Imagine this: your mother has announced that your birthday package is on its way and while you wait for its arrival from India (or the United States or Korea or…), you anticipate the taste of the food items you’ve been craving, picture how a pair of jeans she ordered for you is going to look, and eagerly await the few products you haven’t been able to find in Denmark. But then, instead of a box, you receive a letter from the Danish Post informing you that your box is being held at the post office and that you must pay more than 300kr. to retrieve it. Say what?
The fact of the matter is that if you buy anything online (or over the phone) from outside the EU or receive a gift from someone residing outside the EU your package may be subject to VAT, customs duties, and import fees on top of the price of the items and shipping. Whether – and how much – you are charged depends on the value of the goods inside the package. Keep in mind – THIS IS ONLY RELEVANT FOR PACKAGES FROM OUTSIDE THE EU.
If you buy something online, it does not matter which site you use to order your items – if they are shipped from outside the EU, the package is subject to extra charges. Here is how Amazon.com warns its customers of this, IF they happen to notice the link in tiny print below the ‘Order total’ and button to ‘Place your order’:
The recipient of an international shipment may be subject to such import taxes, customs duties and fees, which are levied once a shipment reaches the recipient’s country. Additional charges for customs clearance must be borne by the recipient; we have no control over these charges and can’t predict what they may be. Customs policies vary widely from country to country; you should contact your local customs office for more information. When customs clearance procedures are required, it can cause delays beyond our original delivery estimates.
Here are the guidelines for items purchased (online, by phone, etc.), based on the value of the contents (please note that no distinction is made between new and used items):
- Under 80 DKK: no charge
- 80 – 1.150 DKK: 25% VAT + import fees
- Over 1.150 DKK: 25% VAT + customs duty + import fees
Here are the guidelines for items received as a gift, i.e. ONLY private individual to private individual where no money is exchanged:
- Under 360 DKK: no charge
- 360 – 1,150 DKK: 25% VAT + import fees
- Over 1,150 DKK: 2.5% customs duty + 25% VAT + import fees (click here to see this information in Danish)
For items you buy online that are worth more than a total of 1,150 DKK, the amount of customs duty you have to pay depends on the type of good it is (unlike gifts, which are subject to a fixed 2.5% customs duty no matter what the items are). There is a very long list of the various types of items and the percentage of the value you must pay on top, e.g. ‘musical instruments with keys, including pianos, synthesizers, organs, digital keyboards but NOT harmonicas: 3.2%’ and ‘pants/jeans: 12%’, which you can find here. (However, as the authors of the site admit, this is only a list of the most popular items and it is subject to change at any given time; for the most up-to-date, precise information you may have to contact SKAT.)
Import fees are fixed. Danish Post charges a straight 160 DKK, including VAT, whether your purchase is worth 81 DKK or 5,000 DKK. For packages delivered by DHL, the import fee is 100 DKK on goods worth more than 80 DKK. And for UPS, the import fee is 150 DKK (however, the man at UPS with whom I spoke said they include shipping costs in the 80 DKK limit, which means that an item worth 40 DKK shipped at a cost of 41 DKK will incur the 150 DKK import fee. This is NOT true of Danish Post.) These import fees are levied as explained by Post Nord here (this is a translation from Danish in the question ‘Køber du varer eller modtager gaver fra lande uden fra EU?’):
For the importation of goods by post, we have the obligation to declare these items to the tax (SKAT) authorities. To cover the cost of this work we charge an import fee of 160 kr. on shipments exceeding the max value limit for purchases and gifts.
Here is a very good example of what a purchase shipped from outside the EU and delivered by the Danish Post will have cost you by the time you have it in your hands (provided by this helpful site):
You order a pair of jeans from the US. They are worth 1,500 DKK and to ship them to Denmark costs you 50 DKK.
The customs duty is 12% of the product value and shipping, i.e. (1,500 + 50) * 0.12 = 186 DKK.
VAT accounts for 25% of the product value + shipping + customs, i.e. (1500 + 50 + 186) * 0.25 = 434 DKK.
The Danish Post import fee is 160 DKK.
So you will be charged 780 DKK by SKAT and Danish Post to get the jeans to Denmark. The total, therefore, for the pair of jeans is 2,325 DKK.
If you have any personal experience with this, please write about it in a comment below. I have heard from several friends and acquaintances that sometimes packages ‘slip through’, meaning they haven’t had to pay extra packages worth well over the limit. It would be interesting to know more about that, although to be safe you should always assume you will be charged…