More expensive bargains: New costs for international orders

Foreign direct mail order companies charge much lower prices than are usual on the local market. Classically, it is particularly convenient to buy online via the German websites of trading platforms such as Amazon and eBay. Here in particular, however, an average prospective buyer can often not judge at first glance from where a coveted bargain is being sent and from what costs are incurred for him in addition to the stated price. Recently, several factors have come together that Foreign orders are more expensive and often more cumbersome do than before.

China’s largest online marketplace, Alibaba, also gives German customers easy access to thousands of mostly small providers. There is nothing here about customs, import sales tax and additional domestic costs – this can be an expensive surprise for the recipient.

An important factor for higher costs, for example with typical China bargains, is the fact that the exemption limit for import sales tax from non-European countries has been abolished. Until June 30th, 2021 the 22-euro loophole from § 1a of the import sales tax exemption regulation (EUStBV) still applied: “The import sales tax exemption for shipments of goods of low value within the meaning of Article 27 of Regulation (EEC) No. 918/83 is limited to goods whose total value does not exceed 22 euros per shipment. ” In practice, this meant that typical minor items, from adapters to Bluetooth speakers, could be delivered directly and without additional costs.

That Annual Tax Act (JStG) 2020 abolished this exemption limit with effect from July 1, 2021. This means that, theoretically, the full import sales tax is due for all goods that are not already taxed. For most types of goods in Germany, this is currently 19 percent of the total value. This also includes the shipping costs paid to the supplier, because the decisive factor for taxation in the German destination country is always the value that the goods have at the recipient. The reduced sales tax rate of seven percent applies to groceries, magazines and books.

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The background to this measure is the aim of preventing any distortion of competition that has arisen. Dealers in countries outside the European Union were able to send masses of parcels effectively VAT-free to buyers in the EU and thus gain an additional competitive advantage over EU dealers. This was helped by the low postage costs in typical Asian mailing countries. In view of the sheer quantities of shipments with alleged values ​​below the exemption limit, German customs also found it very difficult to combat the abuse of the regulation. Many senders cheated in favor of the recipient with the value information on the shipments – so masses of actually higher value goods slipped unjustifiably below the de minimis limit.

Even now it is still possible for senders to rely on a – punishable – false declaration, but the only thing left now is to illegally issue items as gifts with a value of up to 45 euros. Due to the changed conditions, however, such cuckoo eggs are now much more easily noticed by customs than before. If a consumer often receives gifts from outside the EU, that looks suspicious. And when well-known bargain senders send what appear to be gifts in series, this is an invitation for the customs officers to open the parcel.

Anyone who orders certain types of goods such as alcohol, perfume or tobacco is confronted not only with import sales tax but also with consumption taxes – however, there have been no innovations here.

In practice, a number of parcels from overseas still go through without the recipient having to pay import sales tax. There are cases in which the sender has already paid the tax due for goods with a material value of up to 150 euros. The so-called Import One Stop Shop (IOSS) created, with which senders can register. If a sender abroad takes care of taxes and customs duties, the amount must be paid with the purchase price. Usually this is explicitly stated on the invoice.

Outspoken little things can continue to achieve their goal unmolested for another reason: For practical reasons, there is a kind of new mini-de minimis limit. It comes about because the customs authorities refrain from levying duties below 1 euro. But even without a valid reason, it can happen that goods that are actually subject to post-taxation simply arrive at the recipient. Occasionally, shipments escape the normally watchful eye of customs.

All of this means that for German buyers on internationally equipped online trading platforms it is unfortunately not always clear in practice whether they ultimately have to pay something later or not.

In addition to the import sales tax, most goods with a value of more than 150 euros still incur separately levied customs duties, which the recipient must also pay later, unless the sender has already done this. In the area of ​​technical devices in particular, many bargains lose their attractiveness as a result. The decisive value for the duty-free limit is determined in different ways. The most common method focuses on the so-called transaction value, i.e. the price actually paid or payable including shipping costs. This must be proven, for example, with an invoice. If no proof is available, the recipient must subsequently present one to the customs office. For eBay transactions, the authorities usually accept printouts of the checkout pages.

Another cost trap can be the storage of mail at the customs office. Goods are stored there, for example, if the customs declaration is missing. Storage costs of EUR 0.50 per day can be incurred here, but are only charged from the 10th calendar day of storage.

This package from Kent, UK, with fine tools, bought on eBay for the equivalent of 27 euros, had to be picked up at the post office partner shop in the neighboring village. With the additional 9.54 euros to be paid there, the whole thing is no longer a real bargain.

It is unusual for German online buyers that goods ordered in the United Kingdom (UK) have been treated in the same way as goods from other third countries such as China or the USA since January 2021 as a result of the Brexit. All the more, for example, buyers of tools, for which the British Isles are traditionally a good market, have to be careful on German-speaking online marketplaces where the respective provider is located.

Unfortunately, for example on Amazon, this is not immediately apparent to average consumers when searching for goods. The indication of German locations on the offer pages can be misleading. Only when you call up the profile of the respective seller does the actual location appear under the heading “Imprint & Info about the seller”. When scrolling quickly between many offers, the expected arrival date is often an indication of a shipment from overseas. If there is talk of a waiting period of several weeks, you are often dealing with Chinese providers.

Normally, the carrier declares the import sales tax to be paid and any customs duties in the destination country. When shipping from abroad, this part of the delivery is handled by a German service provider. International parcel services have their German branches for this purpose, foreign postal services usually hand over the goods to DHL or, when it comes to letter formats, to Deutsche Post. DHL makes an advance payment for the recipient and makes the payments to the customs office. The company requests the money from the recipient when it is delivered or handed over to the partner shop or branch. In addition, there is a flat-rate fee of 6 euros, which DHL treats itself to.

Under Corona conditions, it often happens that the mailing of the deliverer is of no use to the recipient if the recipient cannot collect. Then there is nothing left to do but go to the parcel shop specified by him. If it is possible to arrange a delivery directly to the customs office when ordering, this avoids the flat-rate expenses – the recipient then has to clear and pick up his shipment at the customs office himself.

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