Trade Promotion and Advertising
Switzerland has a limited selection of specialized trade fairs, several of which are world-renowned, such as Art Basel for art, Basel World for watches and jewellery, and the Geneva Auto Show. MCH markets about 100 trade fairs in Switzerland, while Swiss Fairs provides a comprehensive list of fairs organized in Switzerland. Presence at these events fosters relationships with clients and distributors. Many of the most important trade fairs for Swiss producers and distributors take place outside of Switzerland, including in Germany and France, where companies meet clients from the entire European Union and beyond. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of most 2020 and 2021 trade fairs in Switzerland.
Companies may find it useful to make use of advertising for certain consumer goods or services based on the diversity of Swiss consumers. Regulation of advertising in Switzerland is a mix between basic rules and voluntary guidelines developed by the major industry associations. The Federal Act on Unfair Competition sets out minimum standards prohibiting misleading advertisements. Additional regulations on advertising can be found on the Federal Office of Communications website.
Swiss customers highly appreciate quality, timely delivery, and service. This sometimes allows companies to charge a premium compared to other European markets. In business to business (B2B) transactions, however, Swiss companies have become more price conscious.
Domestic transaction with companies with annual revenue of over CHF 100,000 (approximately $104,000) are subject to value added tax (VAT). Standard Swiss VAT rates for traditional retailers are 2.5% for food, books, newspapers, medicines, and consumer goods, while the standard rate for other goods and services is 7.7%. A rate of 3.7% applies for overnight stays in hotels. Services in the areas of education, culture, and healthcare are exempt from the tax.
Online purchases shipped within Switzerland are subject to a VAT rate of 7.7% for sales up to CHF 200, and 2.5% for transactions over CHF 200. Online purchases shipped from outside Switzerland are not subject to VAT if the value is below CHF 65. However, if companies have shipped small consignments to Switzerland in the value of at least CHF 100,000 per year, that are exempt from import tax (i.e. product value below CHF 65), non-Swiss e-commerce companies are required to pay VAT.
Sales Service/Customer Support
Swiss commercial customers expect to be able to reach the dealer quickly either via phone or another means of contact, talk to the dealer, and have replacement parts or service work available in reasonable time. U.S. exporters should appoint distributors based on language region, as customers expect customer support in the local language (German, French, or Italian).
Local Professional Services
U.S. citizens involved in disputes with either private individuals or business enterprises may seek recourse under the laws of the canton of jurisdiction. If legal action is to be undertaken in Switzerland, a local lawyer should be engaged either directly or via a U.S. attorney. It is important to be aware of the differences between the Swiss and U.S. legal systems before filing a legal case. Once a Swiss lawyer files a complaint with a court, the court decides whether to serve the complaint. The U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section also maintains a list of lawyers by canton on its website.
The only methods for a non-Swiss court or lawyer to obtain testimony or to serve process in civil matters in Switzerland are through the Hague Convention on taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters, the Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extra-judicial Documents in Civil and Commercial Matters, or through a letter interrogatory. For information on this complex legal process, contact the Embassy Bern Consular Section (email@example.com).
Principal Business Associations
Economiesuisse is the largest business association in Switzerland, encompassing 100,000 Swiss businesses across all sectors of the economy (www.economiesuisse.ch). In addition, almost every sector has its own business association that serves as an interest group to lobby on behalf of its members. Such associations include, for example, the Swiss Bankers Association (www.swissbanking.ch) and Switzerland’s Association for Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Industries (www.swissmem.ch).
For industry-specific business associations, please see our leading sectors section, which lists key contacts and resources by industry sector.
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services
Switzerland has exempted certain sectors from the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), including the management of drinking water, energy, transportation, telecommunications, and defense. These sectors are thus more difficult for non-Swiss companies to enter. In particular circumstances, non-Swiss companies may not be allowed to participate in a public bid (e.g. bidding on public tenders for IT-related services associated to critical government infrastructure).