For members


What are the current rules for Swiss cross-border shopping in Germany?

For many Swiss residents who live close (and not so close) to Germany, crossing the border to shop is a regular occurrence. From customs to Covid, here are the current rules.

An outlet of German supermarket chain Rewe seen at night
Want to shop in Germany? These are some rules that you need to know. Photo by Michael Förtsch on Unsplash

Cross-border commerce makes up an important part of the economy in both Switzerland and Germany. 

Lower prices and greater variety across the German border have prompted Swiss residents to head north to shop for decades. 

For many border residents, the notion that they are crossing an international border is often soon forgotten. 

READ MORE: 13 things that are actually ‘cheaper’ in Switzerland

Indeed, the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2020 was the first instance in many people’s lifetimes when the border was closed. 

However, while cross-border shopping is a part of life for tens of thousands of border residents, there are still rules to be followed. 

Covid-19 measures have been put in place, while customs in both Germany and Switzerland have rules which impact the amount of tax that must be paid. 

Covid rules

In Germany, measures are put in place at both the federal and state level. 

As the only German state to share a border with Switzerland is Baden-Württemberg, these rules will be considered. 

Entering the state for less than a day is allowed and you will not need to fill in an entry form to register your visit. 

However, all entrants to Germany over the age of six must be in compliance with the 3G rule. This requires everyone to be either vaccinated, recovered or have tested negative for Covid. 

The negative test must be within the past 72 hours (PCR) or 48 hours (antigen) and must be in German, English, French, Italian or Spanish. 

Your Swiss Covid certificate will be accepted for entry. 

All shopping and hospitality venues require a FFP2 mask. Bars and restaurants must close at 10:30pm. 

From Wednesday, January 12th, visiting bars and restaurants will require compliance with the 2G-Plus rule.

This rule requires people to either have received a booster vaccination or to be fully vaccinated and in possession of a negative test. Those who have recently recovered from Covid can also enter provided they show a negative test. 

Unvaccinated people and those who have not recently recovered from the virus are shut out of non-essential retail stores such as clothing and gift shops. 

You will need to show your Covid certificate to prove your status at non-essential stores. Your Swiss Covid certificate will be accepted in Germany. 

The unvaccinated can still shop at essential stores, which includes pharmacies, supermarkets, petrol stations, animal feed markets or hardware and garden stores.

More information is available at the following link. 

READ MORE: The new rules Swiss cross-border shoppers in Germany should know

Swiss customs rules

When bringing goods into Switzerland, you will need to pay VAT if the amount exceeds 300 francs. 

While border patrols are rare, those who make a habit of exceeding this amount – even if it is for goods for personal use – run the risk of falling foul of the authorities. 

There are several different rules in place for bringing in different items, including meats, cheeses and alcohol. 

The limits for each of these items can be found here. 

Keep in mind that while the CHF300 applies now, Switzerland is set to reduce this to CHF50 in the future – although final approval of this has not yet been secured. 

Tax change: Switzerland to introduce 50 franc limit on cross-border shopping

German customs rules

Swiss residents are entitled to tax free shopping in Germany, as Switzerland is a non-EU country. 

In order to qualify for the tax exemption, you must bring the goods back to Switzerland with you. 

The specific rules for this are laid out by German Customs here, but they need to be either in your carry on or checked baggage, or in a car that you are travelling in personally. 

These rules are to ensure people are buying the goods for themselves rather than intending to sell them on. 

The tax exemption only applies to purchases over 50 euros. 

You will need to pay the total amount, before asking for reimbursement once you have exported the goods. 

More information on how to get the money reimbursed can be found in English at the following link. 


Member comments

  1. What are re-entry to Switzerland Covid rules for Swiss residents and non-residents, vaccinated and not, are they the same as normal entry by land rules?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


OPINION: Swiss government must act so families are not afraid to turn heating on this winter

Fearing a winter of discontent, governments all over Europe are moving to cushion the impact of surging energy prices. Swiss households have been told they should be able to handle the situation without hardship. Clare O’Dea asks whether this is realistic.

