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Taxes and wars

I was considering importing my car to Switzerland. When I moved in 2002, I asked the customs office about the process and was told that I'd need to pay taxes and fees, so I postponed the import until Day Unknown. Today, a very friendly customs official told me that this is not true and that I could have imported my car duty-free if I had done so as part of my move.

Slightly annoyed, I went on to discover what those duties would be today. I found out that there are seven different types of fees I'll have to pay, and tried to understand the reason for these fees:

  1. To import a car, I need a form 11.010, downloadable from the Swiss Customs Office. Because each download causes extra work for the administrator, they charge a nominal fee of CHF 0.70 to get the PDF file.

  2. I take that form to the customs office. There, the officials will assemble around the car and attempt to lift it. I don't know why they do that, but they charge me between CHF 12 and CHF 15 per 100kg of weight. I think it must be recompensation for the hard physical labour. Also, each customs official can lift 100kg, which explains those figures — they seemed a bit arbitrary at first.

  3. Next, they'll ask 4% of the estimated value of the car as a car tax. They do this because the value of a car is directly related to the area it covers, and since Switzerland is so small, I effectively have to buy a couple of square metres for the car.

    It's not quite as easy as that though: once I bought the area under my car, I have to move the car away, because I cannot park my car on the area I just bought. I have to buy parking space for that. If I don't want to buy a parking space, I have to keep the car moving. In order to keep the car moving I need to fork over CHF 40 per year for a permit to drive the car on Swiss highways.

  4. Now, I pay 7.6% value-added tax. It makes no difference that the car isn't new, that I am not selling or buying it, nor that I have already paid 16% VAT in Germany when I bought it. Since I am about to "consume" the car in Switzerland, I have to pay consumer tax. Since I also consume the physical labour the officials put into the car lifting exercise, as well as the area under the car I bought, I pay VAT for (car value + lifting tax + area under car). Unfortunately, the European Union will not pay back the consumer tax I previously paid as part of the export, since I already consumed the car there.

  5. I then get a report about the import. This costs CHF 20. I don't need this report, but I have to buy it. The reason is that the computer admins are so overworked serving PDF files to future importers that they have not had time to stop the computers from printing this report, and the special paper and toner used by all administrative offices in Switzerland costs about CHF 20 per page. An alternative explanation is that CHF 20 is the smallest bit of "money" in Switzerland, everything else is "change".

  6. I will also have to pay annual taxes for possession of a car, the value to be determined by the custom officials. Since I already paid for the area under the car while moving and while stationary, I think the annual car tax is levied for environmental reasons. A lot of people drive through Switzerland to get from Germany to Italy or from Austria to France, pumping a lot of exhaust gas into the Swiss air. This makes them guilty, just like inhabitants of Switzerland who own a car are guilty. Due to legal reasons, the Swiss government can only punish Swiss people for those sins, so the annual car tax is a little higher to cover for all environmental damage. It is doubtful where the money goes, though.

    I also have to continue paying taxes in Germany, because I still have a residence with my parents.

  7. Finally, I have to purchase a car insurance. That insurance does not insure the car, it insures the others on the road. Actually, it is a driver-car-dependent insurance, meaning that the others are insured only if I am the driver of my car. If I drive another car, or someone else drives my car, the others will not be insured. unless I pay higher insurance fees. Because cars with a larger area under them and those that require more people to lift them are more dangerous, the insurance fee is proportional to the car density.

    At least I can give up my German insurance and be covered by the Swiss insurance. However, I cannot keep my German insurance and be covered in Switzerland. I think this is because the head of customs department and the CEO of the insurance company have sex with each other.

It's been a great day, given how much I learnt. I finally understand why people have fought wars over taxes. I think I may leave the car in Germany.

PS: Yes, this post may be considered hyperbole.

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