FAQ Customs law


What are the legal bases of the customs law?

The term customs is used for taxes which are linked to the import, export and transit through a customs area. As a central characteristic of the European Single Market customs duties on goods traffic in between member nations are repealed since the tariff union in 1968; hence a common customs area is in place.

Legal bases for customs law can therefore be found in the European law – especially in the Customs Code and the Customs Code Implementing Provisions – as well as in the national law, which is particularly stated in the customs administration act and the customs regulation.

Definition – What is a third country and what is a third territory?

By definition third countries are all areas, which do not belong to the customs area of the union. Parts of the union are:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Demark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Great Britain und Northern Ireland
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • The Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Sweden
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain

Termed as third territories are areas, which are located out of the European Union’s excise area, but do belong to the customs area of the Union. Hence the excise area is not synonymous to the customs area. Differences with some of the 28 member nations are due to historic, economic or geographic circumstances. The following areas of the EU are thus not part of the excise area:

  • the Åland Island for the Republic of Finland
  • the Island Helgoland and the area of Büsingen for the Federal Republic of Germany
  • the transatlantic Departements (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion, Mayotte and French-Guayana) for the Republic of France
  • Livigno, Campione d'Italia and the Italian territorial waters of the Lugan lake for the Republic of
  • the Faroe-Islands and Greenland for the Kingdom of Denmark
  • the mountain Athos for the Republic of Greece
  • Ceuta and Melilla and the Canary Islands for the Kingdom of Spain
  • the canal islands for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • the island Cyprus; for the northern (Turkish) part of the island execution of EU law is repealed.

Attention: The differences result in execution of lower tax exemption limits for excise binding goods like alcohol and cigarettes. These third country limits apply when entering for example Germany from Teneriffa (Canary Island).

Definition – Who is Union-based?

Union-based are:

  • individuals with residence or habitual place of residence in the European Union,
  • juridical persons or business partnerships (or their managements) located in the European Union,
  • subsidiaries of juridical persons, whose residence or location of management is in a third country, if the subsidiaries are managed from within the European Union and are separately accounted, and
  • business premises of juridical persons from third countries, if the premises are administrated from within the European Union.
Definition – Which goods are community goods?

Community products are:

  • entirely gained or produced within the customs area of the Union, without adding any products from countries or territories not being part of the customs area or
  • gained or produced outside of the customs area of the Union and are brought to release for free circulation
  • exclusively (1) gained or produced with goods from outside the customs area of the Union and brought to release for free circulation or (2) gained or produced with goods from inside the Union and such goods, which are gained or produced outside of the customs area of the Union and were brought to the customs traffic of goods.
Definition – Which goods are not part of community goods?

Non-community goods are such, which are not part of the community goods. Among them are also such goods, which lost their customs status (previous community goods) because of their actual departure off the customs area. Examples for non-community goods are:

  • goods from third countries, which were transferred to a customs procedure of economic relevance, that doesn’t imply inquiries of taxes and/or consideration of trade policy matters
  • goods which are a result of common processing or finish of community and non-community goods

Non-community goods are subject to monitoring by customs authorities. This means the execution of arrangements by the authorities to ensure compliance customs laws. Economic operators may not possess non-community goods exceeding the limit approved by the customs administration.

What are duty-free and travelers’ allowances?

Under specific conditions and by respecting limits of amount and value, goods can be imported free of charge. Therefore the goods have to be carried by the traveler (postal imports do not count as carried!) and goods have to be for personal use of the traveler or persons of his household. In every case goods for commercial use are barred.

Travelers’ allowances are maximum limits. Up to the limit you can bring specific items, such as cigarettes and alcohol free of charge, no matter their monetary value. In contrast duty-free allowances are linked to limits of monetary value. Up to these limits items can be imported by travelers free of charge.

An overview:

  1. tobacco products, if the traveler is at least 17 years old:
    • 200 cigarettes or
    • 100 cigarillos or
    • 50 cigars or
    • 250 gram smokers tobacco or
    • Partial collection of these goods.
  2. Alcohol and beverages containing alcohol, if the traveler is at least 17 years old:
    • 1 liter of spirits with vol. 22% or more or ethyl alcohol with vol. 80% or more or
    • 2 liters of alcohol and alcoholic beverages with a maximum of vol. 22% or
    • partial collection of these goods or
    • 4 liters of non-sparkling wines and
    • 16 liters of beer
  3. Pharmaceutical drugs
    • The amount equaling the travelers necessary supply
  4. gasoline
    • for every motor vehicle the amount contained in the gas tank and upt to 10 liters in a portable container
  5. other goods
    • up to a cumulative merchandise value of EUR 300
    • when travelling by plane or ship up to a cumulative merchandise value of EUR 430
    • for travelers under the age of 15 the limit is set to EUR 175
Where do I find the Main Customs Office responsible for me?

The Main Customs Offices are the local Federal Financial Offices. Their responsibility is related to the district from which the persons mentioned in the several regulations run their business or, if no company is run, the district where they are resident.

For companies, which area managed from a location outside of the tax area, or for persons without a place of residence the Main Customs Office of the district in which the person appeared fiscally first is responsible.

Where is the location of import?

When importing excise duty relevant goods from third countries the location of import is the place, where the excise duty relevant goods are located when being imported to the customs free circulation, referring to § 79 of the customs code. When importing excise duty relevant goods from third territories the location of import is the place, where the excise duty relevant goods are presented to the authorities in applying § 40 of the customs code.

What are tax exemption procedures?

The tax exemption procedure does apply to goods, which are subject to an excise duty (e.g. tobacco tax, coffee tax, beer tax). The procedure can initially avoid payment of excise duty, if the goods are transported to a tax warehouse, businesses of registered recipients, beneficiaries or to a place, where the goods leave the area of excise duty. Whoever wants to carry goods under the tax exemption procedure is required to hold permission as a registered sender.

What are registered recipients?

Registered recipients are persons, who are allowed to receive goods of excise duty relevance to their businesses in the tax area for commercial use under the tax exemption procedure. It has to be considered, that the registered recipient has to be resident in another member nation as the registered sender. The transport has thus to occur from either a tax warehouse in another member nation or from a location of import in another member nation.

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