The internet offers consumers an unprecedented variety of goods and the possibility of comparison. Online shopping is also on the upswing in Austria, and more and more goods are being ordered by consumers directly abroad via the internet.
Customs clearance, legal background and tips for problem-free online shopping
Often there is a lack of information on the amount of customs duties, import VAT and, if applicable, excise taxes to be paid for offers and consignments ordered and sent via the internet. For example, what are the customs duties and import VAT for a camera ordered in Asia? Can the leather wallet made of special reptile leather be imported into the EU, or is it subject to CITES? Another poorly known fact is that there is a general import prohibition for medicinal products into Austria.
Mail order business in goods subject to excise taxes
In addition to the provisions of the Value Added Tax Act, the following provisions must be observed for the mail order trade in goods subject to excise taxes:
A person who carries on mail order business supplies goods subject to excise taxes within the meaning of the laws on alcohol, beer, mineral oil, tobacco or sparkling wine, which have been released for free trading in the Member State in which the person has his or her place of business, to private individuals in other Member States and carries out the dispatch to the purchaser himself or has it carried out.
In this case, a private individual is any person who does not declare himself/herself to the mail order company as a customer whose intra-Community acquisitions are subject to VAT in accordance with the regulations of the VAT Act (no indication of the VAT ID).
Anyone wishing to supply goods subject to excise taxes tax to the fiscal territory as a mail-order company must notify the Innsbruck customs post accordingly for each delivery before dispatch, and provide security. The excise taxes liability arises when the goods subject to excise taxes are delivered to the private individual in the fiscal territory. As a rule, the tax debtor is the mail order company. If the mail order procedure is not followed, the recipient also becomes the tax debtor.
If goods subject to excise taxes tax are to be delivered not only occasionally by mail order, the Innsbruck customs post can, upon application, grant a general authorisation for deliveries into the fiscal territory. For further information on mail order please contact the Innsbruck customs post.
Tobacco products – including snuff and chewing tobacco – are subject to a general ban on trade under the Austrian Tobacco Monopoly Act. The Austrian Tobacco Tax Act likewise prohibits mail-order sales of tobacco products (§ 30 TabStG). This means that any ordering and purchase of tobacco products via the internet or other means of distance communication such as telephone, teleshopping, email and the like is prohibited. This applies both to purchases from non-EU states and to purchases from EU states.
For tobacco products ordered abroad and delivered to the fiscal territory, the tax liability arises in Austria, whereby the purchaser becomes the tax debtor in addition to the mail-order company.
A prohibited order leads to financial criminal proceedings.
When do I have to pay taxes for online purchases in third countries?
Customs duty and import VAT, possibly also excise duties on goods, are payable by the consumer as an end consumer if the goods are purchased in third countries (i.e. any non-EU countries) and imported into Austria. No customs clearance takes place within the EU area, but VAT is levied nationally or in the course of EU mail order business.
The tax-exempt amounts or quantities, respectively, for goods from third countries, e.g. for cigarettes, alcohol, etc., apply only to travellers (importation in the traveller’s luggage) and to a very limited extent for private gift deliveries. If a product is ordered from a mail order company, full import duties are payable.
Goods that are purchased, for example, in the USA, Asia or South Africa via internet orders and imported thence are subject to import VAT (until 30 June 2021, there is still a VAT exemption for consignments with a merchandise value of up to € 22). Customs duty must be additionally paid starting from a merchandise value of € 150. The amount of the customs duty depends on the goods themselves, the value, and the country of origin of the goods.
The Postal Service registers the consignment and pays the duties that it collects upon delivery, plus a fee for this service (no duty).
The customs declaration, the sticker on the parcel that informs about the type and merchandise value of the consignment, must match the actual content and value of the postal consignment. It is risky to declare a package containing a carton of cigarettes as a “gift delivery” or “sample of no value”.
A control is likely to result in financial criminal proceedings and seizure.
Tip: You may refuse acceptance of unsolicited goods.
Note: The value of the goods is the purchase price including any foreign taxes, without transport, insurance or similar costs. The value of the goods is used to determine whether they are duty-free. As soon as this value is exceeded, the duties payable are levied on the basis of the customs value. Customs value means e.g. purchase price including packaging costs, postage, insurance and similar costs.
Up to 30 June 2021, consignments up to a merchandise value of € 22 are duty-free, i.e. there is no import VAT payable. This exemption will cease to apply on 1 July 2021, so that import VAT will then have to be paid for every imported consignment/goods from the first cent of merchandise value. There is also an exemption from import VAT for consignments up to € 150 declared via the Import One Stop Shop (IOSS).
Up to a merchandise value of € 150, no customs duty is payable.
- The following are not duty-free: Tobacco and tobacco products (ordering of tobacco and tobacco products is generally prohibited), perfumes, eau de toilette and alcoholic products
- Important: Possible import prohibitions and restrictions must also be observed for such shipments!
What duties do I have to pay?
The following considerations should be made before ordering goods in a third country: In addition to product prices, incidental import costs should not be underestimated.
Incidental import costs are:
- Shipping charges
- Customs duty (from a merchandise value of € 150)
- Import VAT
- Special charges (excise taxes)
- Service fees of the Postal Service or the transport company or delivery service (such as DHL, GLS, Hermes, etc.), respectively, for the customs declaration and the advancement of the duties at the customs service
The sum of these costs can make a supposedly cheap product surprisingly more expensive. Usually the desired goods are ordered at the net price, i.e. without foreign value-added tax. The amount of the shipping charges shall be clearly and precisely indicated. The tariff rates for goods and special duties applicable in Austria can be found out via the Central Information Office. Queries can be made via the EU tariff rate information database TARIC efficiently via the internet.
