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The unpleasantries of importing

Posted on Wednesday, December 20th, 2006 at 12:36 am CET

I just received two packages through the mail with DVDs that I had ordered from Amazon. I was required to pay the mailman a hefty import tax for receiving these goods, and it was much more than I expected.

First of all there’s custom tax of 19%. I understand that custom tax is required because I am importing these products from outside the European Union, even though these DVD’s are not at all for sale here, but alright. What I don’t understand is that the 19% is taken from the value of the package AND shipping and handling costs. One of my packages had $100 of DVD’s and cost $12.53 to ship, and the total custom tax is €16.30, which is 19% of $112.53. I think that’s not fair. The $12.53 shipping and handling costs were paid for the service of Amazon and the US postal service, but I am not importing that service. How can they get away charging me custom tax on that?!

Secondly the Dutch postal service TPG Post charges some sort of new administrative importing costs (‘inklaringskosten’) if there is custom tax involved. These costs are based on the amount of tax that was charged, in this case an additional €7.50 per package. What is this for? Why does TPG Post charge me administrative costs when Customs is doing extra work? And why are these costs based on the value of the package? It doesn’t cost the postal service more to deliver a more valuable package! This should be based on weight, or on whether or not the package is insured or not. I don’t understand how TPG Post can get away charging me an extra €15. That should be illegal.

With all the online ordering you would think that a company like TPG Post is actually doing better. With eBay and Amazon a lot more packages are sent than, say, 10 years ago, but instead of offering us a nice discount for making them so much money, they’re actually adding some extra costs. I paid a total of €48 (that’s $63 !) on tax and admin costs on these DVD’s, or almost 30% on the total value of the purchased products inside. 🙁

What’s especially disappointing is that some months ago I received a newsletter from Amazon that they now ‘support international shipping’. This seemed odd to me at first, as they’ve shipped internationally for years, but upon closer inspection it said that from now on Amazon will tell you what local tax to expect. I thought that was great, so when I ordered my DVDs I was happy to see that my order page said there would be zero estimated tax. Well, they were wrong about that.

What is also not nice of Amazon is that I made one order of DVDs, and I indicated to “group products together to save on shipping”, and all DVDs were shipped on the same day. The catch is that Amazon shipped them in two seperate packages. That isn’t usually so bad as each package is charged 19% by customs, but with the new inklaringskosten of TPG Post I was required to pay €7.50 on each of the packages, so a total of €15. 🙁

There are online companies that ship DVDs from the same order as individual packages to get them by custom tax (like Play, at least they used to), as packages under €22 are not charged. Unfortunately I read in a forum somewhere of people whose packages from the same order were held at customs and grouped and charged 19% on the total. I can’t believe this either, because the custom’s website clearly states that each package valued €22 or less is not charged, so how can they hold them and combine the costs of multiple packages? It seems that they even hold packages for several days if they suspect that more for the same recipient are on the way. So if you receive 5 packages from the same company but over several days, at a value of €15 each, you would normally not be charged, but they group them together and charge you whatever percentage applicable on €75 !

19% isn’t even that much if you compare it to the import tax charged on other products. On clothes for instance there is an additional 12% VAT on top of the 19% import tax.

I should feel lucky, really, because import tax in Belgium is supposed to be even higher.


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