The international customs regulations guide. SDC International Shipping’s complete guide for customs rule in the European Union, Asia, Oceania and Africa
International Customs Regulations
Customs are taxes that are charged by a country when you import goods into them.
Customs Regulations in the European Union
The European Union is a customs union, with a nearly uniform customs regime throughout the 28 member nations. For our clients moving to an EU member state, it means that we can better serve them. We can import cargo to any port in Europe for delivery to any EU member nation. We can clear customs for containers imported ports in the Netherlands or Germany for delivery to Austria or France.
Value added tax (VAT) is charged throughout Europe. This is similar to sales tax charged in the United States, though technically it is a consumption tax and not a purchase tax. In the EU the minimum VAT must be at least 15%, and currently the lowest charged is 17% in Luxembourg, and the highest is 27% in Hungary. What this means is that sending a container to a EU member state, if not done properly, could incur significant taxes. In addition to VAT, specific tariffs can be added on the import of some items.
To avoid paying these high taxes, you need to either be a returning citizen who has abroad for at least two years, or someone moving to an EU nation with a valid residency visa. One of the implications of the customs union is that you have to have lived outside of all of the member states for at least two years. If you have previously lived in France, and now want to move to Belgium, you don’t require a visa, but you will have to have lived outside of any EU for two years.
An additional VAT consideration is ordering storage if you require it. SDC International Shipping has storage facilities in both the United States and in Europe. If you are moving to Europe and don’t yet have an exact delivery address, it might make a lot more sense to order storage in the EU. If we put your things in storage in the United States, you will have to wait at least six weeks for delivery from the time you notify us of the delivery address. If you send them to our storage in Europe, customs clearance will take place before your cargo enters storage, and can be released from storage as soon as we are notified of your delivery address. However, like every other service in Europe, you will be charged VAT for storage, which could amount to a lot of money. When you order your storage from us, you will not have to pay VAT for this service.
You can send one container and one air shipment per client within 12 months of moving to the EU. You can send reasonable amounts of personal effects for your family’s use. You are entitled to send used household goods without further customs payments. We recommend that our clients comply with all of the relevant regulations. As things should be “used”, you should purchase new equipment that you want to bring with you to Europe at least six months before we pick it up. It is also prudent for you to retain your receipts for things that look new in your shipment. There are plenty of things that will come in handy, and are far more affordable in the United States than in Europe. You should stock up on these items before you leave, as is appropriate for your family and destination, from leisure gear like golf clubs and bicycles to kitchen and cooking equipment like sets of dishes and heavy American cookware. Buy these things a few months before we send them.
Cars, motorcycles and other vehicles can be shipped to EU countries, outside of the United Kingdom which is still a part of the EU. Vehicles need to be licensed in the country where you will reside, but can be delivered anywhere. Vehicles can be delivered in your personal container or sent using special vehicle delivery services. There are some countries that will allow you to send one vehicle per person, and some that will allow you to send one of each type of vehicle. What is standard across all of the EU countries, is that imported vehicles must be in the possession of the shipper for at least 6 months prior to shipping it. Cars over 5 years old cannot be imported unless they are certified antiques. There are uniform EU emission standards across all nations. American hybrid and electric vehicles meet these standards, as do cars from California and many other American sold vehicles. Some cars will need to be customized in Europe. All vehicles will need to undergo inspection prior to licensing. But some countries require you to first have a permanent address and local ID number before your car can be registered.
Rules for the import of pets are uniform in Europe. They require RFID tags, rabies and other vaccines, and a recent APHIS form.
If you are sending a commercial shipment to the EU or are including commercial goods within your shipment, you are required to obtain an EORI number. Information about EORIs is available here. You should apply for an EORI number from the country to where you will be sending your shipment or opening up an office. If you have previously received an EORI from any EU member state, you do not require another one.
Not to be confused with the EU, the European Economic Area, the European Free Trade Association, and the Schengen Area are overlapping but not identical organizations. For some things, like importing shipments to Switzerland via other European countries, this is meaningful. Obtaining visas is also different for citizens of these countries. Your SDC International Shipping relocation specialist will be able to help you understand.
