What are the challenges?
Challenges to doing business in Switzerland
Switzerland is not a member of the EU and is not likely to join in the foreseeable future. Relations with the EU are governed by a series of bilateral agreements: https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/switzerland_de (site not in English). Protectionist measures remain in some areas – agriculture and recruitment services are instances, which have recently affected British companies.
However, there are certain unique challenges when doing business in or with Switzerland. These include:
EU standards are not always adopted
domestic rules and regulations apply
highly regulated market
difficult to ensure local legal compliance for certain industries and ‘posted workers’ (employees normally working in the UK, but temporarily working in Switzerland)
slow decision-making because of the need for consensus and a reluctance to take risks
Swiss consumers place a premium on quality
[Source – DIT/gov.uk]
Bribery and corruption
Bribery is illegal. It is an offence for British nationals or someone who is ordinarily resident in the UK, a body incorporated in the UK or a Scottish partnership, to bribe anywhere in the world.
In addition, a commercial organisation carrying on a business in the UK can be liable for the conduct of a person who is neither a UK national or resident in the UK or a body incorporated or formed in the UK. In this case, it does not matter whether the acts or omissions, which form part of the offence, take place in the UK or elsewhere.
Switzerland and Liechtenstein have extremely low levels of corruption. According to Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2016, Switzerland ranked 5th out of 176 countries. Strict application of the WTO’s procurement standards in Switzerland has had a positive impact. See: http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016.
You should read the information provided on the UK Government’s bribery and corruption page at: https://www.gov.uk/anti-bribery-policy.
Protecting your intellectual property (IP) in Switzerland
Trademarks, designs, patents and copyright are the principal forms of intellectual property protection available under Swiss law. They are all governed by legislation and you should register your intellectual property in Switzerland where appropriate.
Swiss law also provides protection against a person passing off goods or services as those of another, as well as protection for confidential information or trade secrets.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI) at: https://www.ige.ch/en.html is responsible for intellectual property protection.
Read the Intellectual Property Office’s (IPO’s) guidance on IP protection abroad, at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/protecting-your-uk-intellectual-property-abroad.
Contact the DIT team in Berne at: https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/department-for-international-trade-switzerland#contactus to help find tax and legal advisers before entering into agreements in Switzerland.
As in many other European countries, international organised criminal activity takes place in parts of Switzerland, in particular linked to drugs and people trafficking. There has been government action to tackle these issues (INTERPOL) and the UK and Switzerland work closely together in this area.
[Source – FCO Overseas Business Risk/gov.uk]
Getting finance to fulfil an export contract to Switzerland
To make it easier to fulfil an export contract and grow your business, schemes are available to UK companies selling products and services to Switzerland. Contact your bank or specialist financial organisation for assistance.
UK Export Finance (UKEF) has significant risk capacity to support exports to Switzerland. See: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/country-cover-policy-and-indicators#switzerland. Contact one of UKEF’s export finance advisers at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/find-an-export-finance-manager, for free and impartial advice on your finance options.
Getting paid in Switzerland
Globally, Switzerland ranks 68th out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s “Doing Business – Ease of Getting Credit” report 2018, at: http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings.
You may wish to talk to a specialist about finance, including how to get paid in Switzerland. This could be a bank, accountant or you can contact the DIT team in Switzerland at: https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/department-for-international-trade-switzerland#contactus to help find a financial adviser in Switzerland.
Your contract will specify the terms for payment. If there is any dispute you will need to go through the Swiss legal system for resolution.
Payment risks in Switzerland
UK Export Finance (UKEF) helps UK companies get paid by insuring against buyer default.
Be confident you will get paid for your export contract. Speak to one of UKEF’s export finance advisers at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/find-an-export-finance-manager for free and impartial advice on your insurance options or contact one of UKEF’s approved export insurance brokers at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-export-finance-insurance-list-of-approved-brokers/export-insurance-approved-brokers.
Currency risks when exporting to Switzerland
If you have not fixed your exchange rate you have not fixed your price.
You should consider whether the best option for you is to agree terms in Sterling or Swiss Francs in any contract. You should also consider getting expert financial advice on exchange rates (sometimes called FX).
Transferring money from Switzerland
It is legal to hold a bank account in Switzerland, providing any income or gains arising are declared to HMRC, and the funds in the account have been taxed as necessary. As part of the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA), taxpayers who are UK-compliant should authorise their Swiss bank to release their details to HMRC for verification.
Capital can be moved in and out of Switzerland without any restrictions in principal. However, Swiss customs officials have the right to perform routine checks. You are required to declare currency in excess of 10,000 Swiss Francs if you are specifically asked to do so by customs officials.
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