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The rules Swiss cross-border shoppers in France and Italy should know

If you live in Swiss regions of Geneva, Vaud, Jura, Neuchâtel or Ticino you probably shop in France or Italy more or less regularly. Here are the rules you should know about.

These groceries are much cheaper across the border. Photo by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash
These groceries are much cheaper across the border. Photo by Maria Lin Kim on Unsplash

Due to lower prices and greater variety, Swiss residents have been shopping in border regions of France for decades.

But if you think shopping in France got more complicated during the pandemic, consider this: “It’s not easy to go shopping in France, when you live in Geneva. At each passage through customs, there are checks. In the other direction too, there are many hassles, since the French francs are no longer accepted in Geneva stores”.

Confused? Don’t be — this is just a blast from the past, specifically from May 31st, 1968, about cross-border shopping on RTS public broadcasting.

The video included in this report shows that while cross-border shopping was as popular half a century ago as it is now, the process was much more complex and involved, for instance, a border guard asking drivers to open their wallets.

The situation is much simpler in January 2022. According to French Embassy in Switzerland, people living within a radius of 30km from the French border and travelling to France for less than 24 hours, are exempted from the obligation to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result required from ‘regular’ tourists.

However, once you are in France and want to get a bite to eat or a drink, you must show your Covid certificate (‘pass sanitaire’) to enter, the same way you would in Switzerland. Swiss certificate is accepted across the border, and vice-versa.

Please note that all the rules outlined in this article pertain to people who permanently reside in Switzerland, regardless of their nationality.

So if you have a UK (or any other) passport but live in Switzerland, these regulations apply to you.

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

Swiss customs rules

When bringing goods into Switzerland, whether from France or another border country, you will need to pay VAT if the amount exceeds 300 francs. 

While border checks 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 300-franc limit applies now, Switzerland looks set to reduce this to 50 francs in the future – although final approval of this is pending. 

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

What about French customs?

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

The rules state you must be at least 16 years of age and be visiting France for a period of less than six months.

French Customs is not responsible for reimbursing the VAT paid on purchases made in France. Only the retailer from whom you purchased the goods can do so, according to the French Customs site.

To qualify, the total amount of your purchases, inclusive of all taxes, must be greater than €100. They must have been bought in the same shop and on the same day. At the time of purchase, the retailer will give you a VAT refund form, which must be signed by both the retailer and you.

More information about how to claim your refund can be found here.

What about shopping in Italy?

Ticino residents are used to hop across the border for money-saving shopping sprees, but they will have to wait until at least January 31st to resume this activity.

That’s because since December 16th and until the end of this month, anyone crossing the border into Italy must meet certain requirements, according to the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

  • Complete the Digital Passenger Locator Form
  • Present a Digital COVID Certificate or other equivalent certification which attests the full vaccination or full recovery from coronavirus in the past six months
  • Present a PCR test (carried out within 48 hours) or antigenic swab test (carried out within 24 hours) prior to entry into Italy, with negative test result.

Obviously, these conditions, with no exemption for border residents, don’t make it worthwhile to cross into Italy with the mere purpose of shopping.

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

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COST OF LIVING

EXPLAINED: 8 ways to save money on your groceries in Switzerland

With the cost of living going up, many of us are thinking of ways to spend a little less. Here are some tips on how you can save money when grocery shopping in Switzerland.

EXPLAINED: 8 ways to save money on your groceries in Switzerland

Think about the supermarket where you shop

A lot of the time, food items cost a similar amount in different shops. But there are many items that are available at much lower prices than the competition. Discounters like Denner, Aldi and Lidl offer some products at a much cheaper price than the two largest retailers Coop and Migros. You can check out the articles below to compare prices. 

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Buy products in season

Purchasing fruit and vegetables is less expensive when they are in season. That’s because the products don’t have to be kept in cold storage in the same way, which thanks to the current high energy prices incurs high costs that are then passed onto the customer. So going for produce that is naturally abundant at the time of year can really pay off. 

At the moment, vegetables such as kale, pumpkins, squashes, leaks and cabbages are in season, but you can refer to an online Saisonkalendar (season calendar), such as this one, to keep an eye on which fruits and veggies are in season at different times of the year.