Customs Regulations in Asia
There are two major customs organizations in Asia, ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
ASEAN Economic Community
The Association of South East Asian is an association that is on the road to becoming an integrated group of nations, similar to the European Union. Right now, it is a customs union, meaning that the customs are uniform throughout the bloc, and that there is no taxation on goods moving between the member nations.
Returning citizens of the member states need to have lived abroad for six months to qualify for customs free import of their shipment. An example of customs policy from Singapore is available. This will be typical of the policies in all of the ASEAN member states.
The goods that you bring into ASEAN countries should be used, and you should not sell them for at least 3 months after your arrival. Their shipment can arrive up to 6 months after their arrival in the country.
You can send one sea shipment and one air shipment. New goods are charged at the local VAT rate, which is 10% in most of the countries. In some of the countries there are different VAT rates for different products.
Personal goods are not usually taxed, even if new, as long as they are limited to a reasonable amount.
In many of the ASEAN countries, it is difficult to find clothes that fit some Americans. If you are tall or large sized, it is a good idea to stock up on clothes, especially those that will be appropriate for the climate you are moving to.
For most of the ASEAN countries, cars cannot be imported. For some of them, you can import a motorcycle, but only if you obtain prior authorization.
Gulf Cooperation Council
The Gulf Cooperation Council is not on a track to any sort of unification. However, these countries do allow for freedom of movement and there are no tariff barriers between them.
The GCC countries don’t generally allow for immigration. Only citizens can settle there permanently, but the customs for those coming on long term employment contracts is identical to those of returning citizens.
In general, GCC countries do not have a stated tax waiver or holiday for the import of goods. However, they also don’t charge many taxes to begin with. A car, for instance, will usually only be taxed 5% of its value when brought to any of the GCC countries. While there is not a specific tax holiday, these country are not known for taxing used household goods, and personal effects in reasonable amounts should not incur tax either.
If you are a citizen of any GCC member state, you should be able to move to any of the other GCC states without a visa.
Customs Regulations in Oceania
The Oceania Customs Organization exists to coordinate the customs regulations of the member countries. The relatively young organization seeks to keep regulations in line with international standards. The customs in these countries will be relatively similar, but not identical. A good example of the customs regime in Oceania countries is available from the Fiji Customs site.
As its name implies, the OCO is an organization of island nations. Some of them are very large, like Australia, some of them are very small, like the atoll nation of Kiribati. Common to all of these nations is a far more stringent inspections regime than in most other places in the world. As they try to protect their natural environments from foreign pests and contagions, they allow no food stuffs, and are very particular about insisting that anything that was in contact with farms or sea life, like fishing and scuba diving equipment for example, be thoroughly cleaned. Also, it is critical that packing materials meet international shipping standards. Do not use previously used cartons or wood for packing.
For the most part, Oceania countries will allow returning citizens and those moving with valid long term residence visas to import reasonable amounts of personal effects. As there is a chance you will be moving to a drastically different climate, it is a great idea to stock up on clothes, shoes, etc. Also, consider if you will be moving to a warmer climate, that you might need to replace your bed sheets and towels to something of a lighter weight that will be appropriate for your destination.
Used household goods can be sent. This includes furniture, appliances where they will work, sports equipment, your library, etc. Most of these countries, however, are countries where they drive on the left hand side of the road, so sending a car from the United States is not on order. For some you can send a motorcycle, you should check the regulations of the individual country, as some will allow an American motorcycle, but only after receiving prior permission. You goods can arrive up to 12 months after you, so if you need to plan something between leaving the United States and arriving somewhere in Oceania, make sure to tell your SDC International Shipping relocation specialist about it, we can arrange to store your cargo for several months and have it delivered to you upon your arrival in your new home.
Customs Regulations in Africa
While there are a few organizations in Africa that are similar to the aforementioned organizations, like the Southern African Customs Union and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, they are not yet as fully integrated as the European Union, for example. We recommend at this point that you consult the consulate and website of your destination country. Your SDC International Shipping relocation specialist will be able to help you find the specific customs regulations.
In general, most African countries have more relaxed regulations than in other countries. The amount of time that you had to reside abroad, for instance, is usually only 6 or 9 months, in order to qualify for the tax free import of a container. They will also allow for older cars than are allowed in other parts of the world. Keep in mind that some African countries are notorious for lengthy customs clearance, which at times can take weeks to finish.