Post Parcels and Customs
Antiques & Import Tariff

Declaring the value of a post parcel's content is the sender's duty when it comes to internationally sent parcels. This value declaration is not required by the post office, it is a customs declaration which is looked at by customs in the destination country. Like other imported wares, customs looks at the content of post parcels and charges import duty per regulation of the individual country. Customs duty (import tax) is payable by the recipient of the parcel. This is the same as with shipping cargo or goods via air or sea, only that in this case the shipping service is the post.

What Ebay sellers should do, but many do not is do a proper declaration. By not mentioning an item's age or that it is "antique" in the custom's declaration they may be the direct cause that the buyer needs to pay customs duty, because they are charged duty for a new item. Antiques over 100 years old are mostly duty-free!!!

Declaring the value of a post parcel does not open items up to theft. Valuable content is sufficiently protected by registered mail (you get a tracking no. nowadays for that).
Having worked in a General Post Office in Switzerland for a time, many years ago, and having been involved in international trading professionally for years in the Far East, I know what customs and post office do or how they handle parcels. It gives you a perspective on these things that Ebay sellers and buyer often do not have, because they are not 'professional' traders as international traders used to be before the Internet. Often they are amateurs turning sellers, without having the basic understanding for international trading procedures, customs, shipping duties, etc.

In international trading jargon customs looks at post parcels as CIF cargo. CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight) means a shipping mode where items are delivered in the land of the buyer, as opposed to FOB (Free on Board), where the seller's duty ends with delivery to the shipping company (cargo terminal) at a sea or airport designated by the buyer in the sender's country.
Customs of the destination country has the right to inspect the cargo, goods (or post parcel) upon arrival. With post parcel this means that the customs section in the GPO (General Post Office) is entrusted with inspecting the parcel. They do not inspect every parcel, and they do not charge duty for every parcel content that is over the limit in view to value.

What the post does:
If an item is registered every step of the shipping process is followed and recorded, until it is in the recipient's hands. Today, this probably most often happens with the help of bar code readers, etc.; in the old days individual personnel signed for individual registered items or lists of registered items, and the next handling person in the forwarding process (other post personnel) would again sign upon receipt, until the mailman finally delivered the parcel at the door of the recipient, who confirmed receipt by signature. Today this registering (signed for) process may be done with scanners/bar code readers, etc.
Either way any loss of a registered item can be pinpointed exactly to the very person in charge at the time it was lost. Not much space left for theft or loss, normally.

In view to customs duty, post parcels are basically regarded the same as  any international shipment/cargo, only that duty is less likely to be charged, because content is often items of lower value.

However, if you think post parcels are less likely to be subject to import duty, just because they are mailed by post, think again. Many companies send samples or small sized expensive wares to clients, contractors, etc. by post, at least in larger cities. Value of the parcel content can be considerable sometimes.

What customs does:
All international post parcels must pass customs the same way as any international cargo does. Basically, the post is just another forwarder/shipping company in the eyes of customs. In the big cities the GPO (general post office) has a customs department, where customs officers attached to some sea or airport customs office do the same work - checking parcels. This unit does normally not belong to the post. Because post parcels contain mostly low value items, frequently no import duty is levied.  
With post parcels, the post office, or any post personnel may not open a parcel (any parcel), only customs has this right. Customs officers in the General Post Office are part of regular customs. They have to follow the respective rules and laws of the individual country.  Some may have X-ray equipment, but this can only be used for identifying content; customs is mainly interested in "value", and the identifying of goods that are "prohibited to import". The X-ray machine can only help with the latter, and to check whether declared and actual content match.
Ticking the "gift" box in the custom declaration form of the post office may not really help when the recipient gets parcels all the time. All international parcels coming by post will go through customs (customs section in the GPO, usually) anyway.

It took many visits to the customs section of the local GPO to clarify why some of our parcels got charged with customs duty and others not. The result still is:  Antiques should not be subject to customs duty.

If import duty is to be paid by the buyer, it is likely due to lack of proper declaration on the seller's side! The age. e.g. "over 100 years old", or "antique" should be mentioned on the declaration.

Customs officials will look at the value written on the post parcel declaration, and if it is above 100 dollars (in our case), they may pick it for opening and checking content. Or they may not! They do not check each and every parcel, even if it is above 100 dollars, and they do not charge customs duty on every parcel, even if they are above. (The 100 dollars limit might be different according to country. Ask your customs regarding antiques over 100 years, quoting tariff code 9706.
The buyer may be paying import duty as if it were a new item, because it was not declared as an "antique".
The post office declaration form filled in when sending parcels by post is really insufficient for customs, and is only suitable for private persons. Businesses or experienced professional traders usually put in a 'Proforma Invoice' stating content and value inside the box.
We get parcels from professional Ebay sellers that always place a copy of the Ebay product page inside. Customs will rely on that, if there is one. If there is none, they will apply import duty according to a tariff book that is called 'CCC code' here. It may be called differently in other countries, but the code numbers are the same in all. You may be able to view this online or at your local Chamber of Commerce.  
At the very end of this thick code book there is the Tariff No: 
    " 9706  "Antiques of an age exceeding one hundred years"

In the column behind it usually shows that there is NO import duty* required for import of antiques of 100 years or older.

Unfortunately, many Ebay sellers and buyers do not know about these international tariff regulations, and about the actual handling of international parcels.
The problem is that when filling in the customs declaration of the post office many sellers (especially Ebay sellers) do not know about the above rules and they do not add "antique", or "over 100 years old"...  thus they may be causing that the other party is asked to pay customs duty, while they are in fact not obliged to.
Customs officers are not all-knowing. They see a new looking porcelain plate with a price for over 100 dollar, thinking it is new (many 18th century plates look like new to non-collectors, many export porcelain plates were actually never used).
So customs officials have to rely on their code book and set the import duty for the item. Here, we can get it removed if we go to customs in person and bring them the Ebay item page. Customs in other places may not be that forgiving.
As mentioned above, the seller does both the buyer and customs a favour by putting the page inside the parcel. If customs wants to charge import duty, they always must open the box and check for an invoice inside. They will find the Ebay page or invoice stating the item is 19th or 18th century, or Qianlong period, etc. That helps them decide that the item is not to be taxed, in accordance with Tariff No. 9706. If they find none they may just charge duty for a new item.
Some buyers may request to lower the invoice amount or other things in hope of avoiding duty, what most don't know is that they would not have to pay duty ANYWAY for antiques - in many countries.

Please be aware that most of the above may only apply to import duty, if other duties are levied these may differ.

* Valid as of 2010

>> See this site for tariff rates of individual countries.

International Trading - Information for Sellers and Buyers

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