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Importing to Europe
by Bo Stahlbrandt

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Shopping for pearls
Before placing the bid
After placing the bid

Calculating the costs

Hey! You should have done this before placing the bid.

Christmas market in Villingen. Click for 1024 x 768
Christmas market in the city of Villingen, southern Germany. December 1999.
Nikon F5, Nikkor AF 50mm/1.4 on Fujichrome Provia

Generally, there are a lot of costs involved which one easily forgets. The costs involve:

1. Import tax
2. Value added tax (VAT, "Umsatzsteuer")
3. General customs fee
4. Costs of having an international money order issued
5. Shipping and insurance

Import tax
The height depends on the type of goods your importing. It's 6,2% of the declared value on 35mm SLR cameras and accessories in Germany.

Value added tax
It's your country's VAT (Umsatzsteuer, Moms etc.) on the declared value.

General customs fee
Normally this shouldn't be much. I had to pay some DM 15,- on a lens worth DM 800,- and DM 35,- for the F5 declared at close to DM 3000,-

Costs of having an international money order issued
It's normally way easier - and cheaper - if the seller is willing to accept a credit card. If the seller accepts credit cards (smaller companies often do) they normally only accept MasterCard or Visa. American Express is not popular, since they charge an additional fee from the seller for each transaction. Individuals acting privately normally don't accept any credit cards, and then it gets more expensive. You are then more or less bound to have an international money order issued.

Most US folks seems to like the Western Union (a bank) type of money orders. I guess the major reason is that they can cash them all over the place and they are really safe.

For the money order of 1.625 USD, I had to pay some DM 120,- in fees. For the 425 USD lens, it was about DM 65,- in fees. I used Western Union money orders for both. To issue such an order, you can simply walk in to your local post office (in Germany) or to certain stores which are able to issue them. E.g. in Sweden, a lot of tobacco stores can issue Western Union money orders. You need the name and address of the person you're sending the order to.

After you have payed the amount plus the fee, you get a Western Union authorization ID. You must now notify the seller of this ID, easiest way being via e-mail. The seller can now, normally within two days, go to a Western Union affiliate, bring his ID card and mention the authorization ID to receive the cash.

Shipping and insurance
It's not that steep I think. For the 425 USD lens, it was 25 USD with the US Post as Express delivery (some 400g) incl. insurance. For the F5 it was significantly more, some 87 USD for 1kg with the UPS as Express, also insured at 1.625 USD. I don't think I would like to ship anything without having it insured.

So, the calculation for a body bought (and declared) for let's say 1.000 USD would be:

1. 4,2% import tax. Makes 42 USD.
2. Value added tax. Is 16% in Germany, makes 160 USD.
3. General custom fees. Probably in the region of 10 USD in Germany.
4. Having an international money order issued. Probably around 40 USD.
5. Shipping and insurance. Probably looking at some additional 40 USD.

In all, your 1.000 USD body, is now of a sudden worth some 1.252 USD - anyway to you. This would be an increase of some 25%. As you can easily figure out, if the original purchase price was only 25% lower than the comparable price in your own country, you didn't make a deal.

Low value items, I think this is below DM 400,- in Germany, are typically charged with 13,5% (in Germany) of the declared value, i.e. not the 20,2% as in the above calculation.

Now, you have paid for the item, you know the seller got the money, and you're eagerly waiting for it to arrive. I didn't have any problems at all with the sellers so far, and it was really a pleasure to deal with them e-mail wise. The americans are normally very helpful.

But I don't need no customs!
1. You do. If you try to get the goods in, being declared redicilously low, let's say in the box there's a Leica R8 and it's declared for 100 USD and on the custom's slip the friendly seller wrote "broken, old Kodak Instamatic". It might very well happen that the scan (yes, most customs have X-ray) detects the beautiful R8 in it and one of the fellows at a monitor says to himself "well, that's no Kodak Instamatic". Now, if they open up the parcel, they might very well send it back, stating that it was not "declared correctly" - anyway in Germany.

2. Even if your friendly seller writes "old lense, gift, worth 150 USD, not for resale" on the custom's slip. It's likely that your efficient, privatedly owned carrier (i.e. UPS et al), does the custom work for you, i.e. you simply receive a small slip attached on the box, stating "you will receive an invoice for custom charges in the next week or two". Beware that UPS may also charge you some DM 75,- for "expedition charges" plus for additional shipping if you decide that you want them to send the goods to a custom office in your vicinity. This added some DM 135,- to the price of the 1kg "heavy" F5 parcel.

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