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When you ship something to another country, you or your customer may be asked to pay additional duties and taxes before the shipment is delivered.
Governments tax shipments from other countries because they want to:
1. Protect domestic companies from foreign competitors
2. Control the flow of certain products
3. Raise revenue through taxes
Duties and taxes on shipments are legal requirements that must be settled before your shipment can be delivered.
That’s why we created this guide - to help you get a clear understanding of duties and taxes. We’ll share definitions, explain processes, and share best practices for managing this aspect of your shipping, so you can prepare your business to comply with trade regulations.
First, let’s go over the common tax terms you will come across in shipping, and what they mean.
These terms describe whether the sender or the receiver will be paying for duties and taxes.
Incoterms are beneficial because they are:
For B2C companies and traditional eCommerce sellers that are shipping small parcels, the following Incoterms will be applicable to you:
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To calculate the tax and duty amount for your shipment, you need to multiply the taxable value of your shipment by your destination country’s tax and duty percentage.
Remember, duty percentages vary for each category of goods – find out what the percentage is for your shipment on our Countries page.
The taxable value is usually based on the value of the goods, but depending on the valuation method of a country, it can also include other amounts.
There are two main valuation methods that countries use to determine taxable value: FOB and CIF.
Example: Calculating FOB vs CIF
With over 220 countries in the world, how is it possible to ship worldwide if each country has different valuation methods? Doing manual calculations clearly isn’t a scalable solution.
But thanks to technology, there are now algorithms that can calculate this for you so you can efficiently process each shipment without ever having to get involved.
The Easyship platform automatically calculates duties and taxes for all international orders based on the category of your item and the country you’re shipping to. Learn more here.
Need to estimate your shipping duties & taxes? Our calculator can give you an idea of what to expect.Try It Now
To ensure a smooth shipping experience, it’s best to ask yourself the following before you start shipping internationally.
What is the duties and taxes amount for your shipment? Every country has a tax threshold, which is the amount where a person begins paying taxes on an item. Duties and taxes may not apply to every international shipment, so it’s best to research the tax thresholds for each country you want to ship.
You can also use our duties and taxes calculator to get a quick estimate.
Does your business need a customs broker? A customs broker is well-versed in customs duties, rules, and regulations, and will ensure that your shipments will clear customs at both the country of origin and the destination country.
Businesses that send shipments to consumers (end-users) don’t need a customs broker – the same applies if you ship with Easyship! However, B2B businesses that require large shipments to be sent overseas is recommended to work with one.Learn more about customs brokers.
What are your other options for handling duties and taxes? If you don’t have a customs broker, Easyship can help. When you create a shipment, our platform automatically calculates duties and taxes for international shipments. Our Rates at Checkout plugin displays the duties and taxes amount at your store checkout so customers know exactly how much their shipment costs.
What is the best way to communicate duties and taxes payment to customers? Business owners who sell worldwide can experience a high “cost to serve” from international customers if they are not transparent about duties and taxes.
By not being clear on how much will be paid and who will pay for it, you run the risk of:
It’s best to be upfront with customers about how duties and taxes will be handled, especially if customers will be responsible for paying these fees.
Mention that they will be paying duties and taxes on their shipments in the following places:
What happens when your shipment arrives in customs, and how does duties and taxes affect the customs clearance process?
To gain a better understanding, here’s what the customs clearance process looks like:
The customs officer will look at the value and category of your item on your commercial invoice. They can also check your website or crowdfunding campaign to make sure the item value matches what is on the commercial invoice – so please be honest on your paperwork! This will determine whether duties and taxes apply to your shipment.
If the value is above the de minimis threshold (the amount at which duties and taxes will be charged) then duties and taxes apply.
Next, they will see who will take care of the payment (the sender or the recipient).
On the Easyship platform you can get a full breakdown of costs, including duties and taxes amounts.
Heres what shipping a shirt, valued at $100USD from the US to Australia looks like:
Tax threshold: $0 AUD
Duty threshold: $1000 AUD
Since the value of the item is $100USD, only the tax threshold will apply.
Tax (VAT/GST): 10%
In this case, Australia calculates tax based on the FOB method, which is a percentage of the product price.
