Imports and Exports in Switzerland

Imports and Exports in Switzerland

Updated on Monday 22nd February 2021

Rate this article

based on 26 reviews.


Switzerland is a small yet wealthy county in the heart of Europe. Its economy relies mostly on the financial industry, however, there are also other sectors that perform quite well.
Considering all countries in the world engage in commercial and trading operations with other states, this is also the case of Switzerland which has several partners from this point of view.
Switzerland engages in both import and export activities and below you can read more on this subject. With the help of our lawyers in Switzerland, foreign investors can set up trading companies here.

The Swiss economy

With a open economy, Switzerland provides low prices when referring to manufactured goods; it also provides suitable policies for import-export matters. The country has a very stable economy, which is attractive for foreign investments and this is why foreign investments in Switzerland represent an important component of the local economy. The Swiss goods that make the country famous all around the world for are watches, chocolate and cheese, but most of its exports are based on mechanical and electrical machinery.
Our team of Swiss lawyers can offer an extensive presentation on the import-export law applicable in this country and can also assist investors on the legal formalities that have to be followed when trading goods from and into Switzerland. Investors can address to our team of lawyers in Switzerland for advice on the documents that have to be submitted by import-export companies, depending on the types of goods they trade

Import and export regulations in Switzerland

Switzerland is not an EU member state which means that it has its own trading regulations. Even so, it has in place mechanisms that eases Customs operations with EU member states. However, Switzerland also has good economic ties with other countries around the world and with many of them it has specific trade agreements.
As a member state of the European Free Trade Association, Switzerland has plenty of benefits. Switzerland is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which ensures that it complies with the best practices in matters of commercial operations. Apart from these, Switzerland has more than 30 free trade agreements.
Starting an import/export business in Switzerland can bring important profits to local and foreign investors, as the goods produced here are known for their high quality.
Our law firm in Switzerland can guide foreign investors who want to start such a business in this industry.


Switzerland’s exports

The basic products that are exported from Switzerland are gold, pharmaceutical goods and watches. The first place in Switzerland’s exports is occupied by gold with almost 20% and the second place is occupied by pharmaceuticals that represent almost 11.5% of the country’s total exports. With a share of 5% of all the Swiss exports, watches represent the third most traded product from this country. Other important products exported from Switzerland refer to medical devices, machinery and jewelry.
The countries Switzerland exports to are Germany, that imports 17% of Swiss goods, India, that occupies the second place with 11% of the goods exported from Switzerland, the United States, where Switzerland exports almost 9% of its products and services, followed by Hong Kong and France where Switzerland’s exports reach 6%. Other important export partners of Switzerland are the following: China, Japan, Austria, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Italy. In relation to the Swiss exports, at the level of 2018, the following data is available:  


  • the country’s main trading partner was Germany, to which it exported goods with a value of $47,447 million;
  • the second trading partner is the United States, where Switzerland exported goods accounting for $40,959 million;
  • the 3rd export partner is China, accounting for $30,260 million and the 4th export country is France;
  • exports to France had a value of $19,738 million, while with the 5th trading partner, India, exports stood at $17,837 million;
  • the 6th and the 7th trading partners were Italy and Hong Kong, accounting for $16,581 million and $16,024 million respectively. 

Imports in Switzerland


Switzerland mainly imports metals, machinery and chemicals. The most imported good in Switzerland is gold, that represents 21% of the country’s total imports. The second place is occupied by medicines, with almost 6%, and cars and car parts with almost 5%. Refined petroleum and jewels are also imported in Switzerland but in smaller quantities, that reaches almost 4%.
Other products imported into Switzerland are the following: textiles, agricultural products, computers and chemical products. Swiss imports are based on German products with a share of 24%, Italian goods with 11% and U.S. goods that supply almost 10%. France supplies almost 7% of the country’s imports, while countries like China and Austria provide almost 4% of Swiss importsSwitzerland also imports goods from Austria, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Japan and Russia. The top import countries in 2018 were the following:


