Duties and taxes are a little-understood yet hugely important part of cross-border shipping. Seemingly complex at first, these costs are easily calculated with a little know-how.

Import duties are a type of tax imposed by governments on goods entering the country. This generates tax revenue, controls the flow of products, and protects domestic companies from external competitors.

Most shipments that cross international borders are subject to import duties plus additional import fees. To keep costs low, eCommerce businesses must understand import duties and taxes, how import duties are calculated, and how to get the best rates on cross-border shipping.

This know-how is also built into leading international shipping solutions like Easyship. The turnkey technology automatically calculates all duties and taxes for you.

Use this article to learn about import duties and taxes, plus their impact on a cost-effective international shipping strategy, including:

  • What is a customs duty?
  • How to calculate import duties and taxes?
  • Who pays for customs duties?
  • What ‘s the difference between customs duties and tariffs?
  • How does duties payments impact customs clearance and final delivery?

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What Is A Customs Duty? Why Does It Matter?

A customs duty is a tax, or an import tax, imposed on goods shipped across international borders.

Governments use customs duties to regulate the flow of incoming goods, generate income, as well as protect the economy and residents.

Customs officers assess duties and taxes using the attached shipping label, commercial invoice, and any other required documentation. Before a shipment can pass through customs, all clearance charges must be paid – either by the shipper or the receiver.

Different goods are subject to different duty and tax amounts. Individual countries also assess customs duties and taxes differently. This means that your total cost of shipping internationally, or the landed costs, depends on what you’re shipping, and where.

With duties and taxes varying by country and by item, eCommerce retailers should calculate shipping costs on a per-shipment basis. Doing so helps to minimize customs fees, ensure timely cross-border deliveries, and a superior customer experience.

How Do Duties and Taxes Impact The Customs Clearance Process?

In most countries, import duties and taxes must be paid before a package clears customs.

When a shipment arrives, the customs officer examines the attached documentation to determine if any duties are due.

The most important document is the commercial invoice. This paperwork describes the shipment, its value and other key details. Duty assessed on shipments is also impacted by:

  • Product value
  • Description of the product, and its use
  • Country of manufacture
  • Trade agreements, if applicable
  • Country-specific regulations
  • Harmonized system code (HS)

The customs officer determines all duties and taxes based on this paperwork. In other words, make sure your commercial invoice includes all the relevant information. Omitting key details can result in customs officers assessing higher import duties.

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How to Calculate Import Duties and Taxes

Calculating import duties and taxes involves two separate tabulations: duty and tax.

Both duties and tax are calculated as a percentage of the declared value of the goods, which includes:

  • Item cost
  • Insurance
  • Shipping

Your global courier will bill you directly for any assessed duties and taxes.

Here are a few key terms you’ll encounter as you calculate import duties and taxes:

  • De Minimis Value: Also called a tax threshold, the country-specific value beneath which no taxes or duties are charged. If you import an item with a declared value of less than the country’s de minimis value, you pay no duty or tax.
  • Value Added Tax (VAT): A tax charged to consumers upon purchase of any good or service. Amount varies per the value of purchased goods or service.
  • Goods and Services Tax (GST): Charged in stages then reimbursed to everyone except the buyer. Unlike VAT, GST is a flat-rate percentage of the total transaction value.

How to Calculate Import Duties in 3 Steps

1. Look up duty rates for shipped goods. To find this percentage, visit the customs or trade page on the website of the destination country. You can search by product description or HS code. For example, the duty percentage for importing an inflatable giraffe to the UK is 10%.

2. Add up the costs, including:

  • Value of goods
  • Freight costs
  • Insurance
  • Additional costs

3. Multiply the total by duty rate per goods. This amount is the total duty owed.

Different countries use different methods to assess the value of the package, a key factor in determining the duty. This amount is assessed in one of two ways:

  • Free on Board (FOB): The taxable amount is the value of the item. This valuation method only applies to items shipped via sea freight, so if your items arrive by air – as most B2C eCommerce items do  – it won’t include the cost of transportation.
  • Cost, Insurance, and Freight (CIF): The taxable amount includes the item value, the cost of insurance, if any, and the total cost of transportation to the receiver.

How to Calculate VAT Taxes in 3 Steps

1. Look up the sales tax (VAT) rates in the receiving country for your specific item. To find this percentage, visit the customs or trade page on the website of the destination country. For example, shipping an inflatable giraffe to the UK incurs a 20% tax because toys carry a standard VAT rate.

2. Add up all the costs, including:

  • VAT on your shipment
  • Value of goods
  • Freight costs
  • Insurance
  • Import duty
  • Additional fees

3. Multiply the added total by the VAT rate in the receiving country. You pay this amount in VAT to customs.

Combine both totals to find the total amount for duties and taxes. Faced with shipping to many countries, and the numerous product categories, growing merchants may find this a tedious process.

