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Buying goods online coming from a non-European Union country

As regards information displayed on this page, the Island of Heligoland, the territories of Büsingen, Ceuta, Melilla, Livigno, Campione d'Italia and the Italian waters of Lake Lugano are subject to the same rules as non-EU countries.

As soon as you buy a product from a non-EU country, then effectively you become an importer and become liable to Customs and Excise Duty as well as Value Added Tax (VAT) payments. If the terms of sale do not specify another arrangement, the goods would normally be held by the Customs Authority at entry, pending the payment of duty and tax.

Customs officers examine packages arriving from outside the EU in order to:

  • check for prohibited or restricted goods - such as illicit drugs,
  • confirm that the description and value stated on the Customs Declaration is correct and
  • check the Customs Declaration to determine if Customs Duty, Excise Duty and/or Import VAT are chargeable.

Warnings

Customs duty

On the basis of the data provided in the customs declaration, the supporting documents that accompany it and any information which they may request, the competent customs officers determine, impose and collect Customs duties that are due.

Customs duty is calculated as a percentage of the customs value of the goods:

  • The percentage or rate varies depending on the type of goods. You can check the tariff applicable in the TARIC database.
  • The customs value is made up of:
    • the price paid for the goods,
    • the insurance cost,
    • the shipping cost.
  • In some cases additional duties may be charged, depending on the country of manufacture of the goods. The TARIC database coves all measures relating to tariff, commercial and agricultural legislation.

Customs Duty is not due for non-commercial goods, provided directly to the buyer when their value does not exceed 150 euros.

This exception does not apply to perfumes and toilet waters, tobacco or tobacco products and alcoholic products which are subject to special limits on the quantity provided.

VAT

The import VAT is calculated as a percentage (VAT rate) of the taxable amount.

  • The VAT rate is the one applicable in the country where the goods are being delivered.

You can check the VAT rates applied in each countrypdf Choose translations of the previous link  .

  • The taxable amount is made up of the customs valueplus the duty paid and the transportation and insurance costs up to the first place of destination within the EU.

VAT is not due when the total value of all goods in a consignment (value not inclusive of custom duties or transport costs) is less than a threshold. The threshold may vary from 10 euros to 22 euros, depending on the EU country. Certain countries, however, exclude mail orders from the exemption. This exception does not apply to tobacco or tobacco products and alcoholic products.

You should check with your national tax administration (national links/websites), which has the competence in this matter.

The import VAT may either be included into the overall delivery price or not.

  • If the import VAT is not included in the price paid to the seller (which is the common situation), you will have to pay it to the postal company or express courier, or directly to the customs if you clear the goods at customs yourself. In the latter case, the procedure differs according to the country.
You should check with your national tax administration (national links/websites), which has the competence in this matter.
  • If you pay all inclusive, you will be paying import VAT to the seller when paying the total price. But if the import VAT is not properly estimated by the seller, or if the seller fails to ensure the transfer of this VAT amount to the customs, you must be aware that national legislation can hold you jointly liable.
You should check with your national tax administration (national links/websites), which has the competence in this matter.

Excise duty

The goods will be held by the Customs Authority at entry into your country, pending the payment of excise duty.

Rates of excise duty are set by each individual Member State.

Member States may exempt small gifts from excise duty.

You should check with your national tax administration (national links/websites), which has the competence in this matter.

Cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco must bear health warnings and fiscal marks, and containers of spirits that are larger than 35cl must bear a duty stamp.

The Customs Declaration

The Customs Declaration provides information to the Customs authorities about the goods that you are importing.

This declaration must be submitted by a person established in the EU or his representative who is able to present the goods to customs. In the ordinary case this could be the buyer, the company that ships the goods or the carrier who acts as a representative.

If you are the person who submits the Customs Declaration, a courier company may offer to make the declaration on your behalf, but there is normally a charge for this service.

If you are not the person who submits the Customs Declaration, you should verify with the supplier that it is submitted.

The Customs Declaration should indicate correctly the nature of the goods and their value not taking into account taxes, charges, transport or other additional costs.

Some commercial websites will offer to show a value on the Customs Declaration that is much lower than the actual price paid so that the customer does not have to pay duty and/or VAT when the goods enter the Member State of import. It is in the customer's own interest to make sure that the declaration has been submitted and is accurate. If no declaration is made, or the information in it was found to be inaccurate, the acceptance of the declaration, and thus the delivery of the package to the receiver may be delayed or even not take place as the Customs officials are entitled to make further enquiries and impose penalties and sanctions as the case may be. The packages sent by post have to be accompanied by a CN22 or CN23 Declaration, as required by the special rules of the universal postal service.

The Customs Authority in your country is entitled to open and examine any package if it considers this appropriate. Packages might even be seized by Customs and, when appropriate, destroyed.

Customs clearance fees

The customs clearance is the documented permission to pass that the national customs authority grants to the imported goods.

The customs clearance is typically given to a shipping agent to prove that all applicable customs duties have been paid and the shipment has been approved.

The shipping provider may charge a customs clearance fee or customs handling fee for processing the import declaration, an advancement fee for paying the duty and VAT on behalf of the recipient, an airline handling fee for loading and unloading the goods, a security fee for screening or x-raying the goods and a fee for preparing the customs declaration.

These charges will vary from company to company.

When goods are brought into the European Union by postal operators such additional charges are limited to the costs of the customs clearance procedure.

Member States cannot impose charges related to customs clearance higher than the actual costs incurred.