What are the duties payable on?

Customs duties are levies imposed on imported goods in accordance with the Common Customs Tariff.Customs duties become payable not when dutiable goods are transported across the customs border but rather when they are released for free circulation (i.e., when they are imported in the commercial sense), which requires a declaration of release for free circulation.


Who is liable for custom duties?

In principle, customs declarations can be submitted by any person resident in the EU. The person who submits the declaration – which, where appropriate, may also be a declaration to place goods under another customs procedure such as inward processing, processing under customs control, customs transit or customs warehousing – is termed the declarant. The customs declaration must contain all the characteristics and details relevant for customs treatment. The customs office has the right, but not the obligation, to inspect the goods. If no inspection is conducted, the customs declaration is assumed to be accurate.


How much are the duties?

The duty rate applied to goods released for free circulation is the duty rate applicable under the Common Customs Tariff or other relevant regulations on the date the customs declaration is accepted. As a rule, the date of acceptance of the customs declaration also governs customs treatment in terms of the quantity, value and nature of the goods as well as the incurrence of customs debt. The customs duty to be paid is communicated to the declarant either verbally or in writing (via a customs notice).

The Basic Law grants the Federation exclusive authority to legislate on and to receive the revenue from customs duties. However, with the development of Community law, this authority has been transferred almost completely to the European Union. Germany’s national customs law is essentially comprised of the Customs Administration Act and the Customs Ordinance.


What are the associated simplified procedures?

Simplified procedures can make the release of goods for free circulation much less complicated and – depending on the type of procedure – less time-consuming. The main simplification involves declarants being able to submit customs declarations that do not contain all of the information that is otherwise required. The omitted information can then be submitted at a later date. Subject to appropriate authorization, this information can be reported in a single supplementary customs declaration for goods imported during a specific time period and the import duties paid in a single payment.


These simplified procedures include:

  1. the option of submitting to the customs office an incomplete declaration for the imported goods that does not contain all the required information and/or does not include all the required documentation
  2. the simplified declaration procedure, in which a simplified declaration (i.e., containing only essential information) for individual consignments may be submitted to the customs office
  3. the local clearance procedure, in which goods are entered into the records at the premises of the consignee and placed under a customs procedure, largely without any direct involvement on the part of the customs office


How does the European Custom Union relate to the German custom duties?

In 1951, as a party to the Geneva General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Brussels Conventions on the Valuation of Goods for Customs Purposes and on Nomenclature for the Classification of Goods in Customs Tariffs, the Federal Republic of Germany replaced the majority of specific duties (levied according to weight, volume or number) with ad valorem duties. The International Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System entered into force on 1 January 1988, replacing the Brussels Convention on Nomenclature and introducing an updated nomenclature. The Community’s Combined Nomenclature (CN) was set up on the basis of this Harmonized System (cf. Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87 of 23 July 1987 on the tariff and statistical nomenclature and on the Common Customs Tariff). The customs union within the European Communities first took the form of a tariff union, which was created when the Common Customs Tariff between the six original member states of the EEC (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) entered into force on 1 July 1968.


Since then,

  • EU member states have applied a common customs tariff with respect to third countries, and
  • custom duties have no longer been levied on the movement of goods between member states


On 1 July 1973, the customs union was extended to include Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Since then, the following countries have joined the customs union: Greece (on 1 January 1981); Portugal and Spain (on 1 January 1986); Austria, Finland and Sweden (on 1 January 1995); Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Malta, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Cyprus, Hungary, and Estonia, (on 1 May 2004); and Romania and Bulgaria (on 1 January 2007).

Since 1 July 1977, customs duties on nearly all industrial goods have been abolished in trade with the EFTA countries – i.e., Iceland, Norway and Switzerland (including Liechtenstein). Furthermore, the European Communities have concluded agreements containing extensive tariff concessions with nearly all of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and with many African, Caribbean and Pacific states. The Communities also grant generalized tariff preferences to all developing countries.

Since 1975 (or 1988 in the case of goods covered by the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community), customs revenue has accrued to the EU. In 2009, this amounted to €3.6 billion. Customs duties are administered by federal customs authorities.

In their present form, customs duties serve primarily as an instrument to regulate the economy. Customs duties of a fiscal nature – i.e., those that aim solely to generate revenue for the state – no longer exist in Germany and the other member states of the EU.