Checklist for Export starters (products only)

There are several challenges to be overcome when building an international business. With the S-GE checklist for products, you are well prepared for your first steps towards internationalization.   
In addition, the checklist provides input on the export of physical products and links to further information sources.

S-GE checklist for Exportstarter
1. Basic export documents

a) At least one commercial invoice (if necessary, a pro-forma invoice) is required for each export transaction. Valid commercial invoices must include the following information as a minimum:

  • Name and address of the exporter
  • Name and address of the importer (your distribution partner, intermediary, customer, etc.) 
  • Delivery address (if different to that of the importer)
  • Place and date of issue
  • Net and gross weights, dimensions of the packages
  • Precise goods labeling, ideally with customs tariff numbers (see chapter 2)
  • Quantity of goods and number and type of packages
  • 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.

b) Another basic document is the packing list and/or the delivery note. 

c) depending on the country of destination and the type of goods, other documents, such as certificates or proof of origin, authorizations, official confirmations or certificates of analysis, may be required (see also “9, Special requirements, certifications”).

2. Customs tariff number

The customs tariff number is essential for both exporting and importing your products. This number is used to categorize your 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). In the case of the HS, the first six digits correspond to the eight-digit Swiss tariff numbers.

The Swiss tariff numbers can be found at www.tares.ch. The Federal Office for Customs and Border Security will carry out a binding determination of the customs tariff number (content in German) 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, we at Switzerland Global Enterprise provide all Swiss and Liechtenstein companies with free 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 clearance

The logistics partner/haulage company will generally provide support with customs clearance. 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 export" from the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security. The self-declaration requires a certain level of basic knowledge.

The Customs Administration is making ever 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 decision was changed to "electronic" on March 1, 2018 and has only been available electronically since that date. 

Further details and information can be found via the following links:

Video (in German): How the export declaration works
Electronic assessment decision (eVV) for exports
Security amendment e-dec Export (in German)

4. Free trade agreement, origin and tariff preferences

Free trade agreements provide huge cost savings for the Swiss economy, since they abolish or reduce 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, the protection of intellectual property, investments, public procurement and much more (also known as second-generation agreements).

Detailed information on free trade agreements can be found in our Free Trade Agreements chapter. Please note the subsections on Origin, Rules of origin and Certificates of origin.

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 our 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 our Factsheet (in German).

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:
Guide (in German): Export control in a nutshell
Industrial products (dual-use) and special military goods (licensing)

7. Value added tax internationally

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 8).

Nevertheless, if you find yourself confronted with foreign value added tax, then you can consult our ExportHelp team with your individual questions. For more complex VAT issues, we recommend you consult a VAT specialist.

Particular VAT rules apply within the EU, and these are outlined in chapter 10, "Specific points regarding the EU".

8. Terms of delivery (Incoterms)

When we talk about terms of delivery, 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 new regulations will come into force on January 1, 2020. We explain the new features simply in a video.    

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).

However, since the exporter doesn't even have to produce the export documents, EXW is not really appropriate for export business; this is because it is often not possible for the importer to produce an export declaration or the required other documentation. FCA is therefore better suited to this.

With DDP, you as an exporter cover all the costs and also bear the full risk right through to receipt, including customs clearance and payment of import duties. This means that you are also responsible for paying VAT in the recipient country. DAP is an alternative to DDP. With DAP, the recipient is responsible for customs clearance and VAT.

A summary of the clauses can be found here (in German).

Video: Incoterms 2020 – the new rules (in German)

9. Special requirements, certifications

For queries about international import provisions, we recommend free registration with our customs database. By inputting the six-digit 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. Specific points regarding the EU customs union

The European Union (abbreviation: EU, EC) constitutes a customs union and a common market. Since Switzerland is not a member, special rules apply for Swiss companies wanting to trade in the common market, particularly with regard to value added tax (see VAT dossier). Please also note the particularities when you import products for a certain destination country (e.g. Denmark) into another EU country (e.g. Germany) (so-called EU customs clearance).

11. Temporary import and export

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

12. Posting of employees

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 our factsheets here.


Official program