Using an import duty calculator simplifies this process. This free tool quickly estimates both tax and duties based on all relevant factors. Robust shipping platforms like Easyship automatically calculate these tax amounts on your behalf to save precious time and money.

Who Pays For Import Duties And Taxes?

As importer, you decide whether to pay duties and taxes or pass them along to the customer.

Typically, all duties and taxes must be paid before the shipped goods are released from customs. In some cases, the courier can pay to ensure your goods are released, then invoice the responsible party.

Understanding the difference between DDU vs. DDP is key. Customs payment options are twofold:

  • Deliver Duty Paid (DDP): Duties and taxes are paid before the package arrives at customs. This means the shipment won’t be subject to additional fees and will pass through customs more quickly. The chosen courier transports the package from customs to the customer.
  • Deliver Duty Unpaid (DDU): Duties and taxes still need paying. The customer pays all costs to receive their item. DDU shipments are forwarded to a customs broker who collects the required amount from the customer upon delivery.

DDP Improves Customer Experience

Most eCommerce retailers ship DDP because customer experience is everything. To illustrate, imagine your customers' displeasure at paying an unforeseen fee to receive what they thought was paid for in full.

To avoid blowback, retailers often roll the cost of duties and taxes into the item price. This saves on tax and duty payments while rendering the duty amount invisible at checkout.

Customer-focused shipping platforms allow you to choose whether to show these added costs to customers at checkout, or pre-pay the fees via a cost-optimized courier.

DDU Incurs Costs and Delays

Shipping DDU can lead to delivery delays and incur added fees, especially from customs brokers. A customs broker is a third-party that manages the final mile for items arriving unpaid-for at customs. These fees may include storage, brokerage, and late payments fees.

The chart below shows the cost differences between shipping DDP with a courier versus shipping DDU with a customs broker.

DDP Charges (Courier)

DDU Charges (Customs brokerage)

Tax and duty: Variable

Tax and duty: Variable

Administration Fee: $15

Inspection fee: $70

Handling fee: variable, usually a small percentage

Storage fee: $10 (per day)

Handling fee: $10

Insurance fee: $5

Disbursement feed: Variable, can be a percentage of customs duty amount

DDU shipping costs can vary widely by country, item category, and in-country courier options. This means that it may be impossible to give customers an exact amount of the final item price in your webstore.

If customers will ultimately be responsible for paying duties and taxes, it’s best to be upfront. Announce these fees on your:

What’s the Difference Between Customs Duties and Tariffs?

A tariff is a tax imposed directly on imported goods or services.

Say the United States imposes a tariff on Chinese goods. The importer of Chinese goods – for example, Costco – pays the tariff on the Chinese goods (Samsung TVs, perhaps) to US Customs. Paying extra incentivizes Costco to purchase US-made TVs, which indirectly limits the quantity of Chinese goods entering the US market and assists domestic manufacturers.

A customs duty is an indirect tax on imported goods and services, as well as those manufactured and sold in the country. Unlike a tariff, a duty is a consumer tax on importers, universally applied as a ‘pay to play’ fee. Meanwhile, a tariff is an economic mechanism used to balance the flow of goods and services between countries.

How to Calculate US Customs Duties

The United States has one the highest tax thresholds in the world, making it a relatively cheap shipping destination. Additionally, due to trade agreements, certain countries are exempt from duties and taxes in the US.

That said, according to global research firm Statista, revenues from customs duty amounted to $71 billion, and is forecast to increase to $100 billion by 2030.

Say you want to ship a luxury beauty product from Hong Kong to a customer in California. The item value is $1,200.

To determine your duty payment, first check the commodity code for beauty products. Then apply the import duty rate for that category – 5.8%. That means your duty charge will be $69.60.

Tax is due on the cost of the goods without shipping. In our example of the $1,200 beauty product, the tax is 10% of $1,200, so you’ll pay $120. You’ll pay $189.60 in total for the customs duty and taxes.

ECommerce Shipping With Low Customs Duties and Taxes

Accounting for duties and taxes is a key step in crafting a cost-effective cross-border shipping strategy. Since duties and taxes are variable, it’s helpful to use a free duty and tax calculator.

These tools, alongside a robust shipping solution like Easyship, give you clarity into shipping costs regardless of what or where you’re shipping.

All-in-one shipping solutions are increasingly important to cross-border merchants faced with complex cost structures and regulations. When growth is priority #1, time-saving technology helps you calculate duties and taxes automatically, assemble the proper documentation, and ensure a satisfying delivery – all while saving money.

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