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I'm a USian planning a summer trip to France. I've already bought my tickets to arrive in Nice and leave from Geneva. I will be travelling thru France mostly via car which I plan on returning to the French side of GVA.

My last stop in France is Burgundy, and naturally, my partner and I are planning on buying and bringing home a good amount of wine (perhaps 12 or 15 bottles each). However, from what I've read about Swiss customs, travelers passing thru must still declare alcoholic beverages, and thus pay import duties and possibly VAT. Is this so even if I am only visiting Switzerland insofar as the Geneva airport, which lies on the border? Does one need to go through Swiss customs at all at this point? This confuses me, as I thought Switzerland was part of Schengen, but perhaps that doesn't apply here.

A related question would be: do I need to go through this if I wanted to spend a few nights in Geneva first? I assume I would, and thus am thinking I will just drive to the airport straightaway and visit Switzerland another time.

I apologize if this is specific but I have tried to research this on my own and have found no definitive answer. I don't believe I'm the only one who has encountered this as Geneva is the closest major airport to Burgundy. Any help would be very much appreciated.

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For sure if you stay in Geneva you'll pass the custom. But accessing the airport without entering the country is a good question (part of the airport is in fact on the French side). –  Vince Apr 17 at 6:42
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See this link about what you can import into Switzerland. Note that the rules are changing from July 2014. You will be allowed to import up to 5 liter wine, which is 6 or 7 bottles. –  LaurentG Apr 17 at 8:09
    
You'd forgo visiting Geneva for a couple of bottles of wine?! Why don't you visit Geneva and buy the wine there? Chances are you could find the same or similar Burgandy. Failing that, the Swiss also make wine :) –  Benjol Apr 17 at 13:02
    
@LaurentG: Thank you for the link. Of course, I am leaving one day before the law changes! But it's good to know. –  gbanks Apr 18 at 19:30
    
@Benjol: The itinerary was already tight and quite honestly, this, coupled with having to find parking for a car in Geneva, was the proverbial straw. I do very much want to visit all of Switzerland someday, but this is perhaps not that time. And yes, I have enjoyed some chasselas wine, but you know, visiting Burgundy is very much like visiting Mecca for me, so the specific bottles are kind of important :) –  gbanks Apr 18 at 19:31

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The Schengen agreement is entirely unrelated to customs and goods, it's only about the movement of people. The UK isn't in the Schengen area and maintains its own visa policy but as a full member of the EU, it's part of the common market, which means you can import any quantity of alcoholic beverages from other EU countries (for personal use). Conversely, Switzerland entered the Schengen area and agreed to follow the Schengen visa policy and to abolish border checks but still enforces restrictions on the movement of goods.

Strictly speaking, entering Switzerland with so much wine would therefore indeed be illegal. But Geneva airport also has a small French sector that is technically on Swiss territory but is treated as a part of France for customs and immigration purposes (part of the airport is built on what was earlier French territory but it was transferred to Switzerland at the time).

Whether you can use it depends on the flight you want to catch. You can check-in for flights to France and international flights from a few airlines but not all of them. From the official website:

Can baggage be checked in for an international flight in the French sector?

Yes, checking in is possible in the French sector for some international flights (other than France), but only those operated by Aeroflot, Alitalia, Etihad, KLM, Luxair, Tunisair, and Twinjet by making a call (telephone available on the check-in counter).

In any case, if you want to avoid Swiss duty or transit paperwork, you need to avoid entering Swiss territory and approach the airport from the French side. There was another question about that recently. If you have a French rental car, returning it in the French sector is actually to your advantage (no surcharge for crossing the border) but you need to make sure the company you got if from is present on both sides as some only have desks in the Swiss sector.

Note that there should not be any systematic ID check on the border and you can often cross it without seeing anyone but Switzerland can still do some spot checks from time to time. And if you are flying to a non-Schengen airport, Swiss customs can of course inspect your bags in the airport. You could still try your luck but I am not sure what the odds of being caught really are.

Alternatively, you could enter Switzerland and stay in Geneva, hoping not to get caught on the border (perhaps avoiding the motorway) and then leave on the last day to enter the airport from the French side. I don't think the odds are too bad but it's obviously illegal and you could be liable for a hefty fine. Beware that many rental cars often have exotic registration numbers (e.g. 60 in France or AI in Switzerland) that might invite extra scrutiny.

