Expecting Christmas presents from home? If you’re living in Berlin, or somewhere else in Germany, and are pining for Yuletide deliveries from Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, or any other non-EU area, pay attention. The European Union might have its own very special Christmas present in mind just for you: import tax.
It will take some trial and error, some grinding and gnashing of teeth, some unexpected bills and maybe some frustrating confrontations. Often, your well-meaning loved ones in foreign lands don’t realize that their lovingly prepared parcels can cause so much angst.
Here’s how it works
If the perceived value of the package is less than 45 EUR, there is no import tax.
If the perceived value of the package is over 45 EUR, import tax is charged at 19% of the value of the package, plus a customs duty charge.
Ouch! Sometimes, when couriers or the Deutsche Post deliver packages to your house, they ask for import tax on delivery, or they send you a bill. Sometimes your package slips through the cracks, and you get off scot-free. Other times, your package is processed at a place called the Zollamt, and you might have to pay a personal visit to this delightful office. In Berlin, it’s located on Kufsteiner Str. 71-79 in Schöneberg. It’s not the cheeriest of places, but they get the job done.
How do they perceive the value of my package?
If there is an amount displayed on the accompanying paperwork, they’ll use that, and they will add the costs of postage and handling. They sometimes use the internet for research, and once opened, they can look at the tags or brands and research the recommended retail prices. If there’s doubt, they’ll request that you pick up your package personally, and they’ll ask you questions and open it in front of you.
What about the exchange rate?
The values are calculated in Euros. Feel free to help your customers officer do his or her job effectively, by writing the EUR exchange rate on any invoice amounts you have that are listed in foreign currencies.
Can I just tell my friends and family to write a lesser value on the accompanying paperwork?
If you did that, it would be at your own risk. This could be a disaster if you or your family want to insure the goods, and they’re actually worth a lot more. If they go missing, and your sister wrote a total value of 20EU on the paperwork, you can kiss your insurance claim goodbye. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the personnel at the Zollamt can smell a rat.
What about secondhand stuff from home?
If you really truly want your mum to send over some “secondhand personal goods”, it should be stated clearly on the paperwork, it would help if there were no tags on any garments, and I’ve seen cases where the sender scruffs things up a bit so that there is no doubt. You could take along a Facebook photo of you wearing the clothing in question to the Zollamt. Bonus points for garment underarm sweat marks, and leftover crumbs or oily bits on food appliances (true story). Ewwww.
Handy Tips for Visiting the Zollamt
- Be prepared for a bit of a wait.
- Take your passport, your Anmeldungsbestätigung, and any proof of purchase if you’ve ordered goods from countries outside of the EU.
- Don’t treat them like idiots, be nice.
- Don’t roll your eyes and think that import tax is a “typical German” thing. It’s not, it applies to the whole European Union.
- If you want some help arguing your case, or you are completely overwhelmed and you can’t speak German, take Red Tape Translation with you.
About Red Tape Translation: Kathleen Parker founded Red Tape Translation in summer 2012, to give English speakers the support they need settling into life after moving to Berlin. Kathleen offers affordable interpreting services anywhere within the Berlin AB metro area, and phone interpreting or Skype consultations, to help English speakers communicate in German.
photo kevin dooley / cc by 2.0
Interesting differences between Germany and the UK, where they’ll probably levy tax on anything over £18 (22€). There, depending on who it’s delivered by, you’ll either get a note from the postman asking you to call or go online to make payment; or they deliver it and send you an invoice.
But I’ve never heard of them opening packages to research the value – they always go by the value stated on the customs documents.
I received a commercial package from outside the EU (a dress). The package arrived at the Zollamt with “gift” and “20EU” as the value and purpose on the paperwork. They weren’t buying that at all, and I hadn’t expected it from the dress manufacturer either. I showed up with my original invoice, passport, and Anmeldungsbestaetigung. Despite having the original invoice on hand, they still opened it in front of me, checked that it was the item described on the invoice, gave me a ticket to pay and away I went.
A friend of mine was present when her package was opened, but they weren’t satisfied that the goods were secondhand and asked her to come back with proof. In the meantime, they looked on the internet at the label of the dress (there was no tag), and brought up the RRP from a store they found in Melbourne reselling the dress.