Firstly, Customs have an excellent website help page. Go to the Customs web site and search on import/export and buying goods over the internet.
Customs are very helpful and will assist wherever possible. It is important that you just tell them the true story. Trying to mislead an officer is a serious offence.
• Do not be tempted to being a party to misdescription or undervaluation of goods – not unless you have a burning desire to be the special guest on the August 15 edition of Border Security. You will know when it has all gone terribly wrong when a cute young lady in a tight blue uniform begins her chat with you with the words... "You have the right to remain silent......"
• All imported goods must be cleared from Customs (and Quarantine).
• It is the importer’s responsibility to arrange and pay for Customs and Quarantine clearance and pay all applicable duties and taxes.
ALL goods imported into Australia are subject to Customs duty and GST.
Sometimes that duty is NIL and sometimes it is waived or reduced by specific concessions or depending on the circumstances. All this is written into very complex Customs legislation. Officers are bound by the law, as are importers.
• Goods which attract a combined duty and GST of under $50 may be exempted from all duty charges. This is an administrative legal concession with some discretionary power available to officers. It is in place to make life easier and less complex for importers and officers having a bad day at the office. It is officially called the "hey mate- give us a break. Isn’t this stuff too small for duty?" concession. Goods imported under the benefit of this concession are usually "screened free" and allowed to pass to the local post office for delivery to addressee. Some exclusions apply. E.g. liquor, tobacco, goods which are part of a bulk order.
• All goods imported by post, sea freight and airfreight (including couriers such as FedEx, UPS etc) with a value up to A$1000 excluding postage/freight and insurance, are duty free and GST free. Same exceptions as above apply.
Let me repeat that in case you missed it....
All goods imported by post, sea freight and airfreight (including couriers such as FedEx, UPS etc) with a value up to A$1000 excluding postage/freight and insurance, are duty free and GST free.
Yes this does include bulk lot of 10 IPods, digital cameras, a used saxophone from Romania, 20 pairs of size 10 sport socks from India, and a rusty crankshaft for a 1967 Corvette. It covers private importations and commercial importations.
All goods means all goods. (subject to exclusions listed in previous paragraph)
• Goods imported by sea freight and airfreight require either a formal declaration or a self assessed clearance (SAC). Both of these types of clearances are best left to a Customs broker as formal registration with Customs is required, including purchase of a digital certificate and appropriate software to communicate online with Customs.
• Goods valued under AU$1000 imported by post may be cleared informally. This may be a document assessed by an officer without the importer needing to be present. In such cases the officer will allow entry and let goods pass the barrier to the addressee or the local post office. The informal document may also be a parcels post card sent to you in the mail advising of how to arrange clearance.
• Other goods require "formal entry" which is best left to a licenced customs broker incl those employed at the courier company. Allow approx $100-150 for clearance costs + the applicable duty and GST.
Duties – If you are likely to import goods valued over AU$1000 excluding postage/freight and insurance, check the duty rate before you place your bid.
Many goods are duty free in their own right. Others are duty free from specific countries subject to special free trade agreements; others attract duty from 5% up to 17.5%. And do not forget the GST.
What to do if you are advised that the goods have arrived and need Customs clearance.
• If by post, you will receive a card in the mail from Customs with all instructions. You can give it to a broker or you can attend the Customs section at the international mail centre and try and clear it yourself. This may involve opening the parcel for inspection, providing evidence of value or origin and/or completing an informal clearance. If duty and/or GST is payable, it will be calculated by the officer and can be paid on the spot. It may be possible to fax docs to Customs and asking (nicely) if they could re-assess the goods and release them to you.
• Courier companies will either contact you for instructions, or just go ahead and clear it and send you the bill.
• Shipping and airline companies will advise you of arrival and suggest you contact your broker. Sea freight and airfreight often involve considerable local charges of over $300 in addition to duty, GST and broker costs.
IMPORTANT POINTS TO NOTE
• Gift status makes no difference to the Customs treatment of goods so don’t try it on.
(Goods purchased from overseas sellers on eBay are NOT gifts no matter how good the deal was!).
• Have shipper describe and value goods accurately. Consider the officer faced with two parcels – one says Wireless computer router - value USD$250 and the other Merchandise – No value. Which one will get to the addressee quicker?
• ALL parcels will be subject to some form of inspection - anywhere from an external visual to X-ray or a big ugly Labrador slobbering and pawing all over your genuine Disney DVD’s from Bangkok. Some parcels are opened by Australia Post and examined by Customs covertly (rare).
• Some items are restricted (e.g. pharmaceuticals, plant and animal products, firearms and parts, some laser pointers, plus about 50 other things) and will be detained until you provide the required permits. Check with Customs at their website for a full list of prohibited and restricted articles.
• Some items are prohibited absolutely (e.g. drugs, dangerous weapons, counterfeit goods, unlicenced genuine trademarked goods, diamonds/jewellery from some countries).
These WILL be seized.
One point to note is that each import transaction is (usually) taken in isolation.
If you receive a notice that your "decorative" battle axe has been detained, think twice before you complain to Customs that the other 12 swords, daggers and flick-knives all arrived OK..why was this held?
Customs can (and do) perform post entry audits.
I remember when I was a serving officer and received a call from a lady complaining that she had been assessed for $34 duty on some stuff she received. She said she has been doing this for 5 years and so do all her friends and they have never had to pay duty before. I explained that all imported goods may be liable for duty and if she could give me her name and address and that of all "her friends", I could arrange for a post entry compliance audit team to pay her a visit and see if we could rectify our past failure to collect duty.
.... long pause...........