Import and export “for personal use”

European companies that trade with the rest of the world, especially the US and China, have to pay import and export duties. This rule does not always apply to private individuals. There are many factors that may affect whether your parcel will be subject to duties or not. Below, we advise you on how to avoid paying them.

The uncertainty as to whether you will pay the duty for a private shipment or not is at the discretion of customs officers.

The fee for “arousing suspicion”?

Is it possible that while sending the same goods one sender will pay customs and another won’t? When the sender is a trading company, this is impossible. However, it is quite common when the sender is a private individual. This is because not all courier packages shipped abroad are checked.

It is up to the customs officers to decide whether a specific shipment will be opened and carefully checked. They can make this decision based on a scan of the contents, but also on the weight and size of the package. Sending many parcels to the same address at the same time, or the regular delivery of similar-looking parcels to the same address of a private individual may look suspicious. In such situations, there may be a reasonable suspicion that these shipments are not typical private deliveries, but an attempt to avoid customs duties on goods intended for trade.

When can you claim ‘personal use’ for your shipment?

Imagine a grandmother living in Europe who baked a cake and wants to send it to her granddaughter living in the USA. Is it possible that sending a homemade cake may be duty free and – just as important – not to fall under the regulations of the FDA, i.e. the Food and Drug Administration? If the cake has a low water content (it will not deteriorate during transport and will not leak), and the reason for sending the parcel is e.g. the grandchild’s birthday, then you have a chance of successfully avoiding the fees. Of course, provided that the value of the shipment does not exceed some limits above which FDA approval is required. You should also remember that there can always be some ambiguity: you can send a cake baked with fresh fruit inside, but not a cake decorated with fresh fruit.

The fact that you send the cake for a birthday is important: gifts are exempt from duties. To obtain such an exemption, you have to declare that the items or goods in the parcel are gifts and provide the personal details of the recipient. If the parcel contains gifts for more than one person, you should specify what is for whom.

You can also avoid customs duties on goods that are not gifts. You should just report that the contents of the package are intended for personal use. It is also worth remembering that the recipient must be a private individual. Of course, the value of your shipment must be within the specified limits. You cannot send 100 cell phones to one person and describe the package as a gift or declare that it is “for personal use”. You might have a slight chance if the phones were used – you only pay duties on new ones.

Some background checking and you may not have to pay

If you are not sure whether the goods can be shipped to the USA, you should go through the lists of prohibited goods. You can find them on the websites of courier companies. To determine what can be sent, the best solution is to call the service desk and consult directly – the worst idea is relying on intuition and common sense. This principle also applies when goods are imported to Europe from the USA or China.

A good example of the subtleties of EU customs regulations are the restrictions on, for example, honey. If the honey comes from Greenland, the Faroe Islands or Iceland, you can import up to 10 kilograms into the EU duty free. If the place of origin is different, the duty free quantity allowed drops to 2 kg. If, after reading this paragraph, you feel somebody went crazy, you are wrong. There are several dozen apiaries in Greenland.

What are the results of discovery of contraband in a package?

If, for example, you sent raw meat and the package was checked by customs, you will have to pay for its return or disposal. If the meat has leaked and has created a risk for other shipments, you will also pay for the damage caused.

The real trouble begins if drugs or other goods that are subject to criminal penalties are found in your shipment. The range of possible consequences ranges from interrogation to a lengthy prison sentence.