Customs tax on non-EU care packages

As an expats, how much do you love to receive a care package? No matter how old you are, there are always things you miss from home. It could be specific items such as spices or food or coffee... how wonderful is it to respond to a knock on the door only to find your mail person on the doorstop with their arms wrapped around a box of goodies sent by parents, siblings, or friends. Unfortunately, should you choose to accept that package, you might find you've just received the most expensive pair of your favorite socks ever. The European Union has implemented customs taxes on any shipments from outside its borders, and the fees are mind-blowing. What should feel like a warm hug suddenly feels like a vice grip. Especially around Christmas time, it's likely that many a mail person are seeing the smile melt off an expat's face like snow under the sun. The moment you accept them, the EU considers you an 'importer of goods'. And... what can you do about it?

Expat groups on social media are abuzz with this problem. Because the same is true both ways. When sending or receiving goods from outside the European Union to France, there is a customs tax to be paid. And, depending on the time of year, there could be additional fees charged by shipping companies e.g. peak season surcharges which are also quite steep. Keep reading for the solution! But first, let's break down the facts.

What is the difference between VAT, customs duties, and import tax?
  • VAT = Value Added Tax
    • calculated at 20% of the declared value for customs purposes (or 5.5% on books, or basic goods of more than 100 years old) + the customs duties
    • The overall current Value Added Tax regulation has been in place since 2018 and post-Brexit for sending packages between the UK and EU, the regulations were put in place Jan 1st 2021. The European Union considers you an importer or exporter of goods once a package was sent across its borders. Within the EU (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden), the single market regulation is applied.
  • Customs duties = Tax base on value of goods + transport costs
  • Import tax = VAT + customs duties + processing fees
To whom are the taxes payable and how are they divided?
  • Taxes are paid upon delivery of the shipment.
  • The entity that delivered the package is then responsible for taxes being paid to the right place:
    • VAT is a local tax that is paid to the French National Treasury.
    • Customs duties are a community tax paid to the European Union.
  • Processing fees such as customs clearance fees are paid to the customs agent (the entity transporting the packages to you, e.g. Chronopost)
What you need to know about receiving parcels
  • Any package valued over €45 is subject to French import tax.
    • the import taxes are payable by the receiver at delivery by the post office or parcel service
    • the import taxes must be paid before you can receive the package
  • Additionally, you can be taxed on the value of the package and the shipping costs.
    •  if transport costs are not shown, an amount is calculated based on an international average scale.
  • It's possible the package may not be delivered to your door. Depending on the carrier, you might have to pick it up at a delivery center.
How can you avoid paying import taxes (customs duties)
  • The sender doesn't spend more than €45. This is the threshold for private use. (For businesses it is €22.)
  • The sender must make sure that all paperwork is correctly filled out. No matter where they come from in the world, goods are subject to customs regulations
    • A commercial or proforma invoice or customs declaration form is provided to the sender by the shipping entity to be filled out
    • The sender should clearly mark the package as a “gift” (cadeaux).
      • in the details box, the sender must describe the nature of the goods and their use must be clearly stated
    • For non-commercial goods (i.e. not for resale) the customs form should include the words
      • "sans valeur commerciale" = no commercial value
      • and "valeur pour la douane uniquement" = value for customs purposes only
  • When shipping items that already belong to you
    • declare the actual value of the item
    • have the purchase invoice/payment receipt or any other proof that the item is not new and belongs to you
  • For the better solutions, keep reading
  • Being tempted to declare the value of the package at under €45 when it is much more
    • If you are busted, the fines are astronomical or the package may be destroyed at customs
  • The sender didn't include the purchase receipts or invoice
    • This may be strange especially when sending gifts, however, it's the best way for customs to quickly determine the value. Imagine being sent a fancy designer bag by your parents, but they actually bought it at an outlet mall at a 70% discount. In that case it would be good if the customs agent can match the item to the receipt.
  • Sending illegal or counterfeit goods
About shipping insurance
  • Parcels should be protected with shipping insurance. Noteworthy is that e.g. FedEx and UPS automatically provide $100 of insurance per package. Shipping items such as artwork, collectible coins, valuable musical instruments, jewelry, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals etc. should be protected by correct amount of shipping insurance. In that case it's wise to declare a higher value than what the carrier will cover.
Conclusie, nuttige links en de toekomst:
  • Deze 3 verschillende "waarden" zijn belangrijk bij het bepalen van de waarde van een verzorgingspakket:
    de aankoopprijs, de verkoopprijs, en de gedeclareerde waarde voor verzekeringsdoeleinden, French Douane services search, French Douane online purchases and travel (English), UPS, FedEx

    • Encourage family and friends to order gifts online from within the destination country to avoid the tax entirely....People in the US/UK can use (or fnac, etc) to order gifts and have them delivered directly to your address in France.
    • Avoid buying something online and then re-shipping it internationally, if there's no real reason to do it and it is not environmentally friendly.
    • Food items such as spices can often be found in major or specialty supermarkets now: look there first before asking loved ones to ship them. Cities with an international population will often have a wonderful international section!