OPINION: Swiss government must act so families are not afraid to turn heating on this winter

While other European countries are responding urgently to the cost-of-living crisis with direct payments and price caps, the Swiss have been told to put the lids on their saucepans when cooking.

It really is the case that an energy efficiency campaign is the extent of government intervention so far. That’s if you don’t count emergency credit to the tune of billions of francs made available to the country’s largest power companies this month.

READ ALSO: What the Swiss government is asking you to do to save energy

There is now a financial safety net in place for the power sector but nothing yet for the country’s more vulnerable families, facing the dual challenge of rising inflation and energy bills. Hopes are now pinned on a decision next month. The government has promised to review the situation after its energy price task force has reported back.

Electricity operators announced their new pricing structure for electricity in 2023 on August 31, showing a greatly varying pricing patchwork depending on location. The increase for a typical household is calculated to be 27 percent, corresponding to an annual bill of 1,215 francs, or 261 more than the current level.

READ ALSO: Swiss government confirms ‘sharp increase’ in electricity prices

Not that dramatic, you might think, until you look into the massive differences at a local level. Providers who don’t produce their own kilowatts are in the expensive situation of having to purchase all their electricity at historically high prices and pass those on to customers.

It is little comfort to know that the national average is 27 percent when you are unlucky enough to live somewhere like Churwalden, Graubünden or Aarberg, Bern, where the increase is twice that rate. As domestic customers are tied to their local provider, there is no alternative for those caught in bizarrely high price hikes. Rates per kilowatt hour vary dramatically, as this official interactive map shows.

The figure of 250 francs monthly has been thrown around by different political parties, either as a direct payment or tax break. However, a universal payment makes little sense, given the differences in income and prices. Therefore, any state or cantonal help should be as targeted as possible.

This will be a tough winter for those on a tight budget, with price increases across the board and inflation at 3.5 percent. Not only energy prices but the cost of petrol and diesel, health insurance, mortgage repayments or rent, household goods and food will continue to increase in 2023.

Although Swiss consumers are better off than those in some of the worst-hit European countries, notably the United Kingdom, where energy prices have tripled and inflation has reached 10 percent, lower-income households will still need some state aid. And they are still waiting for reassurance from the government.

Switzerland’s electricity grid is intertwined with Europe’s. Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

Despite being one of the world’s most successful economies, one in seven people in Switzerland live in poverty or is at risk of poverty. As pointed out by the charity Caritas, additional monthly expenses of 50 or 100 francs can create serious problems for people who are just scraping by.

Time is short between now and the end of the year to put something in place for the worst affected by the crisis. Knowing that something is in the pipeline would take away a lot of stress for low-income households.

The other at-risk group are those who earn too much to qualify for regular social assistance, such as subsidised health insurance, but too little to cope with ever-increasing outgoings. Whatever help is available should be delivered as swiftly as possible with a minimum of red tape. The pandemic showed, on a much broader scale, that this kind of state intervention is workable.

With such a high share of renewable energy covering domestic electricity demand in Switzerland – close to 80 percent – Switzerland is in an enviable position. Its reliance on imported gas is relatively low.

All the more reason why the Federal Electricity Commission Elcom should make sure that the consumer is protected from extra charges. The Swiss Foundation for Consumer Protection has already drawn attention to this problem and called for Elcom to take a closer look at and correct unjustified price increases.

This is no easy task, with hundreds of providers active in the market. But, with the cooperation of the government, cantons and communes, there are changes that can be made to the various tariff structures that would make a difference.

One suggestion is the removal of the set basic charge imposed by some companies so that customers are paying for their true level of electricity use. This would also increase the incentive to be energy efficient. Bills could also be trimmed by reducing grid connection fees and municipal duties.

This time of uncertainty in the world economy calls for innovation and flexibility on the part of decision-makers, with policies that provide reassurance and put the people’s well-being first.

If Swiss families and pensioners are afraid to turn on the heating this winter, it will be a damning indictment of the country’s political leadership.