Customs Formalities

Customs Formalities Should Remain a Mere Formality

Customs Formalities Should Remain a Mere Formality
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Sébastien Morard

Sébastien Morard joined Harsch in 2010 as a warehouseman and moved to the customs declaration department in 2011. After passing the federal certificate in 2016, he took over the position of manager in 2020.

Since international transport and removals are inevitably synonymous with customs clearance, for Harsch it has become its strength. Active here since 1957, the company offers its expertise for all goods that are imported or exported. If a private removal implies a certain number of obligations, temporary imports for art exhibitions are much more complex and demand in-depth knowledge. Sébastien Morard presents the customs formalities and specificities with regard to works of art.


A certain number of documents need to be filled in when importing any type of object into Switzerland. Within the context of an art exhibition, temporary import is done via a carnet which serves as proof that the work of art has arrived in Switzerland, without actually having to import it permanently. Prepared beforehand, this document states all the information about the work of art, its title, the artist’s name, its dimensions and weight, as well as information about the artistic project including the duration of the import, the sender and the recipient. Photographs are also provided in order to complete the form!


“May it be a painting, a drawing or a sculpture, the procedure is practically the same. There are particularities and differences when the object is an antique, an object of cultural value or if the work of art comprises a species protected by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, like for instance, ivory” explains Sébastien Morard.


When the works of art arrive in Switzerland, Harsch has to check the transit bill for the customs, in other words, confirm that all the formalities have been carried out in due form. Once this step is completed, the carnet is finalized and presented to the customs department who keep part of it and return the other part to the transporter. Once the import is accepted, the object can be delivered to the exhibition hall.


This step is facilitated by the fact that Harsch detains the status of authorized consignee. Negotiated with the customs who check the measures taken with regard to security and follow-up, the authorized consignee can clear items directly on its own premises. If the Swiss customs want to inspect the goods, the officers must come directly to Harsch. “For the inspection, the warehousemen and drivers have to show the objects. During a recent inspection, as we were getting the metal crates out, we realized that the keys of the padlocks were in the hands of the curator of the museum. We were thus unable to show the contents of the crates. Luckily, one of our collaborators had the brilliant idea, with the curator’s agreement, of opening the other side of the door of the crates by taking it out of its hinges” says the expert in customs formalities.


The complexity of the procedure increases with the number of works of art that are imported. On the one hand, each object has to feature in the calculations together with the tariff heading, in other words, the customs code. And on the other hand, we must coordinate the arrival of objects on our premises at different times and each with their own set of documents. “For each type of goods, there are procedures that facilitate customs formalities, but the universal solution is simply a well-prepared dossier” adds Sébastien Morard.


During the 60 years that Harsch has been active on this market, customs formalities have changed a lot. If on one hand, some aspects of the procedure are more complex, as in the increasing number of details requested, others have become less restrictive. Like for instance the new programs enabling the transmission of the information by e-mail or the recognition of an e-signature that hugely simplify the procedure!