box in Germany
If Amazon or other sellers will not ship your item to Switzerland, you can use one of many “Lieferaddresse” services, which allows you to ship your item to their store and you can pick it up there for a small fee.
I use www.lieferadresse-konstanz.de and am very happy with them. It is located a block from the Konstanz train station in the old town. They charge EUR 5 for small packages, more for larger packages. You have two weeks from delivery to pick it up, or they add an additional fee.
Please note: you will not get VAT back on these purchases but they do count toward your customs limit when crossing the border.
Online toy shopping in Switzerland
There are a few sources for online toy shopping inside Switzerland:
toysrus.ch – I rarely use this because I can see that the prices are so much cheaper at toysrus.de
ricardo.ch – I’ve bought some good quality second hand toys on Ricardo.
www.kidoh.ch and www.jako-o.ch – I haven’t bought anything from these but my Swiss friend recommended these sites. So I would expect quality and high prices.
www.bea-verlag.ch – I was just introduced to this catalog toy store that requires you to collect points. I haven’t bought anything there yet. But the catalog has an excellent selection and decent prices.
Do you have any other suggestions?
Is shopping in Germany worth it?
Not everything is significantly cheaper in Germany, but I found prices to be about 20-40% cheaper (including VAT) on the things I was interested in. If you process your VAT refund, you save another 19% on top of that. I spent about 30CHF on gas round trip and an hour driving each way. I think it’s worth it, but it really depends on what you buy there. If you are already in Germany for another reason, it’s a downright shame to not also shop there.
The Affenalarm game above is 26CHF at Manor, 15EUR at Real DE, and 10EUR on Amazon.de
The Lego box is 90CHF at Manor and 39EUR at Real.
The Babalu line (compatible with Brio) has a battery train for 10EUR, while the Brio one is 30CHF at Manor. The Babalu train tracks are 3-10EUR while the Brio ones range 15-30CHF.
Food is less expensive too.
What about Swiss Customs?
I am not an expert. You can read the official customs policy here. But in general, you are allowed 300CHF (about 250 EUR today) duty-free per person. There are also limits on certain food stuffs, like dairy and meat (see official rules here). Important things to note:
– Customs calculates how many francs you spent using their exchange rate (1.25CHF = 1EUR today).
– If you are over over the limit, you are charged customs on the whole amount, not just the difference. So if you spent 301CHF, you are charged customs on 301CHF, not the 1CHF you are over, that’s 24CHF fyi. I know because it happened to me. I’ve been told that the customs limit does not include VAT. So they would first deduct the VAT then determine if you spent over 300CHF. I have not tested this theory.
– You get 300CHF/person but you cannot split the cost of one item over multiple people. If one item cost 301CHF, you are over the limit even if you have 6 people in your car.
– If you stop to process your VAT refund, the Swiss customs people might decide to look at your receipts and look in your car (maybe just through the windows) to see if you are over the limit. So if you claim one thing, you better plan on claiming everything.
– For Swiss customs, food is charged at 2.5% and everything else at 8%. You will get a receipt that details this.
How do I process the VAT refund?
If you do not live in Germany, you are entitled a refund to the VAT paid on your purchases there. Rules are different for other countries. When you pay for your stuff in Germany, ask for an “Ausfuhrschein” (or if like me, just mumble “VAT?” and shrug your shoulders). Either the sales clerk will fill out and stamp the Ausfuhrschein right at the register, or they’ll send you to Customer Service where someone will do it there. Then drive to the border where you will need to get your receipts stamped on the German side. At Singen and Konstanz, you drive through Swiss customs, park just on the other side and walk to the German side to get your stamp. At smaller border crossings, you sometimes park before you cross the border. Just look to see the people walking around with papers in their hands and follow them.
If Swiss customs stop you, just show your Ausfuhrschein. They’ll check to make sure you are under the 300CHF/person limit (minus VAT, converted from EUR), peer in your car windows, and tell you where to park so you can walk over to German side.
At the German border, you go to the Steuer (aka Tax) window and show them your Ausfuhrschein(s) and passport. They asked me if all the items were in my car and if the Ausfuhrscheins I gave them represented everything I bought. They stamp the Ausfuhrschein (have you learned this word yet?) and you’re on your way.
To get your money back, you have to return to the store (usually within 12 months, but ask at the store beforehand) and present your stamped Ausfuhrschein. You will get cash. Sometimes you can apply the credit to your next purchase.
Remember, I’m not an expert, so use this information at your own risk. I’ll try to update this post as I have more experience shopping in Germany. Next stop for me, Konstanz. Happy shopping, ya’ll!