$100USD item value x 10% tax = $10 import tax charge
Heres what shipping a shirt, valued at $100USD from the US to the UK looks like:
Tax threshold: 15 GBP
Duty threshold: 135 GPB
Since the value of the item is $100USD, only the tax threshold will apply.
Tax (VAT/GST): 20%
($100USD item value + $31.15 shipping cost) x 20% tax = 26.23 import tax charge
This also means the tax amount may vary, as it’s dependent on which courier you use.
Q: My competitors don’t charge their customers taxes. How can I avoid taxes so I can remain competitive?
A: Not paying taxes is tax evasion, which we don’t encourage. It’s not worth risking your business getting fined. It’s best to know the duties and taxes amount that are applicable to your shipment and being upfront with customers on pricing.
Q. Can I declare my item as a gift to avoid taxes?
A: No. Shipments are cleared through customs based on where it’s coming from, the item category, and value – not its purpose.
Q: What happens if I under declare the value of my item?
A: Customs officers can easily check your business website and other sources to verify if the value listed matches the actual value of the item. Listing a lower value in order to avoid taxes is tax evasion and against the law.
Q: When does the receiver pay for duties and taxes?
A: The courier used to ship the parcel (or an independent broker that the courier appoints) will contact the receiver directly to collect duties and taxes amounts. Usually, these amounts need to be paid before delivery. The parcel will be held at customs until payment is received.
Q: Is it better to pre-pay duties or have the customer pay post-sale?
A: In our experience, we recommend pre-paying duties. It's very common for customers to be unaware that duties even need to be paid. If you ship DDU and the customer gets contacted by customs, it’s normally an unwanted surprise and at worse, they can choose to not pay and return the item.
Pre-paying duties, and the small additional processing fees for this by the courier, ensures that your shipment will clear customs and get delivered without customs having to bother your customer.
Q; What is the courier handling fee? If you ship DDU, does it apply?
A: The courier handling fee is the fee a courier charges when they process a duties payment to customs on your behalf. These fees are fixed and can be 3-4 times cheaper than DDU brokerage fees.
When you ship DDU, this handling fee doesn’t apply. However, if duties are not pre-paid, your parcel will be sent to an independent broker that can charge whatever fee structure they want. It’s impossible to estimate for the customer what the duty, tax, and fees will be, which makes it riskier.
Q: Why are the tax thresholds different?
A: Tax and duty thresholds, in addition their valuation methods, vary per country. This is why it’s best to find a platform that is updated and can calculate duties and taxes on your behalf.
Q: Is Easyship’s duties and taxes page up to date?
A: Yes - we stay updated on any changes that occur with each country, and maintain the pages accordingly!
Q: I have my own HS code. How do I know your categories are set with the correct HS code?
A: The categories on our platform incorporate a broad range of HS codes, ensuring that your item will be covered correctly.
Our platform automatically calculates duties & taxes for all international shipments.
Countries with high tax thresholds make it easier to ship to as taxes will not be applied to low value items. On the other hand, countries with low tax thresholds are more difficult to ship to, as tax will apply to anything that is shipped to these destinations.
High Tax Thresholds
(Easy to ship)
Low Tax Thresholds
(Difficult to ship)
Everything you need to know to handle duties and taxes like a boss!
CIF: "Cost Insurance and Freight". An Incoterm that’s only applicable to sea freight. The seller is responsible for paying the costs and freight necessary to bring the goods to the destination port, in addition to buying insurance against the risk of loss or damage of the goods.
Custom Broker: A customs broker’s job is to fully understand customs duties, rules, and regulations, and will know the processes and paperwork needed to ensure your shipments clear customs at both the country of origin and the destination country.
Commercial Invoice: A required document in international shipping that describes the items in the shipment and their value. Commercial couriers and customs brokers refer to this document to process and clear your package through customs.
FOB: "Free On Board". Applicable to sea freight, the seller is responsible for getting product on the ship and clearing the product for export. The buyer is then responsible for insuring the shipment and handling the importation process, including paying for any import duties.
Author’s Note: This blog post is not meant to be a static piece, but rather a piece that will be updated regularly as fulfillment changes from time to time! For any comments or suggestions, please email us at [email protected].