Handled with care – and scrutiny

Packages shipped from outside the EU often come wrapped in red tape

A  hand-knit baby blanket and some old magazines cost Frances Jørgensen nearly 500 kroner this year after a muddle with postal authorities.

The American’s mother gave the package a high value on customs declaration forms due to its sentimental value, and as a result it was assessed a fee of about 500kr, which Jørgensen had to hand over in order to receive the package. Another package from Jørgensen’s family and friends was inspected and assessed a fee as well. Now, she’s fed up with the process.

“I’ve basically told everyone to stop sending anything to me of any value,” she said.

Navigating the postal and customs rules for goods imported from non-EU countries is difficult, and one misstep can cost hundreds of kroner in duties and taxes.
Jesper Bremholm, who heads up the international mail centre at Post Denmark, said that a detailed customs declaration on packages coming into Denmark helps assure that goods arrive without trouble. A customs declaration should include the price and description of items in the package. It helps if new items also have an attached receipt and used items should have signs of basic wear and tear.

“It’s very important that the declaration is correct,” Bremholm said. “We often experience that the declaration has a value of 250kr, but the goods inside of the package are worth 1,000kr.”

The system for actual taxation on goods sent into Denmark is complex. Here are some basic rules:
• Gifts sent from individuals are tax-free if they have a value of less than 340kr. A gift can only be received from a private person, not from a company.
• If the gift is worth more than 340kr, 25 percent VAT is charged.
• Gifts over 1,150kr are also charged a duty. Gifts between 1,150-2,225kr are charged a flat 2.5 percent, and those valued above that have a duty assessed based on the type of item. Shoes and clothes, for example, have a 12 percent duty. Headlights for your car have a 4.7 percent duty. Books and magazines are not charged a duty.
• Items bought from companies or online retailers outside the EU are free if they are worth less than 80kr. Above that, 25 percent VAT is charged. Items worth more than 1,150kr that are not gifts are also charged a duty.
• Adding to VAT and duties is a 160kr assessment fee charged by Post Danmark.

It’s a complex system to say the least, and after adding it all up, many foreigners have found that it doesn’t pay to buy outside of Denmark.

When American Angel Greer Hjarding had two American-style keyboards shipped from the US she ended up having to pay more in taxes, duties, and fees than the cost of one of the keyboards. The entire process took over a month.

“When people talk about how glamorous and glorious it must be to live the life of an expat they are missing out on stuff like this,” she said. “We have to go around the world and back again just to get two simple keyboards.”

Lorry Fach-Pedersen had similar trouble when she ordered towels from a US company when she moved to Denmark from the US in 2007. The towels were worth 500kr, and by the time they arrived at her new home in Herlev, they were assessed a tax fee of approximately 400kr. What Fach-Pedersen didn’t know at the time was another loophole in the tax law: if you’re shipping your own items to yourself they are tax-free. Had she shipped her own towels, she wouldn’t have paid a duty.
“It’s very important that we can see that these are your own goods and they are used,” said Bremholm.  

While many posters on the Americans in Denmark forum on Facebook noted that they have increasingly had their packages inspected, destroyed, and taxed over the past three months, Bremholm claimed that the rules for taxation of goods and Post Denmark’s procedures had not changed. To avoid unnecessary hassle, he suggested a clearly marked customs declaration form, a receipt attached to the outside of the package, and a package that does not contain any of the following:
• Food: Food can’t be imported to private people in Denmark. Packages with food in them will be destroyed.
• Weapons: Weapons, as well as weapons supplies and parts, cannot be imported. This includes pocket knives.
• Medicine: While medicine can be imported to Denmark, it is a very complex process and packages must be first inspected and approved by health authorities before being sent to a private customer.

For others, the best way to avoid taxes, fees, and headaches has been to stop getting packages altogether. For Jørgensen, paying 500kr for old magazines and a baby blanket was the last straw.

“I’ll just be better about bringing things back with me when I visit in the future to avoid the extra cost.”

A full list of duty rates can be found here (link in Danish).

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