Import of goods from third countries

The term ‘import’ is understood to mean bringing goods into the European Union customs territory. The traffic of goods between EU member countries – trading, in other words, within the European market – is referred to as the transportation, procurement or acquisition of goods.
As part of import clearance, checks will be made to ensure that all legal provisions regulating the import of the goods in question have been observed. There are a large number of regulations governing imports into the European Union and to Germany. Besides custom regulations and foreign trade regulations, attention must also be paid to prohibitions and restrictions, most of which serve non-commercial interests such as protecting human health interests or environmental protection.
The most important legal frameworks are the Union Custom Code, the Customs Code Implementing Provisions, German foreign trade law and the German Foreign Trade Ordinance.
In Germany, in accordance with Art. 1 Sec. 1 of foreign trade law, the following principle applies: ‘In principle, goods, services, capital, payments and other business transactions with foreign countries as well as foreign assets and gold within member countries (external trade transactions) may be transported freely. They are subject to the restrictions detailed in this law, or those prescribed by ordinance based on this law.’
The foreign trade law which came into effect on 1 September 2013 details primarily the applicable regulations for imports as well as definitions of terms in alphabetical order from ‘A’ for ‘Ausführer’ (Exporter) to ‘Z’ for ‘Zollgebiet’ – the customs territory of the European Union.

Under what conditions may one import goods?

In order to import goods long-term on a self-employed basis, you must register a business in the trade office of your local public authorities. In principle, you may engage in commercial activities without special authorisation. There are, however, certain exceptions to this rule, e.g. for importing medications. Depending upon the legal form and the nature and scope of the commercial activity, an entry in the commercial register may also be required.
Citizens of non-EU countries or countries which have not signed an agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany must, if they are still registered in their country of origin, apply to the German Embassy in their own country to obtain a visa to set up their own business. Foreigners already residing in Germany must apply to the relevant immigration authorities for a residency permit before setting up their own business. For more information, please contact your local immigration authorities.

What’s the first step for imports?

For customs clearance within the EU, you will need an EORI number to register and identify the economic operators. This replaced German customs numbers on 1 July 2009, and is issued by the IWM Zoll (Customs Information and Knowledge Management) on application.
Under certain circumstances, import clearance can also be transferred to other companies (i.e. customs agents, freight forwarders).

What do I have to bear in mind with imports?

All imported goods are subject to customs requirements for import clearance, even if no customs duty is payable. Thus the following questions need to be answered:
  • Are there any restrictions/prohibitions on import, and if so, for which countries of origin?
  • What other import regulations need to be observed?
  • How high are customs duties (customs duty, import VAT, specific excise taxes?)
  • What papers are needed for import clearance, and which customs formalities am I likely to encounter?
  • What regulations regarding the marketability of the imported goods into the Federal Republic of Germany and other EU countries need to be observed?

Is special authorisation required for the imported goods?

Import restrictions are dictated by European community law and the German Foreign Trade Ordinance from 2 August 2013. In principle, quantitative restrictions on imports are no longer imposed. However, for particular goods originating from particular countries, import permits are needed, and quantitative restrictions can on occasion be imposed (e.g. in the textile industry). Using the customs tariff number, you can check in the electronic customs tariff of duties to see which goods are affected. Approval must be obtained from the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (for commercial products) or the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (for agricultural products).

What else could obstruct the import process?

Certain products may not be marketed in Germany on principle, or only under certain conditions. This applies both to German goods and imported goods.
For example, this may concern substances which are prohibited in Germany (e.g. ingredients in foodstuffs, textiles, medication), or particular labelling requirements for products. In addition, certain (endangered) animals and plants are under international protection and may not be imported, or only under certain special conditions. Accordingly, certain leather products may not be imported, or only under certain conditions. Norms and labelling requirements must also be observed. These can be found on the homepage of the German Institute for Norms.

What customs duties will I have to pay?

