Before you order something for the first time from China, you might have a couple of questions and want to consider a few things. We collected the most frequently asked questions and answered them for you.
Restrictions: What am I allowed to order?
Bear in mind: you can’t order everything. Importing things such as drugs, weapons, fireworks or animals is regulated.
- Plagiarism: As a gadget and fashion fan you should watch out for knock-offs. If a brand product is offered for an incredibly inexpensive price, it usually means that it is a fake. Buying and keeping a fake product for private purposes isn’t an offense but if customs takes notice of the knock-off, it will most likely be destroyed. Another disadvantage of the copies is that they usually don’t reach the quality of the original.
- Product safety: all items you order should fulfill the European conditions for product safety. If you order something that isn’t for sale on the European market, you should check if importing that item is prohibited as well. An example are laser pointers: in Asian online shops in multiple variations available, but in Europe only in class 1 up to 2m for sale. You can order lasers of other classes from overseas if they are safe (e.g. have an original CE sign) and the customs office will allow the import. The exception is if it has a fixture that helps it be mounted on a weapon - a laser pointer with a fixture shouldn’t be bought because of the weapons law. Using a laser on public property and the possible injury of a third party is a completely different topics that you should also deal with if you consider buying a laser.
- Medicinal products and narcotics: Don’t order any kind of drugs or narcotics from abroad because it is forbidden by the Medicines Act. Even food supplements or vitamin preparations that might be for sale abroad might be confiscated, especially if some kind of illness treatment is depicted on its packaging. Some supplements might also be prohibited because of certain vegetable or animal substances that are subject to the provisions on the protection of species.
- Edibles: can generally be shipped but some regulations apply. Potatoes can’t be shipped, wild mushrooms also shouldn’t be sent and only 125g caviar per person can be ordered. Meat, dairy and products made of it are also regularized and need extra documents. Exceptions are eatables such as chocolate, cookies and bonbons, which only contain a small amount of milk or cream.
If you’re unsure, just check out the website of the German customs office
Our tip: Fakes don’t have to have a bad quality - but how you deal with this subject is up for you to decide.
"Gift": Why does the merchant want to send my package as a “gift“?
Gifts are charged at a different import sales tax limit than regular goods. Only an order with the value of 150€ or more will be charged import sales tax. Nevertheless: the declaration “gift“ on a customs declaration of a Chinese package is often seen as implausible. So these packages might rather get stuck at customs. Just pick up your package with the customs declaration, bill and ID and pay the import VAT in case of an order worth more than 26€. It isn’t your fault that the merchant send the package with the wrong declaration, so don’t worry.
A letter from customs: What am I supposed to do?
First things first: keep calm ;-). Most likely the declaration on the outside of your package was inadequate or your package just happened to be one of the random checks. The most common explanation is: “The necessary bill or voucher was not located on the outside of the package”. In maybe 5% of all cases your package lands at the customs office. You go with your substitute customs declaration, your ID and the bill to your local customs office and pick up your package – if your package is worth less than 26€ you can just take it home with you, if its worth more than 26€ you pay the extra costs. The substitute customs declaration contains the most important information on what order you’re about to pick up. Sometimes you have to open the package in front of the customs officer to prove that it is the order that belongs to the bill you brought along. Tip: If the package is worth less than 26€, you can scan your ID, the bill (often your PayPal-bill) and the declaration, sent it to the customs office and they will ship your package to you without extra costs... If you have to pay Import VAT for your package but don’t have time to pick the package up at the customs office, you can have the Deutsche Post represent you. Send the declaration, missing documents and a copy of your ID to the customs office and they will hand the customs clearance over to the Deutsche Post. This method can take some time, so extra fees might be raised for the storage at the customs office. Advantage: you can pay the cost to your postman. Keep in mind that the waiting time in customs offices does vary. Sometimes we had to wait over two hours. But the customs officers are usually very friendly and we had some nice chats with them ;-).
Our tip: everyone should visit their local customs office at least once. After that the communication via e-mail is less stressful.
Fees and taxes: When do I have to pay what?
When you order from countries outside of the EU you have to keep import sales tax and customs charges in mind. Every order with a value of less than 26€ won't be charged import sales tax or customs duties. The rule states that purchases of a value of only 22€ or less are free of import sales tax but import dues are only raised if they sum up to more than 5€ - so order for 26€ (including shipping) without worrying about costs. Import sales taxes are raised starting from 26€ - usually they are 19% (items such as books and flowers have a tax of 7%). Up to an order value of 150€ (keep in mind: including shipping fees) no customs charges will be raised. Customs charges depend on the kind of product you order. Garments are charged with 12% and CDs and DVDs charged with 3,5% customs charges. Digital cameras, books and USB flash drives are free of customs charges.
Our tip: there are usually no extra costs - just skip this question ;-).
Order at the customs office: How quickly do I have to pick it up?
Keep ten days in mind. The first nine days your package will be stored at the customs office without costing any additional fees. Storage fees will be raised if they reach the 5€ value and that is on the 10th day. Warning: packages will only be stored for a fortnight, after that they will be returned to their shipper.
Our tip: try to pick up your package within 10 days.
Do you have any questions? We'll gladly add to our FAQ - just write us a message: [email protected].