  • the main import country was Germany, accounting for imports with a value of $57,788 million;
  • the second import country was the United Kingdom, with imports accounting for $26,549 million;
  • the 3rd most important import country was Italy ($21,283 million), while the 4th was the United States ($21,250 million);
  • the 5th trading partner was France ($19,853 million) and the 6th was China ($14,757 million);
  • the 7th most important trading partner was the United Arab Emirates ($10,350 million), while the 8th was Ireland, accounting for $8,799 million. 
According to the data collected by the Federal Statistical Office for 2018, most of the import-export activities recorded by Switzerland were concluded with countries located in Europe (64% of all the imports and 47% of all the exports). Asia was the second most important destination, representing 20% of all the imports and 34% of all the exports). Important trading relations are observed with the countries located in North America; our team of Swiss lawyers can assist with information on the trading regulations available for these regions.  
When importing various goods into Switzerland, a set of documents has to presented to the customs authority and the number and types of documents will vary based on the types of products that are imported on the local market. Documents such as invoices, certificates of origin, authorizations, official confirmations, analysis certificates, weight certificates and other can be requested in order to obtain custom clearance in Switzerland
Companies that are interested in importing goods in this country should know that they also have the possibility of submitting these documents through the country’s electronic customs declaration system. In order to be part of this system, the applicant must obtain an authorization for electronic clearance from the Directorate General of Customs
It is also important to know that the goods that are imported here must be declared with the local customs authorities in a given period time, which varies based on the transportation means through which they are brought into the country. Thus, the declaration for customs clearance must be obtained within 24 hours for goods transported by road and in 48 hours for goods transported by water. 
Good transported by rail must be declared in maximum 7 days, a timeframe which is also applicable to goods delivered by air transportation; our law firm in Switzerland can provide in-depth information on the formalities of delivering goods into this country by these means of transportation. 

How to open a trading company in Switzerland

When involved in the import/export sector, one must set up a trading company which implies the registration of a business just like in any other sector. The company must first register with the Companies Registrar, with the tax authorities, followed by applying for the necessary licenses and permits.
The most employed business form when creating a trading business in Switzerland is the limited liability company, however, there are a few specific aspects to consider, among which a minimum share capital of 20,000 CHF and at least a resident director are required.
The important condition to operate as a trading company in Switzerland is to register for VAT, based on which the business will obtain an EORI number when engaging in customs operations with EU countries.
Considering most import/export activities of companies imply interaction with other EU-based companies, the procedure of obtaining an EORI number can be assisted by one of our Swiss lawyers.
With respect to the import/export licenses that need to be applied for, in certain cases, special licenses are required for every custom operation for specific products.

Import/export procedures in Switzerland


When referring to the import or export goods into/from Switzerland, a domestic company must complete various operations with the Customs. Special licenses and permits are usually requested for food products like:
  • dairy and meat,
  • fish,
  • vegetables and fruit,
  • livestock.
There are also other products deemed as dangerous, such as firearms which require specific conditions to be met and documents to accompany them.
Our law firm in Switzerland can advise on specific laws that govern brining and taking out of the country certain products.

What are the documents related to imports and exports into/from Switzerland?


In most cases, the following documents must accompany goods imported or exported in and out of Switzerland:
  1. the Customs entry documents which are drafted and presented by the company importing/exporting the products,
  2. the Customs clearance declaration which must be prepared within specific timeframes which depend on means of transportation of the goods,
  3. the import/export license, and other special documents, such as Certificates of Origin,
  4. health certificates, plant health certificates and other similar documents are also required in certain cases.
The documents related to importing and exporting goods into/from Switzerland can also depend on the country of origin of the respective products.

What are the regulations for trading food products into Switzerland?

When trading food products or agricultural goods in Switzerland, businesses involved in this activity are required to obtain a general import permit; in Switzerland, the document is issued by the Federal Office of Agriculture (FOA); this type of permit is issued on an indefinite basis and our team of Swiss lawyers can provide more details on the application procedure. 
If the trading activity involves animals and animal products, the products have to be inspected by the Swiss Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO), a requirement that can also be applicable for the import of various types of plants. The import of food products must also fall under the regulations of the FSVO

Switzerland's trade agreements


Switzerland has a strong connection with the European Union when it comes to trading, which is why trade agreements have been concluded. Among the most important of them we can find the Free Trade Agreement that regulates free trades for industrial goods, the Insurance Agreement that allows Swiss companies to be established within the European Union with a minimum of restrictions, and a bilateral agreement that helps agricultural development and the circulation of workforce among others.
We also invite you to watch our video below:


Recent trading statistics for Switzerland

According to the Federal Customs Administration, Switzerland’s trading statistics for 2019 indicate that:
  • the country’s net trade balance was 35,919 million CHF,
  • out of these, 276,058 million CHF was the total value of imports,
  • in terms of exports, these accounted for 311,977 million CHF,
  • 60% of Switzerland’s imports came from Europe, while 52% of its exports were directed to European countries,
  • 24% of Switzerland’s imports came from Asia, while the country exported 28% of its goods to Asia.
For more information on this matter please contact us. Businessmen who are interested in opening a Swiss company involved in import-export activities can rely on our lawyers for more details. Our law firm in Switzerland can provide legal advice on the legislation regulating this field of activity.