Normally, when foreign companies are involved in tourist travelling in connection with Switzerland it will concern -from a Swiss perspective- inbound tourism, i.e. foreign tourists and/or business travellers that are visiting Switzerland. The VAT treatment in the field of tourist travelling does not only concern travel agencies.
With travel agencies are meant tour operators or retailers of travel services (or combination of both). Additionally, coach operators, landlords of holiday homes as well as companies that offer (or charge) services in the field of tourist travelling -even when these services are not the only services offered by the company nor its main occupation- are placed on an equal footing with travel agencies.
Article 8 Par. 2 letter b Swiss VAT Act determines that the place of supply of services supplied by travel agencies and event organisers: the place where the person supplying the service has his place of business or a fixed establishment, or, in the absence of such a place of business or such a fixed establishment, the domicile or the place from which the person works.
Article 8 Par. 2 letter d Swiss VAT Act determines that the place of supply of restaurant services is the place where the supply is actually made.
Regarding the supply of passenger transport services Article 8 Par. 2 letter e Swiss VAT Act determines that the place of supply is the place where the transport actually takes place, proportionately in terms of distances covered.
Article 153 Par. 2 Swiss VAT Regulation (‘MWSTV’) determines that travel agents and organisers of events with their place of business abroad are not entitled to refund of Swiss input VAT that has been invoiced to them for the purchase of domestic supplies of goods and supplies of services and that they recharge to customers.
In Swiss Business sector VAT Info No. 12 on Travel agencies, health resorts and tourist information services, the Swiss tax authorities have laid down their administrative practice rules in the field of tourist travelling.
- VAT refund: foreign travel agencies, or any other company that performs similar activities, are not entitled to Swiss VAT refund. The ‘travel agency exclusion of entitlement to Swiss VAT refund’ is applied extensively by the Swiss tax administration. Basically, every foreign company that purchases services in the field of tourist travelling and transfers these costs to other parties will face the issue of limitation of the entitlement to refund.
- charging third parties: as soon as a foreign company recharges the expenditures for tourist travelling related services (e.g. accommodation, restaurant services, costs of travelling by bus) to other parties, the entitlement to refund of the charged Swiss VAT is excluded. For applying the exclusion, the Swiss tax authorities focus their attention on the invoices for which refund is claimed, and where to their opinion applicable assume a recharge. It is then up to the foreign company to proof that these costs were not recharged (which is normally not possible for travel agencies and similar service suppliers).
- intercompany charging: foreign companies with business activities in a field other than tourist travelling, but recharge affiliated companies the incurred costs in connection with -for example- accommodation, restaurant services and travelling, will face the same limitation of the entitlement to refund as travel agencies. Therefore, an affiliate that organizes a company seminar in Switzerland, and in that scope organizes and recharges the travel arrangements for attendees of all/other group companies, will not be able to recover the Swiss input VAT on those expenditures in the scope of the regulation for refund of Swiss VAT to foreign companies. Instead, in such situation it is recommended to have the Swiss suppliers of the travel arrangement charge these costs directly to the corporate enduser (i.e. the respective group company) -see however the next item.
- business travel costs: a foreign company will only be able to recover Swiss input VAT in connection with expenditures for tourist travelling (or any other cost) when these costs have been made for business purposes. Consequently, although input VAT on accommodation or restaurant services may be recovered, the latter will not apply to input VAT on pay-TV charges for personal use during hotel stay. The same applies to expenditures for cable car tickets, ski passes or specific expenditures in connection with business incentives.
- exhibition costs: travel agencies, tourist operators or their branch representatives that attend exhibitions in Switzerland as exhibitor, and in that scope incur Swiss VAT on their expenditures can recover that input VAT under the regulation for refund of Swiss VAT to foreign companies -provided all conditions have been fulfilled.
- voluntary VAT registration: regularly it can be seen that foreign travel agencies or tour operators register voluntarily for Swiss VAT purposes. Namely, in order not to be subject to the VAT treatment in their country of establishment (for example in line with Article 310 Directive No. 2006/112/EC) they aim to benefit from the Swiss VAT system, being a more liberal system with regard to the deduction of input VAT for taxable persons registered for purposes of Swiss VAT, as well as the VAT treatment of services supplied -in their own name- by travel agents and organisers of events, to the extent they make use of supplies of goods and services by third parties that are carried out abroad (zero rated according to Article 23 Par. 2 No. 10 Swiss VAT Act).