To calculate the total amount of import duties payable and prohibitions and restrictions on imports, you will need your 11-digit customs tariff number, which you will also need to enter for the electronic import registration. You can also research the first eight digits of the 11-digit customs tariff number in the ‘Warenverzeichnis für die Außenhandelsstatistik’ (index of goods for foreign trade statistics). A revised version of the index of goods comes into force each year on 1 January and is available from publishers specialising in foreign trade. You can download chapters from the book from the website of the Federal Statistical Office.
The total amount of import duties payable can also be researched in the electronic customs tariff. Here you will need to enter your customs tariff number and the country of origin of the goods in question. The electronic customs tariff (EZT) will also tell you about any import restrictions on quantity as well as so-called prohibitions and restrictions on import.
  • Customs duties:
Where imports come from different countries or groups of countries (EFTA members, developing countries, ...), preferential tariffs can often apply instead of the otherwise applicable third country customs tariff. This is the case where goods verifiably originate from the above mentioned supplier countries.
  • Import VAT:
This is a special VAT tax, set at a current rate of 19% (reduced rate: 7%). For import companies which are not entitled to input tax deductions, this levy does not actually result in additional costs, as import VAT can be deducted in full as input tax.
  • Excise tax (for tobacco, spirits, beer, alcopops, sparkling wine / intermediate products, coffee, power).
  • Absorption tariff (special customs duties for certain agrarian products).
  • Additional customs duties  and agricultural components
  • Anti-dumping customs duties and countervailing duties
For (non-binding) information on customs tariffs and other questions relating to customs issues, please contact the German customs administration’s service hotline:
Customs Information and Knowledge Management
Carusufer 3-5
01099 Dresden
Telephone hotline Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hotline for private persons
Tel.: +49 (0)351 4483 4510
Fax: +49 (0)351 4483 4590
(files and attachments of up to 5 megabytes are possible)
Hotline for businesses
Tel.: +49 (0)351 4483 4520
Fax: +49 (0)351 4483 4590
(files and attachments of up to 5 megabytes are possible)
Information on EORI numbers (formerly customs number)
Tel.: +49 (0)351 4483 4540
Enquiries in English
Tel.: +49 (0)351 4483 4530
Fax: +49 (0)351 4483 4590
(files and attachments of up to 5 megabytes are possible)
What papers do I need for customs clearance?
A detailed description of import procedures can be found on the German customs administration homepage.
The following documents may be required for customs clearance:
  • commercial invoices from foreign suppliers
  • transport invoices, which may influence the customs value, depending on the delivery terms
  • packing list
  • import declaration
To enter goods into a customs procedure, you will need to make an electronic customs declaration in the ATLAS customs procedure. This simultaneously serves as a customs application. This can also be entered as an ICS (entry summary declaration) on the customs homepage. Generally speaking, the customs declaration is to be made electronically; written customs declarations will only be considered as an emergency measure if the computer system crashes. A verbal declaration may be deemed sufficient for goods with a total value under €1000.
  • Customs value declaration
The import customs office will demand a customs value declaration in order to clear goods from third countries which are subject to ad valorum duties. The customs authorities may waiver the declaration if the customs value of the goods in question is under €10,000 per delivery.
  • Certification of origin, declarations of origin (where required by foreign trade law)
  • Import declarations, import permits or import licences (for agrarian products)
  • International import certificates / certificates of receipt of goods. The foreign contract partner may demand an international import certificate or certificate of receipt of goods from the importing company if the following goods are being imported: weapons, ammunition or military equipment, materials, facilities or equipment for nuclear purposes, or other goods or technology of strategic significance (e.g. computers or precision machine tools).
  • Form A, certificate of origin, or declaration of origin (when importing goods from supported developing countries, or to benefit from preferential customs tariffs)
  • Movement certificate (EUR 1, EUR-MED, ATR), preferential origin certificates (for duty free imports or imports on preferential terms from countries or groups of countries which have signed free trade agreements or association agreements with the EU)
Note: This leaflet is designed as a guide and is not exhaustive. If you need more precise information, please seek personal advice.
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Although this information has been checked carefully, we cannot accept liability for its correctness or completeness.