Receiving gift packages or buying favorite items online from our home countries can be part of daily life for international families, but the costs involved can be surprising and confusing. Fortunately, Emma van Nifterick is here to walk us through the ins and outs of the importing process.
Maybe it’s when your aunt in India sends you a box filled with lovely clothes for your new baby. Maybe it’s when you order mascara from an American web shop because you can’t find your favourite brand anywhere in Europe. It happens to nearly every Amsterdam Mama sooner or later: the delivery person asks you to pay a fee just to hand over your parcel.
What’s happening here?
The answer is that if you import goods from a non-EU country to the Netherlands, or if a family member sends you a package from abroad, you usually have to pay import taxes and fees. The courier declares your goods to the Dutch Customs and you will be asked to pay those costs when they deliver your parcel.
This handy guide will help ease the sticker shock that can happen when ordering goods or receiving gifts from outside the EU.
What Are Import Tax, Sales tax, and Processing Fee?
The total calculated taxes and fees are based on the customs value - the actual value of the package, plus shipping and insurance cost.
Import Tax (invoerrechten): How much import duty (tax) you owe on a particular product can be difficult to find. Rates can vary wildly between 0 - 17%! It is 0% on computers, books and beauty products and runs up to 16.9% for sports shoes.
Sales Tax/VAT (omzetbelasting/BTW): You pay 6% VAT on food, medication, books, art, and antiques and 21% VAT on most other consumer goods.
Declaration & Processing Fee (inklaringskosten): Every postal and courier company can set their own processing fee (costs they make to declare your package to Dutch Customs). The current fees (as of September 2017) are:
- DHL, FedEx €10
- UPS: €10,50
- USPS, TNT Express, post.nl, China Post, Hongkong Post, Singapore Post: €13
- EMS/TNT: €17,50
Importing from a business (online order) - outside the EU
If the goods' value, plus shipping and insurance are:
- < €22 euro: no fees, no VAT
- €22-€150: no import duty, 6%/21% VAT + €13 processing fee
- > €150: 0-17% import duty + 6%/21% VAT over total amount + €13 processing fee
ITEM: $125 hadbag purchased on Amazon US
$125 + free shipping + $40 for insurance = €152 (converted value)
Added duty and tax: 3% import duty = €4,56
VAT (152+4,56)*21% = €32,88
+ Post.nl's €13 euro processing fee
Quite a markup on a $125 dollar (€115) bag!
Receiving a Package from Family or Friends Outside the EU
Rules are a bit friendlier if you're receiving goods as a private individual from another private individual (e.g. by a family member or friend).
People sending packages to you should pack the present(s) themselves! They can’t, for example, order at amazon.com.au and have that company ship the item(s) to the Netherlands. The products also cannot have a commercial nature (e.g. no large quantities of the same item).
If goods' value, plus shipping and insurance are:
- < €45: no import duties, no VAT
- €45-€700 euro: 2,5% fixed customs tax + 6%/21% VAT over total amount + €13 processing fee
- > €700: 0-17% import duty + 6%/21% VAT over total amount + €13 processing fee
ITEM: ¥20,000 (€156) of Japanese household items and clothes
¥7,700 (€60) shipping
¥1,700 (€13) for insurance
Added duty and tax: 2,5% customs tax = €5,75 + VAT is (156+60+13+5,75)*21% = €49
EMS' €17,50 processing fee.
Total: A gift worth €216 may eventually cost you almost €72,50 euro (5,75+49+17,50) to open!
What Are the Restrictions on What Can Be Imported from Outside the EU?
Some goods are restricted or even prohibited from being imported into the Netherlands from a non-EU country. This includes tobacco products, counterfeit items, threatened animal and plant varieties, animal products and foodstuffs, plants, flowers, vegetables, fruit, weapons and munitions, toy weapons, medicines, narcotics, art and antiques. You have to pay excise duty for perfume and alcoholic beverages.
What if My Shipment Consists of Several Items?
For items received from companies: You will always pay import tax over the value of the entire shipment.
For example: if there are two items in the package, worth €20 and €300 respectively, you will need to pay tax on the whole amount (€320). Even if the shipment consists of multiple packages with one invoice, it can be considered as a whole.
For items received from individuals: If the total value of the shipment of two or more items is over €45, you are exempt from import duties on one or more items, the value of which is less than € 45. You pay full tax on the value of other item(s). (The value of the items may not be split.)
Trying to Trick Dutch Customs
Some websites recommend asking the sender to write down “gift” and a value lower than €22 (online orders) or lower than €45 (shipments from friends) on the customs form. As this is fraudulent behaviour, we do not endorse this practice.
Dutch Customs frequently open parcels to check their contents to see if they match the declaration form. If the “€20” box contains brand name outfits, make-up items, or a lens for your camera, they will make an estimate, increase the parcel’s value and tax it accordingly.
What Can I Do If I Don’t Agree with the Fees and Taxes?
If you refuse to pay the fees and/or taxes, you can either return the package to sender, or pay and then contest the customs declaration.
What Happens If I Order From Within the EU?
If you order from within the European Union, you only pay VAT to the entrepreneur from whom you receive the goods, not to the Dutch Customs. Packages from Amazon in Germany or GAP in the UK, for example, should arrive at your house without added fees or taxes. Please note: there are rules in place for importing tobacco, alcoholic beverages and perfume to the Netherlands.
But My Mother Insists on Sending Me Surprise Packages!
The easiest (and probably cheapest) way for grandma to give her new grandchild some presents is to transfer money into your bank account, or to buy you an online gift card for a European store. Although sensible, it’s probably not what she had in mind.
If family or friends insist on sending an actual package your way, to avoid unpleasant surprises when you open the door, you have three options:
- Be sure the parcel’s real value (including transport cost and insurance) doesn’t exceed €45 and is clearly labeled as a gift.
- Some online stores offer hassle free international shopping
- Give family and friends names of European web shops and brands you like, preferably those that accept non-EU credit cards. For example: amazon.co.uk (English), amazon.de (German, free shipping for orders over €29), bol.com (Dutch, free shipping for orders over €20), wehkamp.nl (Dutch, free shipping for orders over €20), or hema.nl (Dutch, free shipping for orders over €25).
Please note: All prices are based on 2017 information and may be subject to change.
Emma van Nifterick is a writer and researcher in Amsterdam.