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2.7 Regulations on Postal and Sample Shipments

2.7.1 Postal Shipments

The post has traditionally been one of the most widely used methods of sending not only information but also other goods from one person to another. Customs are necessarily involved in international postal traffic since, just as in the case of goods imported and exported by other means, they have to ensure that the appropriate duties and taxes are collected, enforce import and export prohibitions and restrictions, and in general ensure compliance with the laws and regulations which they are responsible for enforcing.

Because of the special nature of postal traffic, however, the customs formalities in the EU with respect to items delivered by post are somehow different from those applied to goods transported by other means. While individual postal items are restricted in size, their numbers are enormous and, to avoid creating unacceptable delays, special administrative arrangements are necessary to deal with them. For instance, the customs authorities are not obliged to examine all postal items but should confine themselves to carrying out examinations on a selective or random basis. In any event, all non-EU shipments on arrival at the depot are to be subject to either an external examination or, where necessary, an internal examination of the goods and documents by customs.

Postal consignments are considered to have been declared to customs for release for free circulation at the time when they are introduced into the customs territory of the EU. Consignments sent by letter or parcel post must be accompanied by a CN22 and/or CN23 declaration. The CN22 declaration , which should be used for letter post items, including small packets (packages weighting up to 2 kg) with a value lower than €300, has to be affixed to the package indicating the quantity, description of contents, weight and value. The CN23 declaration, for shipments with a value higher than €300, has to be placed outside the package, preferably in an adhesive transparent envelope. It has to include a detailed description of contents, quantity, weight of each article and its value. In addition, if the parcel is sent for commercial purposes, the country of origin of goods and the HS tariff number must be added. Finally, the CN23 declaration needs to be presented together with all the accompanying documents (i.e. any necessary certificates of origin, commercial invoices and so forth).

Senders are responsible for ensuring correct completion of customs declarations. The consignee is considered to be the declarant and the debtor. Therefore, customs duties and VAT are payable by the recipient. Goods not liable to customs duties are considered to have been presented to customs, the customs declaration to have been accepted and release granted when the goods are delivered to the consignee.

As for the sale over the Internet of physically deliverable goods by Hong Kong businesses, there is, in principle, no obligation on the Hong Kong business to register for VAT. This is because the payment of VAT is incumbent on the consumer. However, certain Member States have special arrangements that permit overseas traders to charge, collect and pay over to their customs authorities the import VAT for goods purchased on the Internet, that would otherwise be paid at the time the goods are imported. Such arrangements take form of Memoranda of Understanding signed with overseas customs and postal authorities (for example, the United Kingdom signed such MoU with Hong Kong).

If there is no special arrangements and the VAT needs to be paid by the consumer, the procedure is fairly complex for the collection of both the VAT and, where applicable, customs duties. The postal system, acting as an agent for the customs authorities, would be required to collect the VAT and customs duties from the consumer. The package would have to be accompanied by an appropriate declaration filled in by the sender and the procedure would involve the postal authorities making an oral declaration to customs. Post offices cannot act as an agent for goods that are over a certain threshold amount or where such consignments are part of a regular series of like operations. This is designed to cover a situation whereby goods are individually purchased at a price below the threshold (e.g., small electrical appliances), but are bought in such quantities that their cumulative price is above the threshold. Dispatches which are made over the threshold would entail that the company must first lodge a full customs declaration with customs upon arrival of the goods in the Member State, although in certain Member States the postal authorities can still be authorised to act as agent.

The national authorities/postal authorities will base the amount of duty to be calculated on the information contained in the customs declaration/declaration accompanying postal consignment. The authorities have the right to amend the declaration where it is deemed appropriate. Also, if the declaration is not done correctly, the customs authorities have the right to examine the package: to open it, repack and reseal. Once the duty amount has been determined and communicated to the consumer, it must then be paid by the consumer (unless special arrangements apply).

Where postal items are not delivered to or are refused by the addressee, repayment or remission of import duties and taxes shall be granted upon request in respect of goods contained therein provided that the goods are: (a) re-exported, or (b) destroyed or abandoned without expense to the customs authorities.

It is to be noted that any information left off customs declarations forms can lead to delays within customs, and may result in the item being returned to the sender. Also, false declarations are contrary to the EU law.

Finally, it needs to be borne in mind that the European Union only provides a general framework for VAT legislation. It is the responsibility of each Member State to provide binding information and interpretation of EU VAT rules.

2.7.2 Sample Shipments

Hong Kong traders are allowed to send samples of their products to potential buyers in the EU without the imposition of import duties or VAT under certain circumstances. In particular, samples qualify for duty free entry into the EU if:

  • they are small representative samples of goods manufactured outside the customs territory of the EU intended for a trade fair or similar event;
  • they are of negligible value and are imported in reasonable quantities as advertising samples;
  • they are imported free of charge from third countries or obtained at the exhibition from goods imported in bulk from those countries;
  • they are exclusively distributed free of charge to the public at the exhibition for use or consumption by the persons to whom they have been offered;
  • there is not more than one sample of each style or quality in a consignment and;
  • they will be consumed or destroyed during demonstration and are packaged and properly marked in a manner which precludes their being used as other than samples.

Marked samples are acceptable so long as the article is properly marked on a prominent location on the outer side of the article in indelible ink. The article should be marked with the word “SAMPLE” in contrasting ink and in such a manner that it can be easily seen upon inspection. The shipper’s documents, preferably the commercial invoice, should state that the articles are marked samples (i.e. not for resale or other use).

Samples of a higher commercial value may enter the EU free of duties and taxes if a bond or deposit of the total amount of duties and taxes is arranged. These samples must be re-exported within one year in order to recoup the deposit.

Apparel manufacturers importing samples of apparel for the manufacturing of similar goods into the EU may bring one sample of each style duty free. A shipment may contain several different samples, as long as there is only one sample of each kind. In order to enforce this condition, customs requires that the style number of each sample appears on the commercial documents. The commercial invoice must contain in the product description the intent of the shipper that the goods are intended as samples. Failing to provide this information clearly will result in normal consumption entry with duty and taxes assessed.

Samples may also be exempted from import duties if they have been mutilated. Mutilated goods must be rendered permanently unusable by being torn, perforated, or clearly and indelibly marked, or by any other process, provided such operation does not destroy their character as samples. Cutting a sleeve off a shirt, a hole in the front of the garment, or hole in the sole of a single shoe so as to make it permanently unusable is recommended.

Where the sample goods are imported through the post, the customs declaration (i.e. CN22 or CN23) must contain a claim for relief of import charges, indicating that the package contains samples.

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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