Transfer of Cultural Property

Cultural property is tangible evidence of a society's culture and history as well as bearers of its identity; it characterises a society's self-image and social cohesion. This is why the protection of cultural heritage is currently one of the key duties of a state.

Cultural property: legal definition

To qualify as cultural property under the Cultural Property Transfer Act (Art. 2 para. 1 of the CPTA), the object must:

  • belong to one of the categories provided for under Article 1 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (available in French, German and Italian); and
  • be significant from a religious or secular point of view for archaeology, pre-history, literature, art or the sciences.

Further information, please see: Federal Office of Culture - Cultural property

Importing and exporting cultural property in tourist traffic

Travellers who import or export cultural property in tourist traffic must declare it electronically at a customs office that is responsible for merchandise.

Please note: It is prohibited to import stolen and pillaged cultural property. Consequently, please check carefully when buying such property that this is not the case. Be particularly careful when buying archaeological cultural property: in many states, there is a ban on exporting such items or else authorisation is required.

Authorisation requirement: Switzerland has entered into a bilateral agreement regarding the special protection of archaeological cultural property with numerous states (status in January 2015: Egypt, China, Greece, Italy, Colombia, Cyprus). When importing items from these countries, it is mandatory to present an official export permit from the relevant country to Swiss Customs.

Portable musical instruments (also instruments which are on loan) which are temporarily imported or exported in tourist traffic for personal use/as personal effects do not have to be declared. This also applies if the musical instruments are used for concerts or for teaching purposes. Further information: Crossing the border with portable musical instruments.

Further information

Further information is available on the website of the Federal Office of Culture's Specialized Body for the International Transfer of Cultural Property:

  • What is cultural property?
  • Import, export and transit of cultural property
  • Database of stolen cultural property and cultural property at risk of pillaging and illegal excavations
  • Up-to-date list of states with which Switzerland has entered into a bilateral agreement