The French SNCF becomes the Swiss SBB

At the last weekend the Sunday press published some tips on how to save money on rail tickets. As I travel “free” with a GA (general season ticket), the article didn’t interest me particularly. But my interest in the article was aroused when I read that the saving was because of the VAT.

A test over the SNCF’s website shows: it really does work. It is possible to buy online a purely Swiss domestic rail ticket from the SNCF.


The price difference is explained by the VAT: “The reason for the cheap tickets is that the SNCF sells the tickets without charging Swiss VAT.” It is added that the SBB takes the view that this is not permissible because the SNCF does not observe the agreed rates. “The sale of Swiss journeys without VAT is permissible only for cross-border traffic. It is so agreed in the contracts and rates.”

From this two conclusions can be derived: when it is a matter of rail travel firstly it is not the Federal Tax Administration which is responsible for setting the VAT rules and secondly the VAT consequences are laid down in contracts and rates. Both are new for me.

For deciding whether tickets sold by the SNCF are subject to VAT in Switzerland, as I understand it Art. 8 Para. 2 lit. e VAT Law has to be consulted., which states that for passenger transport services where the place actually takes place is relevant. For a journey from Chur to Basle this is definitely Switzerland, so that the tickets sold by the SNCF are also subject to Swiss VAT of 8%. A glance in the UID Register reveals that an SNCF domiciled in the Centralbahnstrasse in Basle has been entered in the VAT Register since 1.1.1995. However, whether the sale of tickets is reported over this registration, is beyond my knowledge.

Sometime I’ll check whether Swiss rail tickets can be purchased even more cheaply from the Deutsche Bahn ……


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