Post Parcels and Customs
Antiques & Import Tariff

and why you do not have to pay any...

This page may be a bit long, but read it if you purchase antiques from abroad, especially if you think you have to pay import duty.

Declaring the value of a post parcel's content is the sender's duty when it comes to internationally sending parcels.
If it is a company that send it, they will usually add a PI (Proforma Invoice). This PI is not required by your post office but instead it is necessary to fill a customs declaration form with a value delcaration at the post office, or a stick-on label with the same purpose, if the package is small. It is looked at by customs officials in the man post office near the recipient's address, when its arrives.
Like with other imported wares, customs personnel in the post office looks at the content of parcels and charges import duty as per regulation of the individual country. Customs duty (import tax) is payable by the recipient of the parcel (not the sender). 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 many Ebay sellers do not do is a proper customs 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 you, the buyer, needs to pay customs duty. You may be charged duty as if it was a new item. However, fact is that "Antiques over 100 years old are usually 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 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. Such experience gives you a perspective on these things that Ebay sellers and buyer often do not seem to have. They are often not 'professionals' but amateur sellers that suddenly are capable to sell internationally without prior knowledge or experience, due to the Internet. Often they lack a 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 responsibility 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 parcels this means that the customs section inside the GPO (General Post Office) which is entrusted with inspecting incoming parcels have the right to inspect a parcels' content, either on paper or by opening them. They do not inspect every parcel, and they do not charge duty for every parcel if the value of the content that is below a certain limit in view to value. But again, this is not applicable with antiques. In any case, they can charge only as much as described in a book regulating tariffs for all existing types of merchandise. And this is used in other countries too.
The customs personnel in the post office will belong to customs, not the post office.

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 each registered item or list of registered items when they handled it, as did the next handling person in the forwarding process (other post personnel) would again sign upon receipt, until at the end the mailman finally delivered the parcel at the door of the recipient, who confirms 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. There is not much space 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 usually less, because parcels often contain items of a 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 through customs the same way as any international cargo does. Basically, the post is just acting like any other forwarder or shipping company in the eyes of customs. In the big cities the GPO (General Post Office) has a customs department, where delegated customs officers attached to some sea or airport customs unit do the same work - checking parcel contents. 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 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 illegal respectively "prohibited to import". An 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 anyway.

It took us several visits to the customs section of the local GPO to clarify why some of our parcels got charged with customs duty and others not. It still is the same:  Antiques should not be subject to customs duty.
The seller did not mention that the item was "antique" or "over 100 years old" on the declaration form.

Thus, if import duty is to be paid by the buyer, this is likely due to a lack or improper customs declaration by the  seller! Terms stating the age. e.g. "over 100 years old", or "antique", should be alays mentioned on the declaration when shipping antiques. The customs officers cannot know whether an item is new or antique. Many sellers do not mention this on the form. Give them a hint...

The buyer may be paying import duty for an antique item by mistake, just because it was not declared as "antique".
The post office declaration form that is 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 add the 'Proforma Invoice' (PI) stating content and value inside the package.
Some Ebay sellers always place a copy of the Ebay product page inside in place of a PI - a good practice. Customs will rely on that. 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 and categories 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 the category it usually shows that there is NO import duty* required for import of antiques of 100 years or older.

Again, the problem is that when filling in the customs declaration of the post office many amateur 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 the cause that the receiving 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 Chinese 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 that the item is, for example, from the 19th or 18th century, or Qianlong period, etc. That helps them decide that in accordance with Tariff No. 9706 the item is not to be taxed, If they find no documentation they may just charge duty as the would for a new item.
Some buyers may request a 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

Return from Post Parcels and Customs to Packing China properly

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