The process of registration for purposes of Swiss VAT is rather uncomplicated. Most important, a foreign company will have to appoint a fiscal representative in Switzerland as well as to arrange a security on behalf of the Swiss tax authorities.
The registration process will take normally about 3 to 4 weeks (minimum), whereas the duration of the process is influenced by the pace with which the foreign company discloses the requested information to the Swiss tax authorities respectively arranges the necessary security on behalf of the Swiss tax authorities.
Before a foreign company will actually register for purposes of Swiss VAT it will have to review its current position for purposes of Swiss VAT. Foreign companies involved in business activities in Switzerland will have to ask whether from a Swiss VAT perspective the requirements for compulsory VAT liability have been fulfilled, or that a voluntary registration will make sense. The latter should also be reviewed by foreign companies that are not entitled to VAT refund in the scope of the regulation regarding Swiss VAT refund for foreign companies. For that reason, a foreign company that assumes that it is entitled to Swiss VAT refund should carefully review the requirements for refund before engaging in transactions.
A foreign company that exceeds the threshold (worldwide turnover of CHF 100’000) for compulsory VAT registration will have to apply for registration within 30 days.
The review of the Swiss VAT position should take place before the foreign company enters into legal obligations with suppliers or customers.
The application form is completed and submitted online. Generally, the following information is needed:
Once the application form is submitted, a copy is made available for immediate download (pdf). Also a form is generated that must be signed by the foreign company as well as by the Swiss fiscal representative. Once signed, this second form must be sent to the Swiss tax authorities.
Normally, within 5 to 7 working days the Swiss tax authorities inform the Swiss fiscal representative whether they have accepted the application for VAT registration. If affirmative, they will inform the fiscal representative the height of the security that the foreign company has to arrange on behalf of the Swiss tax authorities.
The security is either a deposit (bank transfer) or a bank guarantee issued by a Swiss bank/Swiss affiliate of the home bank of the foreign company.
The letter with which the Swiss tax authorities communicate that they accept the application for VAT registration mentions also in brief some of the obligations that apply to foreign companies that are registered for purposes of Swiss VAT.
Once the Swiss tax authorities have received the signed proxy and the security they will assign the Swiss VAT number.
As of 2011, the Swiss VAT number is based on the UID (unique company identification number). The structure of the VAT number that has been assigned to a foreign company is: CHE-123.456.789 MWST.
Swiss VAT numbers can be verified online.
Separate from the Swiss VAT number, the foreign company receives (after several weeks) a letter from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office in which the assigned UID (unique company identification number) is confirmed.
The letter also contains information for accessing the online platform on which the UID information is published.
Once the Swiss VAT number has been assigned the foreign company can issue VAT compliant invoices, i.e. invoices with Swiss VAT. Only companies that have been assigned a Swiss VAT number are allowed to charge Swiss VAT, or refer in quotes or offers to Swiss VAT.
Thus, as long as a foreign company has not been assigned a Swiss VAT number it is not entitled to charge or to refer to Swiss VAT. As long as the VAT registration procedure is pending, the foreign company can only issue invoices for total amounts without explicitely mentioning or referring to Swiss VAT. Once the Swiss VAT number has been assigned the foreign company can issue a VAT compliant invoice.
Regarding the invoice requirements Article 26 Swiss VAT Act stipulates among other:
“The invoice must clearly identify the supplier, the recipient and the nature of the supply and as a rule contain the following elements:
In case the foreign company has been registered retroactively, the company will receive together with the confirmation of the Swiss VAT number one or more VAT returns that will have to be submitted within a period that may be shorter than the standard filing period.