The BBC has an article that lots of Germans are apparently refusing to accept packages they ordered from the UK once they are presented with the new customs clearing form/fee.

Since 1 January, lots of European customers have been presented with an unexpected customs invoice when signing for goods they've ordered from the UK. These new customs charges are a result of the new EU trade deal with the UK.

If you're in Germany and buying goods from the UK, you as the German customer are the importer bringing goods into the EU.

"You then have a courier company knocking on the door giving you a customs clearance invoice that you need to pay to receive your goods."

Many customers automatically reject the goods, refusing to pay the additional surcharges, leaving couriers to take them away.

The article then goes on to discuss fees that apply to returns too (although these are incurred by the company that the sent the package). The article does is a bit more concrete on the latter in terms of the overall fees that some retailers incurred, but it's not per customers' package as the retailers (at least the bigger ones) mostly ship these things back in bulk.

So, are there some estimates/figures on these initial delivery custom-clearing fees that make EU customers reject packages sent from the UK?

  • 1
    The size of the fee will depend on the value of the goods. Here's a Guardian article about the reverse EU to UK charges, with a 12% Custom Duty, 20% VAT and £8 to £11.50 or 2.5% Courier fee.
    – Jontia
    Jan 22 '21 at 9:05
  • @Jontia: thanks, I found some data from the NL Post but it's not specific to the UK. I guess the general non-EU fee applies. Somewhere between 13 and 17 euros is the fee itself (besides the customs-duty and VAT). The fee applies to packages over € 22 in value, so the fee itself is significant in a certain bracket.
    – Fizz
    Jan 22 '21 at 9:42
  • The fee can be a significant amount and the fact that it can be a surprise is a big factor is refusing delivery I think. People are being told that it will be basically the same or even cheaper and when they are asked at the door for an extra €20 to €40 they are upset they have been lied to. From my own pre-Brexit experience being asked to pay a percentage of the item value plus postage to the delivery company so that they can work out the import duty was particularly annoying.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jan 22 '21 at 9:58
  • Another anecdote that might explain refusal to accept delivery. In December this year I ordered something online from a web site with an EU country domain with prices in Euro. I specifically chose a site in my own country to minimize delivery issues due to Brexit and covid. When the seller started sending me emails with reasons why the delivery was going to be late it turned out they were in the UK. If I had been asked to pay 20-30% extra on the doorstep I would have refused delivery and gone straight to my credit card to get a refund.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jan 22 '21 at 10:02
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    Though only tangentially related to politics this question is directly motivated by Brexit taking effect, which is a massive political subject. People are right to wonder about the real-world outcomes of voting choices. I'm sure the BBC wrote it as a political article, not just as an examination of the economics of logistic freight companies. Whether it aims to discredit is another thing. Jan 22 '21 at 18:37

The fees are two-fold, depending on the value of the goods received. In this answer, I will concentrate solely on commercial shipments (i.e. you bought something from an internet sales company). The same generally applies to non-commercial shipments (i.e. your friend sending you a gift) albeit with different duty-free values. As the article lists German customers, I will focus on the German fees in this answer.

In all cases, the determining factor is the value of goods. This is, in principle, estimated by the customs agents although the declaration on the parcel is taken into account. If the value of the goods is assessed to be less than €22, the shipment is free of all duties. (This is subject to change on 1st July 2021 when the €22 limit will be abolished and all imports will be subject to import VAT as per the next paragraph. Link in German.)

If the value is estimated to be more than €22 but less than €150, the recipient is required to pay import VAT: 19 % of the value of the goods. (It was 16 % during 2020 as part of the Covid-19 relief effort). If the parcel contains only good that are eligible for the discounted VAT rate, it is 7 % of the assessed value.

If the value is estimated to be above €150, customs duty must be paid on top. How high customs duties are, depends on the exact nature of the goods being received. However, as a private consumer receiving goods sporadically of no more than €700 in value intended solely for personal use, a flat-rate customs duty of 17.5 % may be levied (reduced to 15 % for certain privileged goods). The flat-fee approach can be rejected and customs duty tallied up comprehensively which may result in a lower overall fee – especially if some goods can be imported at a 0 % customs duty.

The above values do not apply to ‘alcohol, tobacco products, perfume or toilet waters, roasted coffee, instant coffee and merchandise containing coffee’, for which other duty-free allowances, rates etc. apply.

In case the charges calculated as per the above end up being below €5, they are waived.

For example, if a parcel containing goods (excluding alcohol, tobacco products, etc.) valued at €50 is received, the recipient has to pay €9.50 in import VAT.

If the items are shipped with DHL (the current name of the parcel service of Deutsche Post, the former state-owned German postal service), DHL can take care of the customs formalities on the recipient’s behalf; in this case, the DHL delivery person will require cash payment at the door. Most other shipping companies do not have such an agreement and the goods will instead be delivered to the nearest customs office for inspection and the recipient notified that they will have to pick up (and pay, if necessary) there.

Further information can be found on the web pages of German customs concerning ‘consignments of negligible value’ (below €150) and those above. The relevant EU Regulation concerning the €150 level is EC 1186/2009. The €22 limit can be found in the Einführumsatzsteuerbefreiungsverordnung (EUStBV), §1a (in German).

The values quoted above are mostly specific to Germany as I wrote in the beginning. However, the €150 limit is codified in an EU regulation so shipments of at least that value will be customs duty free. The abolishment of the low value exception for import VAT also derives from a European-level decision so all shipments to all EU countries will be subject to the corresponding national import VAT. The national VAT levels differ between countries so the fees will vary; other countries may levy additional fees.

  • Interesting info about the flat % customs duty applying to individual consumers. Even though there are zero tariffs on most imports categories from the UK... it seems these are not zero for an individual consumer ordering directly because of the flat % duty, if I understood that correctly.
    – Fizz
    Jan 22 '21 at 11:00
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    @Fizz The flat-rate approach can be rejected by the recipient. I should specify that.
    – Jan
    Jan 22 '21 at 11:02
  • Are there generally handling fees applied By the shipping company?
    – Jontia
    Jan 22 '21 at 11:31
  • 1
    @Jan Pre-Brexit I have been charged based on the total amount paid including shipping. This was in Ireland not Germany so it may be different. Annoying as this is I can see why they do it since it is easier than challenging lots of claims that the iPhone only cost €1 and the shipping was €499. Regarding DHL (or other courier) taking a cut I have experienced them levying an extra charge for 'processing' the customs charges. This isn't a cut per-se but an additional surprise fee which for some reason is percentage based and so can be quite large.
    – Eric Nolan
    Jan 22 '21 at 15:47
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    @Fizz The zero tariffs only apply to goods produced in the UK, not goods that are imported and then re-exported. In the absence of country-of-origin paperwork to prove the goods originated in the UK, tariffs are payable.
    – Mike Scott
    Jan 22 '21 at 21:22

There's is actually a survey/study conducted in 2015 on the import costs on "small consignments" (packages under 1000 euros worth) from non-EU countries into the EU.

Besides the things noted in Jan's answer (150 euros being the de-minimis value under which there is no customs/import duty per se levied), there is some variation for the other two components:

unlike import duties, the VAT de-minimis threshold is not harmonized and can significantly vary across the EU but within this given range. However, the upper limit of 22 EUR is typically applied by most Member States. [...]

Customs clearance and import processing fees show significant variation, from the low of 6.6 EUR in Czech Republic to 33 EUR in neighbouring Hungary.

(Aside: this study found/suggested that most EU states were actually losing money collecting VAT on packages under 80 euros, so it proposed that the 22 EUR level under which not VAT is perceived be raised to 80.)

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