S-GE checklist for Export Starters

Content provided by Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE)

Are you new to export and do you have questions about administrative processing? Our checklist incorporates the most important points and gives you tips on more detailed sources of information.

1 Basic export documents

For each export at least one commercial invoice (a pro-forma invoice at best) is required. Commercial invoices must include the following information as a minimum:

  • Name and address of the exporter

  • Name and address of the importer

  • Delivery address (if different to that of the importer)

  • Place and date of issue

  • Labeling, number, quantity and type of the packages

  • Net and gross weights, dimensions of the packages

  • Precise goods labeling, ideally with customs tariff numbers

  • Quantities of goods

  • Price

  • Terms of delivery and payment

  • Country of origin

Depending on the country, specific additional details may be required on the commercial invoice. The number of commercial invoices needed and the language may also vary.

2 Customs tariff number

The customs tariff number is essential for both export and import. These numbers categorize the goods. The customs tariff number dictates the customs duties as well as other tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. Like most customs tariffs worldwide, the Swiss customs tariff is based on the internationally valid Harmonized System (HS). The first six numbers of the eight-digit Swiss tariff numbers correspond to the HS. The Swiss tariff numbers can be found at www.tares.ch. The Federal Customs Administration will carry out a binding determination of the customs tariff number where required. Using the customs tariff number, the import information can be retrieved in the country of destination. The customs tariffs can differ depending on the country of origin, or on whether Switzerland has a free trade agreement in place bilaterally or as part of EFTA. To this end, Switzerland Global Enterprise provides all Swiss and Liechtenstein companies with free-of-charge access to the customs database. Here, users can look up the customs tariffs and other import details, such as import formalities and rules of origin (in the case of free trade agreements).

3 Customs processing

The logistics partner/haulage company will generally provide support with customs processing. The important thing is to provide the logistics partner with accurate and complete information. You can also deal with the export declaration yourself, either using in-house software (e-dec Export) or with the online application "e-dec web" from the Federal Customs Administration. The self-declaration requires a certain level of basic knowledge. The Customs Administration is making even greater use of digitization and is currently switching a lot of processes to digital registration. Hence, for example, the assessment decisions for exports are now made available electronically only. The import assessment decisions are currently being switched to the electronic system and, as of March 1, 2018, it will be compulsory to use the electronic format. Further details and information can be found via the following links:

Electronic assessment decision (eVV) for exports Security amendment e-dec Export

4 Free trade agreement, origin and customs preferences

Free trade agreements bring huge cost savings to the Swiss economy, since they abolish or reduce the payment of import duties in the country of destination, which brings down the price of the products and can even offer a competitive advantage. But not only that: The agreements also include paragraphs on trade in services, intellectual property protection, investments, public procurement and much more (also known as second-generation agreements). Detailed information on free trade agreements can be found in Switzerland Global Enterprise’s Free Trade Agreements chapter. Please note the subsections on Origin, Rules of origin and Certificates of origin. Helpful tool: Trade4Free A clear list of Switzerland's free trade agreements is available here.

5 Swissness

The term "Swissness" refers to the geographical designations of origin. Only those who comply with specific Swissness rules may advertise their product as "Made in Switzerland" or "Swiss made". You can find the most important questions and answers on this in Switzerland Global Enterprise’s Swissness dossier. The origin according to "Swissness" should not be confused with the origin according to a free trade agreement (preferential) or with non-preferential origin. The differences are summarized in Switzerland Global Enterprise’s factsheet.

6 Export controls, sanctions and embargoes

Export controls, sanctions and embargoes are the responsibility of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). The list of sanctioned countries, people and organizations can be found here. So-called "dual-use" goods are items that have a dual purpose, i.e. they could, under certain circumstances, be used militarily. Special provisions apply to this group of goods and they require an export permit from SECO. Further information is available here: Industrial products (dual-use) and special military goods (licensing)

7 Value added tax internationally

Basically, you only come into contact with value added tax in foreign countries if you take the role of importer in the country of destination (supply clause DDP - delivered duty paid) or carry out domestic sales within the country of destination. Generally, it is the importer who pays the import duties (depending on the Incoterms agreed, see next chapter). Nevertheless, if you find yourself confronted with foreign value added tax, then you can consult Switzerland Global Enterprise’s ExportHelp team with your individual questions. With more complex VAT issues, we recommend you consult a VAT specialist. Particular VAT rules apply within the EU, and these are outlined in chapter ten, "Specific points regarding the EU".

8 Terms of supply (Incoterms)

When we talk about terms of supply, the term "Incoterms" is often used. The Incoterms are issued by the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and are revised every ten years. They govern the rights and obligations between sellers and buyers in the international movement of goods. The current version is Incoterms 2010. The minimum obligation for the seller are the EXW (ex-works) and the FCA (free carrier) clauses, while the maximum obligation for the seller is the DDP clause (delivered duty paid). EXW is actually not appropriate for export business, however, since it would mean the export documents wouldn't even have to be produced by the exporter, but for the importer it is often not even possible to produce an export declaration or the other documentation required. The FCA is therefore better suited to this. With the DDP, you as an exporter cover all the costs and also the full risk right through to receipt, including customs clearance and payment of import duties (including VAT!). A summary of the clauses can be found here, for example.

9 Special requirements, certifications

For queries about international import provisions, we recommend free-of-charge registration for Switzerland Global Enterprise’s customs database. By inputting the six-figure customs tariff number, as well as the country of destination, you can submit an inquiry about all the special import requirements. The customs database also provides information on customs tariffs and rules of origin (free trade agreements).

10 Special points regarding the EU

The European Union (abbreviation: EU, EC) represents a customs union and a common market. Since Switzerland does not form part of this, for Swiss companies wanting to take part in common-market trade, special rules apply, particularly to value added tax (see VAT dossier).

11 Temporary import and export

For trade shows or assembly/repair assignments abroad, it may be necessary for goods to be exported temporarily from Switzerland. The precise points that need to be observed here are outlined in this factsheet.

12 Dispatch

If you have to send employees abroad for assignments, various registrations need to be carried out. For Switzerland's neighboring countries and Spain, you will find Switzerland Global Enterprise’s factsheets here.

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Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) is a non-profit organization mandated by the Swiss government (SECO) supporting Swiss exporters in their international business.