Finally, you might also stay for some time in Geneva and simply import the bottles officially. VAT is low in Switzerland and the duty on wine for less than 20 litres (26 bottles) is not very high either and all that can be refunded if you declare them as goods in transit. The only trouble is taking care of the paperwork.

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You can indeed use the "route douaniere" from Ferney Voltaire to reach the French sector without every having to go through Swiss Customs. This is a detour, but also avoids having to buy a vignette. –  Krist van Besien Apr 20 at 12:04
    
@KristvanBesien Not sure who your comment is for but I explained all that in the other question. Note that you can also easily reach the main (Swiss) sector of the airport without buying a vignette or go to the French sector from the Swiss motorway (that's probably what a personal navigation device would recommend, coming from Burgundy) so the two are not really linked. It's not even a detour, it's the most logical route but it takes a little longer because you have to drive slower than on the motorway. –  Relaxed Apr 20 at 17:13

You may use the transit facility of Swiss Customs. This is probably the most easiest way to transit with wine without problems.

Alcoholic beverages that exceed the allowances and are destined for transit through Switzerland must be declared upon entry (see also Alcoholic beverages). The same applies for tobacco goods (see also Tobacco goods). A transit receipt is issued upon entry for this purpose.

You need to pay a deposit, which is refunded by the customs office of exit if all of the goods are re-exported. The deposit amounts to roughly the equivalent of the import duties (see also Alcoholic beverages and Tobacco goods). If the deposit is paid in cash (CHF, EUR, USD, GBP), it will always be refunded in Swiss francs. It can also be paid by credit card; the sum is credited to the same credit card upon re-exportation.

Source: http://www.ezv.admin.ch/zollinfo_privat/04342/04359/04362/index.html?lang=en

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It's a hassle, I once tried to do it while traveling by road and the customs officers were completely confused and finally just let me trough (illegally, I suppose). I don't know if you can fill in the paperwork in advance or what but in practice this procedure hasn't worked for me. –  Relaxed Apr 17 at 8:19
    
I would say it worked perfectly for you, since you didn't break the law (by declaring the alcohol upon entry) and avoided any hassle with paperwork/deposits. –  JonathanReez Apr 17 at 13:37
    
@JonathanReez I am not sure the officers on the other end would have seen it that way if I would have been checked when leaving the country ;-) I had basically no proof that I declared anything. –  Relaxed Apr 17 at 17:35

I'd go with what LaurentG has written. Declare it, pay the deposit (by credit card! Anything else will result in a for you completely useless CHF refund with according fees if you change it to USD) and get refunded upon leaving.

There are flights departing from either secor, the French and the Swiss. Therefore, depending on where your gate lies, you might still have to cross the border. I quote from the website: "For some airlines flying to destinations other than France, check in and go to the international transit area." So it depends on your flight whether you have to cross the border or not. (official website in English: http://www.gva.ch/en/DesktopDefault.aspx/tabid-60/ ).

To what amount do you estimate the wines you want to buy? There's a certain amount per person (!) which you can import for free. It was 5 liters last time I checked, which is about 8 0.75l bottles (again: per person, so for two people it doubles to 16 bottles).

Furthermore: When buying stuff over 175 Euro in France as for an exportation certificate. This paper you get stamped at the French border upon leaving and then you can reclaim the VAT which is almost 20% of the price you paid.

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International flights don't depart from the French sector, they can always be boarded from the Swiss side (and the distinction is obviously moot for flights to France). –  Relaxed Apr 17 at 17:37
    
You're right. But not for all international flights you can get to the international sector without crossing the Swiss border as the website states. I think, for the USA it should be possible, but as I said: Even having to pay 8% VAT in Switzerland is still worth it as you can get back the almost 20% (18% or 19%?) of French VAT. –  Patric Hartmann Apr 17 at 18:36
    
Patric, that is a great tip regarding the credit card, and also the French VAT! That could be a significant savings as it's quite easy to spend >175 Euro on Burgundy at once. Merci bien! –  gbanks Apr 18 at 19:34
    
De rien :) We live in Switzerland and my wife and I often cross the borders to Germany or France to get some stuff there. It's really worth it - but be aware that you will directly be sent to pay the Swiss VAT if applicable... But still, French VAT - Swiss VAT = some 12% saved... –  Patric Hartmann Apr 18 at 22:28

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