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, consumption 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 consumption tax
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 consumption tax:
A person who carries on mail order business supplies goods subject to consumption tax 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 consumption tax to the fiscal territory as a mail-order company must notify the Innsbruck customs office accordingly for each delivery before dispatch, and provide security. The consumption tax liability arises when the goods subject to consumption tax 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 consumption tax are to be delivered not only occasionally by mail order, the Innsbruck customs office can, upon application, grant a general authorisation for deliveries into the fiscal territory. For further information on mail order please contact the Innsbruck customs office.
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 duties and import VAT, possibly also consumption taxes on goods, are payable by the consumer as an end consumer if the goods are purchased in third countries (i.e. all non-EU countries) and imported into Austria. There is no customs clearance within the EU area.
The tax-exempt amounts or quantities 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 consignments. As soon as a product is ordered from a mail order company, full import duties are payable.
Goods that are purchased in and imported from e.g. the USA, Asia or South Africa by internet order and have a value of more than € 22 are subject to import VAT. Customs duty must be additionally paid starting from a commodity 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 Post registers the consignment and pays the charges that it collects on delivery, including a fee for this service (no duty).
The customs declaration, the sticker on the parcel that informs about the type and 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 shipment” or “sample of no value”.
A control is likely to result in financial criminal proceedings and seizure of the goods.
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.
Shipments up to a value of € 22 are duty-free, i.e. there is no import VAT payable. Up to a value of € 150, the goods are also customs-free.
- 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 taxes 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 goods value of € 150)
- Import VAT (from a goods value of € 22)
- Special charges (consumption taxes)
- Postal presentation fee (€ 10)
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. The import VAT conforms to the usual VAT rates in Austria.
How is the duty collected?
Customs duties and import VAT are usually collected directly by the postal clerk upon delivery of the parcel. A customs notification is then sent to the consignee if any uncertainties arise during customs clearance, e.g. missing bill or incorrectly stated values. The recipient must provide any requested proof 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 clearance, the delivery time agreed with the online shop may be delayed.
What should I pay attention to when returning goods?
As a rule, it can be assumed that import duties will not be refunded when goods ordered and already imported are returned to third countries.
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 offices 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?
- Note the amount of shipping costs, as these can make a supposedly cheap offer considerably more expensive!
- 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 provided for!