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‘Ridiculous’: Foreigners in Germany hit by high fees on non-EU parcels

The Local's readers have been reporting unexpectedly steep duty fees on packages to Germany from outside the EU. Here's what they had to say.

A DHL employee delivering a packet in Germany.
A DHL employee delivering a packet in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

In a survey asking for your experiences, 94.5 percent of nearly 100 people who replied to us said they had to pay customs fees before receiving their parcel in Germany. 

Source: The Local’s Google form

Around 33 percent of the responses came from people receiving packages from the UK to Germany. Other countries where packages with customs charges were mentioned frequently were Hong Kong, the USA and India. 

Source: The Local’s Google form

Most readers told us the fees were a surprise to them, and many said they felt they shouldn’t have been charged. 

Others raised questions over the administrative fee or Auslagepauschale (usually around €6).

‘Ridiculous amount’

The EU’s taxation and customs union website says that private packages with a value of up to €45 “are not subject to prohibitions or restrictions,” and Germany’s customs and finance authority has also confirmed that gifts of up to €45 are not subject to customs duty or VAT charges.

Many readers said they shouldn’t have had to pay any customs fees.

Rebecca, 24, in Stuttgart said she received a 4kg parcel from the UK valued at £21 and was charged €4.67 customs fees plus the €6 handling cost.

“This parcel was of old things I already owned, and was below the customs value so I shouldn’t have had to pay anything, let alone pay half the value of the contents again in customs, it was a ridiculous amount,” she said.

“I didn’t understand why I was paying so much or what the difference between Zoll (customs duty) and Auslagepauschale (handling fee) was, but I knew if I tried to question it at the post office I wouldn’t understand the explanation either, so I just paid the amount.”

Martin, 37, Zwickau, was charged €8.26 in total (including the service fee) for a £10 gift sent from the UK.

“The CN22 (customs) form was declared as a £10 gift,” he explained. “VAT should not have applied as it was below €45.

‘Angry and hopeless’

People sending packages from non-EU countries have always had to deal with duty fees and customs declarations, but several readers from countries, including Hong Kong and the USA, told us they have recently been hit with unexpected charges.. 

This may be linked to a change regarding fees last year. Until June 30th, 2021, packages imported into the EU with a value of less than €22 were exempt from import VAT charges. That exemption was shelved on July 1st, meaning that VAT is now due on all goods imported into the bloc.

But, as we mentioned, that should not apply to private packages or gifts under €45.

Abbie, 34, in Dresden said she was charged a €2 custom fee by DHL, plus the €6 handling fee, to receive a gift from a friend in Hong Kong.

“It’s robbery,” she said. “I actually asked my friends and family not to send me anything anymore, although it’s the only way they can show me physical love during the pandemic.”

READ ALSO: Why people in Germany are being charged to receive small packages from outside the EU

A DHL worker carrying out deliveries.

A DHL worker carrying out deliveries. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Vivian, 54, in Biberach, south-west Germany, said she regularly receives post from Australia and Malaysia. She had to pay €9 in fees for a €29 gift.

Doris, 37, in Berlin, said she was charged €2.10 plus a €6 admin charge to pick up a parcel that weighed 1kg from Hong Kong. 

“It was used clothes and a small gift from a friend for our newborn baby,” she said. “It was written clearly on the parcel that it’s gift. It is worth €10 only, but we were still charged a total of €8,10. We found it quite ridiculous.”

Alyssa, 33, in Hamburg said she was charged a fee to receive a hand crocheted blanket by her grandma sent from the USA.

She said authorities “basically held it ransom for €50”.

Claudia, 29, in Troisdorf said she felt “angry and hopeless” at having to pay high fees on packages from Hong Kong.

“I feel like there is no one who can help me in the situation, even though I have made a complaint,” she said. 

Yi, 34, said they had to pay around €14 to get a package containing “my books and some snacks from my home city” in Hong Kong

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old in Mainz, who described the system of customs fees and administrative charges in Germany as a “total disaster” said they suspected issues around discrimination and racism. 

“I’ve heard that it would help if the name of the receiver is a German or English name – basically not Asia-oriented. I haven’t tried as my husband and me are both from Hong Kong.”

‘I will never buy anything from UK’

For people receiving packages from the UK, this is a fairly new issue. Before Brexit, duty fees did not apply because the UK was part of the EU. 

Now, as well as having the correct postage, all items apart from documents sent from England, Scotland and Wales to the EU need an extra customs declaration form attached.

The form asks for the sender and recipient’s details, whether the item is a gift or an item sent for sale (which affects the level of duty for some countries) and a detailed description of what is in it. The form is available to download here.

Janet, 60, in Cologne, said she had to pay almost €8 to pick up a scarf from the UK that cost less than this amount.

“We have asked our family and friends not to send us stuff,” she said.

James East, 39, in Berlin said he had to pay a fee of €1.37 for a magazine that was said to be worth £6. He also had to pay the €6 DHL service fee.

I don’t think there was a mistake, although I still think it’s wrong,” said East, who added that the “the admin fees from Deutsche Post, FedEx, etc are way out of proportion”.

Sonny, 34, in Dusseldorf had to pay €8 for a “pair of socks and lapel pin”. 

“Will never buy anything from UK, ever,” he said. “Doesn’t make any sense at all to pay €15 for a pair of socks, and pay €8 on top. DHL also didn’t bring it to my address and I had to go to a branch because of the customs fee.”

Joseph, was charged €12 for a 3kg package from the UK. He said this was a repeat order – and the previous time he received the same order without charges (also in the post-Brexit period).

“It’s very hit and miss on if charges are applied (when they should be), and when charges are applied (when they definitely should NOT be),” he said.

He recommended ordering from Ireland if products are available there to avoid extra fees. 

The costs also come as a surprise to many people. 

Alisa, 25, in Hamburg, said: “I was not aware of the introduction of the customs fee for parcels from UK. As a vinyl collector, it really annoys me to pay extra for the items I already pay a delivery fee on.”

Another reader, Angie, 50, in Düsseldorf said she was charged €122 for a painting that was a gift from loved ones in Canada. 

“We tell all our family to please not send anything,” said Angie.

Elspeth, 39, in Hesse, said she was charged €17 to pick up a book sent from the UK, including the admin fee.

“The book was a free copy sent to me by the author as a thank you for my contribution to the book, but customs simply took the recommended retail price (RRP) off the book and charged me a percentage,” she said.

The Local has approached DHL for a comment on some of these issues but we have not yet received a response.  

*******

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren’t able to include all the submissions, we read each of them and are sincerely grateful to everybody who took the time to fill in the survey.

If there’s anything you’d like to ask or tell us about our coverage, please feel free to get in touch.

Member comments

  1. I too have been charged every time I receive a package from the US. I was even told by the customs officials that it must be valued under 45 Euros. However, the next package which were gifts for my kids from their grandparents was charged a customs fee (value was $15). What can be done about this?

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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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