Thursday, June 2, 2011

Buying a Car in Germany and Importing it to Switzerland

I know this post's been due for some time. But we're finally done with the whole process, so I can tell you all how it's done. ^^ So if you want to buy your car a lot cheaper than you would in Switzerland, and you're not afraid of a little paperwork, keep reading 'coz I'm about to tell you all the secrets of the trade. ;)
So we started out by checking out the (second hand) offers on, and comparing the prices to the Swiss ones (astonished sighs). Then we contacted the seller, who happened to be a salon near Berlin. After having agreed on the price, etc. we asked him to produce the EUR1 and EU Conformity documents along with all the other papers. We also asked for a temporary license plate, which costs around 300 euros for a month. (And good that we did because this way we could use the car while arranging all the paperwork.)

Then my hubby jumped on a plane and drove the car to Hungary, where we spent the Easter holidays. Once we were back to Switzerland, we had our 13.20A document stamped at the customs office (for this we needed the original documents of the car, certificate of road worthiness, bill etc.), which we then took to Port Franc in Geneva. There we had to pay the Swiss customs and VAT and some administration fee. The former two amounted to some 12% of the purchase price.

We quickly signed up with the OCAN for a technical inspection, handing in the originals of the documents listed here (in French): 13.20A; certificate of road worthiness; EU Conformity; the document they gave us at Port Franc. We also made photocopies just in case. They gave us a date and time for a month later, but I harassed them some in person, so we got one in a week. =) Well, as appointments have to be cancelled 48 hours earlier (otherwise the fee is to be paid!), a good number of slots are available for the determined (/desperate ^^). Note that the emission control has to be carried out before the technical inspection. I was also told that if we happen to be unable to produce some of the documents till then, we could submit them later on, when we go to pick up the plates.

So we quickly had an emission control here (took around 5 minutes), for CHF 39, which is funny considering that the slip of paper we needed for the control cost CHF 50 at Emil Frey. (I picked that up beforehand and decided immediately that I'd sooner deal with the devil than that bunch of arrogant jerks.) and couple of hours later we went to have the technical inspection. Ours was a fairly new car with EU conformity, so it didn't take long (20 minutes) and was hassle-free.

We couldn't pick up the plates the same day, because we still needed insurance. That was done online, in a couple of clicks. A friend suggested Zurich connect and, indeed, it had really nice prices. So we went with them and they even sent the confirmation to the OCAN so we didn't have to wait for it to arrive by post or print anything. Note that it's not automatically done, we learned that the hard way. You have to call them, confirmation number at hand, to ask them to send it to the office.

So in a couple of weeks we were able to pick up the plates. At the OCAN office you can get a sheet with the list of documents needed. I had to fill it in and hand it in, so I don't have it any more, but I remember that my hubby's permit and passport were among them, along with the insurance documents (emailed by Zurich connect), the 13.20A document and the German road worthiness certificate and the documents we got at the customs office.

Couple of weeks later we received a bill of the registration fee (some CHF 95), the plates (CHF 40) and the consumption tax. Allegedly upon sending the "Attestation d'immatriculation" and the customs forms to the dealer, he's supposed to give us back the German VAT, though we're still waiting for this to happen. ^^ He says the German customs will send him something as well... well, we'll see. =)))

OK, I hope that covers everything. =)
Please let me know if you have any questions and I'll try to do my best to answer. ;)
Have a nice weekend.


  1. Did you finally get the German VAT back?

  2. Yes! ;) Emailed a copy of the Swiss customs form to the dealer in Germany, and he made the transfer.

  3. How much was the consumption tax in the second last paragraph - or is this the same as the 12% VAT mentioned earlier? Outside of time taken to do paperwork, what was the % increase on the German cost once all payments were made to have it Swiss registered? Last question - does this process apply for importing a car from any other EU country (France, Spain etc). Thanks!

  4. No, that's different. You get the VAT back from the dealer, but consumption tax is a yearly thing and it's much the same thing as road tax in other countries. Sorry for the late reply, I hope it's still of some use.

  5. do you how it works if I want to buy a NEW scooter in France (given lower list price) and bring it to Geneva please? Thanks a lot

  6. Hi, thanks for your comment. I think it works pretty similarly. You buy the scooter in France and get all the forms I listed. Then you pay the Swiss VAT (at border control or at Port Franc) and arrange with the French shop to get back the French VAT. Some shops want you to go back in person, others will send you the money. Then you get the plate as normal (the same as we did). Hope this helps. ;)

  7. Greetings Fleur!

    Just stumbled upon your very informative article after scouring the web for tips on how to import cars from abroad. Yay.. I'd recently discovered a possible purchase at :-D

    If I may ask, where did you get the temporary license plates from? Also, do you perhaps know if the EUR1 certificate, is needed inside of the EU?