How are the duties collected?
Unless the shipment is exempt from import VAT due to the use of the IOSS (Import One Stop Shop), customs duties and import VAT are usually collected directly at the time of parcel delivery. Before delivery, the recipient will be notified if any details, information or documents for the submission of the customs declaration by the Postal Service/delivery service are missing (e.g. missing invoice or incorrectly stated values), or if any ambiguities should arise during customs clearance. The recipient must provide any requested evidence of the order. A printout of the contract (order), possibly the correspondence by email with the online shop and evidence (e.g. bank statement) of an already paid product should be kept ready for such a case. Due to customs handling, the delivery time agreed with the online shop may be exceeded.
When using the IOSS, the entrepreneur charges the customer the VAT directly. The entrepreneur has to declare and pay the VAT via the IOSS. In this case, the consignment is exempt from import VAT.
What to pay attention to when returning goods?
Primarily, in the event of a return, the service provider who carried out the transport and/or also the import should be contacted. If consignments worth up to € 150 are declared via the Import One Stop Shop (IOSS), the respective platform from which the goods were ordered must be contacted to obtain a refund of the amounts paid, as well as to agree on the modalities of the reversal. In the event of non-acceptance of a consignment delivered by the Postal Service, the item will be returned by Österreichische Post AG. For consignments over € 150, or if the import VAT is not billed directly to the customer in the context of the Import One Stop Shop, a refund of the import duties can then be requested from the customs administration if the ordered goods are defective or do not match the order (for the procedure, see the paragraph below). Otherwise, when returning ordered and already imported goods, it should be noted that, apart from the aforementioned case of defective goods or goods that do not match the order, import duties are generally not refunded by the customs service on the basis of the applicable Union customs law.
However, if the goods ordered are defective or do not conform to the order, an application for a refund may be submitted to the customs offices pursuant to Article 118 of the UCC. With the customs documents and the goods, you go to the locally competent customs office (the customs office responsible for the place where the exporter is resident) and have the goods inspected. In addition, a confirmation from the service provider (mail order company) is necessary that the goods did not conform to the order. A customs document for the export is issued, and the goods can then be returned. This leaves one year for application to the competent customs office for a refund of the import duty. If it should be immediately apparent during the delivery of the parcel that the product is damaged or the packaging of the postal item is not in order, refuse acceptance in any case!
Purchase of medicinal products by distance selling (mail order)
For medicinal products, there is a prohibition on purchase by distance selling on the basis of the Austrian Medicinal Products Import Act. This means that private individuals in particular are prohibited from ordering medicinal products via the internet or other means of long-distance communication such as telephone, teleshopping, email and the like. This applies both to purchases from non-EU states and to purchases from EU states.
Medicinal products are not only those available in Austrian pharmacies, but in particular also the following:
- herbal medicinal preparations based on one or more active substances produced from a plant or parts of plants, e.g. by drying, grinding, extraction or purification
- homoeopathic medicinal preparations
- vitamin or mineral preparations based on vitamins or minerals, including trace elements, used for the treatment or prevention of specific diseases, conditions or their symptoms. Such preparations – often referred to as dietary supplements – generally contain at least three times more vitamins or minerals than the normally recommended daily intake
The following are exempted from the prohibition on the purchase of pharmaceutical products at a distance:
- Medicinal products authorised in Austria
- Available not only on prescription (i.e. over-the-counter), which are obtained
- at a quantity conforming to normal personal needs (personal needs are based on actual needs but limited to a maximum of three commercial packages per medicinal product)
- from an EEA-contracting party (EU states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway)
- from a pharmacy authorised to dispatch them there.
In order for this exemption to apply, medicinal products must be available in the same packaging as in Austrian pharmacies, i.e. in particular in packaging labelled in German on which the Austrian authorisation number is shown, and with instructions for use in German (only then is there a medicinal product speciality authorised in Austria).
Medicinal products ordered contrary to this prohibition and then delivered to Austria must be returned to the sender at the expense of the ordering party or, if this is not possible, destroyed at the expense of the ordering party.
Which prohibitions and restrictions need to be observed in particular?
Certain goods are subject to import restrictions or prohibitions, such as objects that condone violence, war or racial discrimination, products dangerous to human or animal health or safety, drugs and pornography, protected animals and plants, and products derived therefrom.
For goods that require registration or import authorisation and/or are subject to import restrictions, such as weapons, separate information on import regulations and import processing should be obtained, and possibly commercial experts should be consulted.
Information can be obtained from the customs office and the competent ministries. The Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism also answers questions concerning CITES; information on weapons can also be obtained from the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
In order to inform you competently and comprehensively, we ask you to make your enquiries as specific as possible. The Central Information Office provides information by telephone and email on tariff rates, import prohibitions and restrictions.
Useful tips for trouble-free online shopping in third countries
- Find out how high the tariff rates, any special taxes and import VAT for your desired product are. Are there any import prohibitions and restrictions in place?
- Pay attention to the amount of shipping costs and service charges of the Postal Service/delivery service for the customs declaration and the advancement of duties at the customs service, as these may considerably increase the price of a supposedly cheap offer!
- The goods should be reported at the net price and ordered in the same way too, otherwise you will have to pay double tax: the foreign value-added tax and the Austrian import VAT.
- In the case of unsolicited goods, or if it is apparent upon postal delivery that the goods have been damaged or the packaging of the postal item is not in order, refuse acceptance!
- Note: When returning ordered and already imported goods from third countries, a refund of import duties is not automatically and not generally provided for, but depends on the modalities of the order, the import as well as the reasons for the return (see above question on “What to pay attention to when returning goods?”)!