Opt for cheaper products

Instead of entrecôte or fillet of beef, try a cervelat or minced meat. Vegetables are also cheaper than meat, so you could go for more ‘meat-free’ days.

You can also save by buying low-price or own-brand products (for example, Prix Garantie from Coop or M-Budget from Migros). For some items, the price differences between cheap products, own brands and brand-name products are small, but for others they are bigger.

READ MORE: Pasta up by 13 percent: How food and energy prices in Switzerland are rising

Many common products are now more expensive. Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Look out for discount stickers and special offers

Discount stickers are an easy way to save money when shopping for groceries in Switzerland. All the major retailers like Migros, Coop, Denner, Aldi Suisse and Lidl reduce the prices of many food products shortly before their expiry date. The discounts are marked on the products (usually with a red or orange sticker) and often range from 25 to 50 percent below the retail price.

When picking up discounts, you need to be flexible. You won’t know which items are discounted before you go on your shopping spree. Usually, the evening shortly before closing time, and weekends are the best time to go bargain hunting. And keep an eye out for special offers. Customers can find out about weekly promotions in the Migros magazine, in the Coop newspaper and in the brochures of Denner, Aldi and Lidl, as well as online. 

Collect loyalty points

Many large Swiss food retailers have customer loyalty programmes. The most popular are Cumulus (Migros, Voi, Migrolino) and Supercard (Coop).

The two programmes work similarly: show your customer card or the app at the checkout. As a rule, you get one point for every franc spent. With Migros, you receive vouchers every three months that you can use like cash in Migros shops. At Coop, the points are automatically credited to your points account. You can use these points to pay for certain products as part of promotions. You can also pay for your purchases with points at the Coop City department stores’ (without the food department).

100 points correspond to one franc with both Cumulus and Supercard. This means that you normally have to spend 100 francs to get the equivalent of one franc. Get collecting. 

READ MORE: Cost of living: How you can beat Switzerland’s inflation blues?

Pasta

Photo by Bozhin Karaivanov on Unsplash

Keep an eye on coupons

Collecting coupons is a bit like playing the lottery. Sometimes the coupons match the groceries on your shopping list, sometimes they don’t. With the right coupons, you can get discounts of up to 50 percent. Checking out customer magazines like the Coop paper and regional newspapers can be worthwhile. You can also find coupons in the apps of supermarkets like Migros, Coop and Lidl. And sometimes the coupons are even available in the shop itself. If you buy groceries online, you can often find coupons for online grocery shops and delivery services on numerous discount sites.

But don’t be blinded by the coupons: they are often branded products that are much more expensive than other items in the same shop, despite the discount.

Try shopping at farms

Wherever you live in Switzerland, chances are high that there is a farm fairly nearby (or it may make a nice day trip on the weekend). Some farmers sell their fresh produce directly from stalls, and the fruit and vegetables can be cheaper than in the supermarket.

Some farms in Switzerland are open around the clock. Money can usually be deposited in a cash box. Often payment via Twint is also possible. On schweizerbauer.ch you can find a list of Swiss farms by location. Although you can also buy regional products from farms on online platforms. However, the same savings are often not possible there as when you buy directly from a farm.

Fight food waste – and save money

Some organisations who want to reduce food waste sell almost expired food in Switzerland at a good price. Plus, retailers sometimes reject products simply because they are not in the desired shape, for example (such as crooked carrots).

The app Too Good To Go is well known. Customers use this smartphone app to buy a surprise package of leftover food. At the time specified in the app, you pick up the package. Various supermarkets, as well as restaurants, bakeries and takeaways are on board with the app. Food-waste shops like the Äss Bar shops, which sell baked goods from the day before, aim to reduce food waste rather than cost, but the prices are still far below the retail price.

If you are affected by poverty, you can also go shopping at Caritas grocery shops. Everyday products are usually available at much lower prices than in conventional supermarkets. The prerequisite is that you are on or below the poverty line, receiving economic social assistance or supplementary benefits to social security, or are in debt. There are also some local projects and food banks where people in poverty can buy cheap products – or even get them for free.

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