How to send gifts to expats in Switzerland

Hello family and friends of expats in Switzerland. We know you love us and want to treat us over the holidays. But if you’re thinking of sending a big box of gifts, please don’t. We often have to pay high customs fees for your packages, even if it’s clearly marked as a gift. So here are some gift giving alternatives when buying for expats in Switzerland.

Expats – Send this post to your friends and family and avoid those awkward conversations when they ask how to send you gifts.

Please use Amazon.de not Amazon.com

If you want to order something from Amazon, please use Amazon.de (the German version of Amazon) not Amazon.com or other local country version. Amazon.de has an arrangement with Switzerland to process the Swiss customs and ship many items for free (including books and media).

Note: You can see the Amazon.de site in English. Just scroll to the bottom of the page and choose English as your language.

If you want to send an Amazon gift card, again please use Amazon.de. If you don’t, Swiss residents can’t use the gift card to order from Amazon.de. They have to use the gift card in the Amazon country store where the card was purchased. So if you send me an Amazon.com gift card, I have to order from the US Amazon store, incurring the shipping costs and customs fees of an item shipped from the US.

That said, Amazon.de will not ship many items to Switzerland. This is improving over time, but you still might discover that many items you want to gift simply will not ship to Switzerland.

Order from local Swiss shops

One option is to order online from Swiss shops. The prices are higher but shipping is quick and affordable, no customs fees and returns/exchanges are much easier. Here are a few that accept foreign credit cards.

Store   Category Site in English?
Galaxus  clothing, sporting goods, toys, games yes
Digitec electronics yes
Toy R Us  toys, games no
Manor  dept store with toys, games, clothes no
Coop  dept store with toys, games, clothes no
Migros  toys, games, sports equipment no

More online toy shopping in Switzerland (most sites only in German).

Gifting Experiences & Family Passes

Many museums, sports centers, and other family activities offer online gift vouchers for day and/or annual passes. This is great for the whole family and you can join them on the activity when you visit. Here are a few I can recommend that accept foreign credit cards.

Store   Category English? Family Day Pass
Technorama technology & science interactive museum  yes gift vouchers can be purchased online
Luzern Transportation Museum interactive museum  yes can gift an annual pass, day passes must be purchased for specific day
Alpamare waterslide park near Zurich yes can order day passes and gift vouchers
Aquabasilea waterslide park near Basel partial lots of options for family day pass vouchers
Flumserberg Ski ski resort near Zurich yes can order a “credit voucher” valid for ski lift passes

German shopping terms

Since many of these sites are not in English, here are a few German shopping terms that might be helpful. Try to use the “translate” option on your browser to facilitate the shopping process.

  • Gutscheine = voucher
  • Warenkorb = shopping cart
  • Auswählen = choose

Understanding Swiss Customs

When you send packages to Switzerland, the recipient must pay customs fees on value of the package, which technically the value of the contents + any shipping costs + any predetermined customs fees. The official rules state that gifts are exempt up to CHF 100 per person. A customs declaration label must be on the outside of the package, indicating the value of the contents and clearly labeled as gift. If the package is shipped from a company, not a person, then Swiss customs may disregard the “gift” status.

However, sometimes Swiss customs chooses to open the package even if it’s labeled a gift, which has happened multiple times to me. If the customs office opens your package for any reason (most likely because of problems with the customs declaration form), there is a minimum fee of CHF 13, plus additional processing and customs fees. I once received a gift valued at CHF 15 that cost me CHF 25 in custom fees. In practice, there is no dispute resolution with Swiss customs. If you don’t pay the fee, they send it back.

>>> More information on Swiss customs allowances.

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