Souvenirs in luggage: no stress at customs

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Written By Kampretz Bianca

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A beach holiday in Greece, shopping in Dubai or an adventure trip through Botswana: those who return from a trip not only bring with them many memories, but often also one or two souvenirs. Travelers traveling within the EU generally don’t have to worry about customs and import duties – they can bring with them many of the things they have in their luggage and use them for private purposes without having to pay for them.

The rules are stricter when returning from a non-EU country. Quantity and value limits must be observed here. Anyone who tears them up should expect taxes. Stiftung Warentest summarizes important customs regulations, presents subsidies and shows how much extra some returnees have to pay.

Tip: O Customs calculator from Stiftung Warentest estimates what taxes are due on orders for goods from abroad, for example when shopping online.

the essentials in summary

EU member states. You do not need to declare customs duties on souvenirs from EU member states if they are intended for personal use. However, there are guidelines for luxury foods. Exception: For entries from special customs zones such as the Canary Islands, Helgoland and Gibraltar, the same regulations apply as for countries outside the EU.

Non-EU countries. Value limits apply to goods purchased in non-EU countries and brought in luggage, and quantity limits apply to luxury foods. Any value above this value must be declared to customs and you will have to pay additional fees. You can find out approximately how much you will pay using the tax calculator on the website. Customs website.

Prohibitions. It is not permitted to import certain animals, plants and products. For example, the souvenir guide provides an overview of what is generally prohibited World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Internet orders. Different rules apply for orders coming from abroad. Online shoppers are often surprised when ordering from the US, e.g. Customs fees and taxes attack. Our customs calculator calculate in advance whether a bargain from abroad will be more expensive than expected due to import taxes.

Value limits for souvenirs

Whether it’s a snow globe or a designer handbag from Paris: private travelers generally do not have to declare such gifts from an EU Member State – if they are items for consumption or personal use.

However, the exemption limits apply to everyone who vacationed outside the European Union. The price generally depends on the chosen means of transport:

  • Air and sea travelers People over 17 can bring souvenirs worth up to 430 euros. If the souvenirs are worth more, you need to declare them directly at customs at the airport.
  • After entry by train or car Goods may have a maximum value of 300 euros per person.
  • Children under 15 It is allowed to bring souvenirs worth a maximum of 175 euros – regardless of the means of transport.

Anyone crossing borders must pay import duties. For goods worth up to 700 euros, customs officials charge a flat fee of 17.5 percent. If the purchases were more expensive, they calculate the duties – customs, import sales tax and excise taxes – individually. Quantity and value limits apply to personal baggage only. This also includes bags that are forwarded or forwarded by the same mode of transport.

Example: A vacationer bought a new notebook during her trip to the USA for the equivalent of 1,130 euros. To do this, she has to pay 19% import sales tax, which is equivalent to just under 215 euros.

Tip: Did you buy counterfeit branded products instead of originals on your trip? You are allowed to bring them to Germany – but only for private purposes.

Luxury food in your luggage

Whether it’s your favorite wine from the beach bar or coffee from the small roastery next to the hotel: when tourists return from Mallorca or Italy, they can take these and other luxury foods with them without having to pay import taxes.

Application: Purchases remain in your personal luggage and are brought to Germany for your own use. There are guidelines for this personal use – for example, 800 cigarettes, 10 liters of spirits and 10 kilos of coffee. If travelers want to bring more with them, they must be able to credibly demonstrate that the larger amount is intended for personal use.

However, when returning from a non-EU country, fixed quantity limits apply to luxury foods. For example, it is possible to import up to 200 cigarettes and 1 liter of alcoholic beverages with more than 22% alcohol by volume for personal use without having to pay import duties. If you have more in your luggage, you will need to declare the luxury goods at customs and plan for taxes. In fact, there is no indicative quantity in Germany for wines from other EU countries. From a tax point of view, individuals can bring an unlimited amount for their own use.

Red exit for souvenirs requiring reporting

Air travelers with reportable goods in their bags go through the red exit after collecting their luggage. The invoice serves as proof of the purchase price, otherwise the value is estimated. Import duties due must generally be paid directly on site.

However, if you choose the green option for goods that do not require declaration on the suitcase, you may have problems. Customs officers are authorized to check all people, regardless of their place of departure. If travelers do not declare goods worth up to 700 euros, they are committing an administrative offence. Then customs officials double the flat tax. Anyone who does not declare more expensive souvenirs is committing tax evasion, a crime. Customs confiscates the goods and begins the process.

Money and medicine requirements

Tourists must also follow special rules if they have large amounts of money in their luggage. When entering from an EU country, travelers must verbally declare money worth €10,000 or more to customs. If they are asked about money during an inspection, they must also provide smaller amounts.

However, anyone returning from a country outside the EU must declare money worth €10,000 or more to customs in writing.

There is no obligation to register medicines in luggage – regardless of whether you are entering from an EU country or a non-EU country – as long as they are for your own use. Normal personal needs are generally considered to be a maximum of three months. If you expect to exceed this value for special reasons, you must contact customs in advance to clarify the conditions.

Attention species protection

Some things that are offered as special souvenirs when traveling can become a real problem when entering the country because importing them is prohibited. This applies, for example, to jewelry made from tusks or medicines made from rhino horn. If customs finds such special memorabilia, they will be confiscated.

An analysis of the statistics shows: In 2023 alone, customs confiscated around 54,000 animals, plants or products made from them.

Travel souvenirs: the most important rules

This applies to souvenirs

Medicines, alcoholic drinks, bags – depending on the holiday destination and the souvenir, tourists must follow some rules. For many other products, you can use as much as you need for your own needs. Be careful with plants and animals: strict guidelines apply here!

The most important provisions here in summary:

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