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Shells, corals, leatherware: what you must be aware of when bringing souvenirs into the country

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Bringing souvenirs back home from vacation is a nice tradition. Mementos such as shells, vases or carpets stir wanderlust and make you look forward to your next vacation. Many products are also not available in this country and the prices are often cheap. But be careful, as not all goods for sale in your vacation country can be imported into your home country. AXA-ARAG's legal experts explain what you need to bear in mind when importing souvenirs.

Risky souvenir shopping

In tourist regions in particular, the souvenirs business is an important part of the local economy. Whether from sellers on a beach, at markets or in shops, the souvenirs on offer are tempting at every corner. In the euphoria of the holiday, it is quickly forgotten that the traveler bears responsibility for imported goods, and that breaches can involve serious sanctions. We’ll show you what you need to bear in mind when shopping in other countries.

The protection of endangered species is non-negotiable

Worldwide, over 33,000 species of plants and animals are subject to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The importing of these plants and animals as well as their products is largely banned or requires a special permit in exceptional cases. Unfortunately, local traders often care as little about these laws as they do about the problems that buyers can subsequently expect at Swiss customs. It is all the more important for you to seek information on these matters in advance from the relevant agencies: “Ignorance of the law is no defense.” You alone are responsible for the importing of your goods..

There is an import ban in Switzerland on the following animal and plant products:

  • Ivory and all other elephant products (such as carved figures, jewelry)
  • Tortoise products (musical instruments, masks etc.)
  • Rhinoceros horns
  • Tibetan antelope wool
  • Wild cat skin
  • Musk and bear gall bladders
  • Rio palisander wood products

You should also steer clear of the following products:

  • Live protected plants (such as cacti, orchids) 
  • Conch, giant clam
  • Certain types of coral (e.g. stony corals, blue and black corals)
  • Skins, leather products (belts, key rings etc.), furs (even small items) of protected species, mainly reptiles
  • More caviar than allowed (max. 125g per person)
  • Zoological preparations of protected species (butterflies, snakes, emperor scorpions, seahorses, crocodiles etc.)
  • Teeth, feathers, bones, hair and wool of protected animal species
  • Incense sticks made from specific types of wood
  • Essential oils (such as sandalwood and rosewood oil)

New regulations covering the import of goods have been in force in Switzerland since July 1, 2014. Particular caution is called for when it comes to sensitive products such as imitations, food, plants and animals. It is worthwhile studying the actual laws in order to avoid unpleasant situations at customs and any criminal sanctions. All information without guarantee.

The following souvenirs can normally be safely imported:

  • Glass or stone jewelry
  • Wire or sheet metal products 
  • Items made of FSC wood
  • Wickerwork (belts, bracelets, small mats)
  • Stone sculptures
  • Textiles made of wild silk or plant fibers


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    Leaflet on the import of counterfeit goods

    On our free legal blog, we tell you what risks you run when you buy a counterfeit branded article and import it into Switzerland.

    Learn more

What do I need to be aware of when collecting shells abroad?

Summer, sun and sand – and ideally you’d like to take a little bit of that holiday feeling back home with you. A couple of shells, a bottle full of sand or a few pretty little pebbles. But be careful, as many countries do not permit the removal of sand or shells from a beach. In some regions of Italy, you could be faced with fines of up to EUR 3,000.

Can the Swiss customs authorities create problems when it comes to importing shells?

There shouldn’t normally be a problem, as the creatures are already dead. You should be careful about bringing souvenirs home that are made from protected types of animals. This is because they either cannot be imported or can only be imported with a permit.

Are there countries where collecting shells is not permitted?

Yes, countries such as Italy, France, Greece, Iceland or the UK, for example, do not permit the removal of sand or shells. The best thing is to find out locally what is and what is not permitted, as fines are often draconian.

If, for example, you collect shells in Sardinia or remove sand as a souvenir, this may have wide-ranging consequences, as any change to sandy beaches is penalized there and may lead to a fine of between EUR 500 to EUR 3,000.

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