    Out of curiosity, have any of your mates in Hungary purchased a vehicle from abroad? Any other hints and tips would be greatly appreciated.

    I'll pop in to your blog in about a week's time as the wife and I are going kayaking on the river Tisza.

    1. Hi there.
      The German vendor provided the licence plates after some haggling. You can do it yourself, but it takes time and you have to be there for a couple of days.
      As far as I know the EUR1 is a kind of technical document proving that the car meets European criteria. Without it we would have needed to spend a lot more time and money at the technical inspection in Geneva. I guess the same's true for Hungary. You can skip it but that only means they'll have to start from scratch, which I guess is longer and more expensive.
      Well the laws are changing all the time. :) Couple of years ago it was a real business leasing cars from Germany, now it's a bit more complicated. Of course if you import the car you have to pay Hungarian VAT, which is like a nightmare... I don't know if it pays off in the end.
      Hope this helps.
      Sorry for the delay (been pretty sick) and good luck with the venture. ;)
      And with Hungary too, it can be pretty tough, especially in summer. :)
      Please let me know how it works out.

  8. Dear Fleur!
    Incidentally came across your posting and I must say: Congratulations for it!
    It is very structured and informative and really helped me decide to do the same step: buying car elsewhere in EU and importing it in Switzerland.
    Being brand new expat in Geneva, not speaking French hence with pretty low chances to learn details by contacting official authorities, it is really helpful!
    I have not yet gone through the process but having read your description feel much more confident than before.

    1. Hi
      Thank you so much! I hope you'll find the process as straightforward as we have. ;)
      I've already posted some stuff on Geneva/Switzerland, if you're interested.
      But please don't hesitate to ask if you happen to have any questions. I'm beginning to have way too much wisdom to share it all. :D
      Have a great weekend.

  9. Thank you for your post. Am I right in saying that you came across the border from Germany, and then had to deal with the customs fees, VAT, etc in Geneva? What was the process with customs at the Swiss border with Germany?

    Many thanks!

  10. My husband did that part. AFAIK he just asked for a slip of paper that proves he entered the country there. This we presented at the Geneva customs office along with the rest.

  11. Hi Fleur,

    thank you for sharing this with us. I have one question and that is if you can give us an example of what you actually
    have to pay for a car that you buy in Germany. I mean, if you buy a car in Germany for 50.000€ how much do you get back
    as VAT in Germany and do you calculate that 12% of the price before the deduction of the VAT?

    Including everything, what is the final price, maybe you can give us the details?

    I hope you understand what I mean?


    / Fredrik (Living in Lugano)

    1. Hi, Fredrik

      Uh, I'm not that good at this kind of thing, sadly. Well, what happens is that you get the German VAT back and then pay the Swiss VAT. I don't know the percentages but the fact that you actually get the German VAT back later doesn't change anything. Then we paid some other taxes as well, but that's the yearly tax for owning a car. I'm sorry i can't really help you there, it was quite a while ago and I don't remember the exact percentages. But it was still a lot cheaper than buying in Switzerland. :)

      Hope that helps.


  12. Dear Fleur,

    Could you please tell me how much you had to wait from sending all your final documents (insurance, technical inspection etc) until you could take your number plates?

    Thank you for your answer,

    1. Well, I had to haggle a bit but I went in person exactly for that. When you submit your papers, they normally give you a date for the inspection in around 2-4 weeks. Then I kept calling and fixed a date within a week. That done, I took all the papers over to the desk and got the plates. I have absolutely no idea how long it takes over the post, though. But they're quite friendly and helpful on the phone, try asking them.



  13. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  14. Hi,
    Thanks for all the detailed info. Would you mind to tell us how much do you save in CHF buying your car in Germany instead of Switzerland? after paying all the taxes and all other expenses?
    Thanks a lot,

  15. Hallo Everyone,

    I have a question please. I want to buy a car in Germany (around Euro 1500) and then first bring it to Switzerland before later sending it to Africa through Basel without the intention of using it in Switzerland. Do I still have to pay all the normal taxes as if I am going to use it here, or are there few taxes I need to fulfill just to temporary keep it here before exporting it?

    Any assistance from someone with knowledge is highly appreciated.

    Thank you,