Customs duty: What you should consider mobile phones from China?

Numerous rumours are circulating on the internet about problems with customs duty or taxes when ordering smartphones and electronics from China. Most of them are nonsense. In the following article we explain everything you need to know about customs:

  • Which products do not clear customs?
  • What are the customs and import duty?
  • How are the customs costs calculated?
  • What are the legal ways to avoid customs costs?

After reading our article, you will know everything you need to know to order from China without problems. Let's get started.

Import of plagiarism

Apart from the fact that the replicated “clones” are 99.9% electronic waste anyway, it can happen to you that there are problems at customs and the goods are sent back. In all other cases, even if a China cell phone looks similar or is based on a well-known brand model, you can easily order the phone from China. In our mobile phone leaderboard, you will only find smartphones that can be imported into other countries without any problems.

How are the customs duty calculated?

In the following,we explain how the customs duty are calculated in general. In the further course of the article,we will go into the shipping methods that save you the costs mentioned here.

We take Germany as an example.

In general, it can be said that customs in Germany levy an import sales tax of 19% for all goods between 22 and 150 euros. However, the costs are only calculated from an amount of 5 €, so that in practice, parcels only lead to import costs from a total value of 26 €. If the value of the goods together with the shipping costs exceeds € 26, import sales tax must be paid. The cost is 19%. With a total value of the order of € 30, you have to pay € 5.70 at the customs office. You have to pay this 19% tax if you buy a cell phone in China and it is checked by customs.

In principle, there are three options for conventional shipping (standard shipping, airmail and express shipping) from China to Germany:

Case 1 :

I order a China smartphone from China for € 150 and it ends up at customs. So I pay 28.50 (19%) and have to pick it up at the customs office.

Import duty varies in countries. You may contact your country customs website to get exact rates and thresholds. For instance, Canada duty/tax calculator page is here.

Case 2 :

I order a mobile phone from China for € 150 and it is delivered to my home as normal.

Case 3 :

Importing a China cell phone with a value of more than 150 euros. The same applies here: cell phones and smartphones are duty-free after customs even over 150 euros. A tablet PC is also duty-free. So here I only have to pay off the value of my goods, i.e. I haven't paid the import sales duty.

How likely is it that I will have to go to customs?

Due to the large number of items being shipped from China to Germany, the likelihood that my China cell phone will be opened by customs is not particularly high. However, everyone has to decide for themselves how to proceed in this regard.

Duty-free shipping methods

China duty-free shipping

Some online shops offer so-called duty-free shipping methods. Strictly speaking, there are no 'duty-free' shipping methods, because the package must somehow reach the destination country. After all, the days of 'contraband' are long gone ...

In the real sense, this means that the online shop imports the consignment into the EU pays the import costs including the duty, and sends it on directly to the customer from an EU warehouse. There are no additional costs for the buyer because shipping within the EU is generally free of any customs costs. Then, the price I pay to the online shop is certain.

For example, a shipment from the online shop can be sent from China to Poland and then from Poland to Germany to the customer. Large online shops such as Gearbest or Banggood specialize in such shipping methods. Delivery from China to Germany sometimes takes less than 10 days and even shipping is free. A shipment history of a duty-free shipping method (EU Priority Line at Gearbest) looks like this below. 

shipping track recordThe parcel was sent from China to an EU country on July 10th and sent on from there to Germany. It was delivered on July 14th.

In principle, the so-called duty-free shipping methods are very popular with experienced China shoppers, as the price in China is often significantly lower and you can save a lot of money by waiting a few days longer. In the following, you will find a list of the duty-free shipping methods of the largest online shops.

More warehouses are expanding worldwide such as in the United States, Russia and other countries. Please keep checking with online stores.




EU Priority Line / Germany Express

Priority Direct Mail

EU Priority Line

Customs for orders with DHL Express

For orders with DHL Express, customs clearance is carried out by DHL. This is very convenient for the buyer because you save yourself going to the customs office. The cost of imports must be paid at the front door when delivered in cash to be. These costs are 19% of the declared value of the goods as well as the capital provision commission. Since June 1st, 2014 DHL has been charging a capital provision commission of 2%, but at least € 12, in addition to the 19% import sales tax. Unfortunately, this means that if you order via DHL, another € 12 will be charged in addition to the 19% import sales tax. You can find out how to avoid this fee. However, this process is quite laborious.

Customs insurance

When ordering with customs insurance, you pay the taxes yourself but will be refunded after submitting the invoice from the online shop. To do this, simply take a photo of the DHL Express import notification or the invoice from the customs office and send it to the shop where you took out the insurance. The capital provision commission of 12 €, which is incurred by DHL-Express, is usually not reimbursed. Customs insurance usually costs a certain percentage of the value of the goods, but this is lower than the 19% import sales tax.

Buying a China cell phone in Europe or other parts of the world

Some online shops [ information about the China Shops ] offer shipping from Germany for some mobile phones. In this case, the China cell phone simply costs 30-50 euros more and is sent directly from Germany or Europe. Customs cannot intercept your smartphone and the delivery is very fast. This also applies to shipments from other EU countries. This usually only takes 3 days. 

The following China shops offer a department store in Germany or Europe:







There is no reason to worry unnecessarily about customs duty or taxes. For orders with a low value of goods, the 19% import sales tax is a tolerable surcharge. For orders of expensive products, the large online shops meanwhile offer to take over the import into the EU or other parts of the world for the customer and to deliver the package at no additional cost. 

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