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Customs Germany

That's how much customs you have to pay

Dr. Britta Beate Schön
Legal Expert As of April 04, 2017

Dr. Britta Beate Schön

Britta Beate Schön is responsible for all legal issues at Finanztip. The doctor of law and attorney was head of the legal department at financial service providers such as Telis Finanz AG and Interhyp. Before that, she taught and researched in Japan as a DAAD junior professor for German and European law. She completed her studies in Münster, Geneva, Regensburg and Leipzig. You can reach the author at [email protected]

  • When entering Germany from a member state of the European Union, you do not have to declare your purchases if they are intended for yourself or as a gift for relatives.
  • If you have spent your vacation outside the EU and have done some shopping there, you have to declare the goods to customs.
  • If you travel by plane or ship, you have an allowance of 430 euros, up to which the import remains duty-free. If you travel by car or train, the limit is 300 euros.
  • If you have exceeded the allowances, you have to declare the goods to customs. The then calculates customs and import sales tax.
  • Up to a goods value of 700 euros, a flat rate of 17.5 percent is taxed. For more expensive goods, the duties are calculated by customs.
  • If you are caught committing a minor customs offense, you will definitely have to pay the customs duties retrospectively. In addition, there is a surcharge in the same amount as the customs duty - so you pay twice, but you will not be prosecuted.
  • In the case of unspecified goods over 700 euros, criminal proceedings for attempted tax evasion are automatically initiated.

If you return to Germany after your vacation and have bought new goods outside of the European Union, you generally have to declare them. If you don't, you can expect heavy fines and possibly tax evasion proceedings. You can't talk yourself out of the fact that you didn't know anything about customs duties. Because ignorance does not protect against punishment. According to the Federal Fiscal Court, travelers must be familiar with the meaning of the red and green exits at the airport (BFH, judgment of March 16, 2007, Az. VII B 21/06).

In principle, you can only use the exemption limits and import them undeclared for goods that are intended for your personal use or as gifts for relatives. Goods intended for commercial purposes must always be declared.

Then you do not have to declare your purchases at customs

You do not have to declare all goods that you have bought abroad and carry with you when you enter the country. You do not have to declare goods from other member states of the European Union.

If you have bought goods in a so-called third country such as the USA, China or Australia, you can import them within the free limits without specifying them at customs:

Exemption limits for the import of goods

for air and sea travelup to a value of 430 euros
when traveling by train, car or otherup to a value of 300 euros
for travelers under 15 years of ageup to a value of 175 euros

Source: Paragraph 2, Paragraph 1, No. 5 of the Entry Free Entry Ordinance (as of 2017)

The allowances of several people are not added up, for example if you are traveling with your family. If a product exceeds the exemption limit, for example a notebook for 850 euros, you have to declare 850 euros. The import duties are to be paid on the total value of the goods and not only on the portion exceeding the exemption limit.
 

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Then you have to declare your purchases at customs

If your purchases exceed the stated exemption limits, import duties must be paid. You have to register this verbally at the customs office when entering from a non-EU member state. The resulting import duties will be calculated there.

The taxes are calculated based on the value of the goods. Keep receipts of purchase and expect that you will have to present the receipts to customs when entering the country. Without proof of purchase, the value of the goods is estimated.

Goods with a value of up to 700 euros are taxed at a flat rate of 17.5 percent (Section 29 (2) of the Customs Ordinance). For example, the European Community grants the Efta states Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland so-called tariff preferences. When applying flat-rate tax rates, only 15 instead of 17.5 percent are charged. You can find a list of other beneficiary countries here.

Everything that is more than 700 euros is subject to an individual duty rate and an additional import sales tax of 19 percent. The Federal Ministry of Finance has compiled examples of types of goods and their import duty rates here.

You can see from the overview that the import of a cell phone from a third country such as the USA is duty-free. Clothing made of textiles, on the other hand, has to be declared at 12 percent if you have exceeded the exemption limit of 430 euros and have also bought goods worth more than 700 euros.

Example of purchases made in the United States

bought
Would
priceDuty rate

Import-
value added tax

Inch-
Levies

costs
total

Sports shoes190 €16,8 %19 %€ 0 (below the exemption limit of € 430)190 €
clothing240 €12 %19 %€ 0 (below the exemption limit of € 430)240 €
Playstation 4290 €0 %19 %€ 0 (below the exemption limit of € 430)290 €
iPhone 7 32 GB608 €0 %17,5 %106 € (above the exemption limit of 430 €, but less than 700 €)714 €
Laptop850 €0 %19 %162 €1.012 €
Jewellery1.000 €3,3 %19 %223 €1.223 €

Source: Finanztip research (as of April 4, 2017)

So if you have bought goods with a total value of less than 430 euros, you do not pay any customs duties. For goods with a value of more than 430 euros up to a maximum of 700 euros, you pay the flat rate of 17.5 percent on everything. From 700 euros, the individual duty rate and import sales tax are calculated. If you have bought several goods that exceed the limit of 430 euros in total, you only have to pay import duties on those goods that exceed the goods value of 430 euros. The duty is not calculated on the total value of the goods.

These are the consequences if you have not cleared goods through customs

According to Paragraph 3 (3) of the Tax Code (AO), customs duties are equivalent to taxes. Customs evasion, like tax evasion, can therefore be punishable by law.

Because travelers had not registered their souvenirs with customs, according to the main customs office in Munich, a total of around 1,400 criminal proceedings were initiated in 2015 at Munich Airport alone.

Customs surcharge -Anyone who should have declared goods and is caught, has to declare their goods and pay the same amount again as a customs surcharge (Section 32, Paragraph 3 of the Customs Ordinance). However, this only applies if the sum that the traveler should actually have paid does not exceed 130 euros. In these minor cases, no criminal or fine proceedings are initiated. According to customs at Munich Airport, a customs surcharge was levied on around 3,300 travelers in 2015.

Administrative offense - If there are goods to be declared in the baggage after deduction of the tax exemption, a fine can be imposed in the case of a frivolous tax reduction in cross-border travel (Section 378 AO). A traveler acts recklessly when it has to be forced upon him that a breach of duty of care committed by him will lead to a tax reduction. So if he goes through the green exit despite the goods and, when asked by a customs officer, he truthfully declares that he has no goods to declare, then that is at least an administrative offense. The prosecution can only be dispensed with if he had paid less than 130 euros have to.

Criminal proceedings - If, after deducting the exemption, there are products for more than 700 euros in the luggage and the authorities no longer judge the behavior to be frivolous, the customs officers usually initiate criminal proceedings for attempted tax evasion. In the event of a customs offense, a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine can be imposed (Section 370 AO). As a rule, it will amount to a fine of at least five and a maximum of three hundred and sixty daily rates. The court determines the daily rate, taking into account the personal and economic circumstances of the perpetrator. This is based on the net income that the perpetrator could have on average in one day. The authorities get the latest tax assessment from the tax office.

More on this in the legal protection insurance guide

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To the advisor

Dr. Britta Beate Schön

Dr. Britta Beate Schön

Britta Beate Schön is responsible for all legal issues at Finanztip. The doctor of law and attorney was head of the legal department at financial service providers such as Telis Finanz AG and Interhyp. Before that, she taught and researched in Japan as a DAAD junior professor for German and European law. She completed her studies in Münster, Geneva, Regensburg and Leipzig. You can reach the author at [email protected]

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