As a prominent leader in cross-border trade, Germany is a premier location for eCommerce businesses to set their sights on. With the 3rd largest economy in the world and boosting online eCommerce sales, shipping to Germany offers many lucrative business opportunities. But as part of the European Union (EU), Germany has specific regulations and restricted items that require special attention to ship or are entirely prohibited from travel. Businesses must prioritize understanding German customs restricted items to avoid delays with customs authorities that could negatively impact your business and risk decreasing customer retention rates due to unsatisfied shipping expectations.
This blog will explain the German customs clearance process, provide a list of restricted goods, and explore six mistakes to avoid so your business can ship to the heart of Europe without unforeseen delays.
Understanding Germany’s customs clearance process
Obtaining customs clearance is a complex process in any country; however, in Germany, the process requires shippers to adhere to EU regulations as well as Germany-specific regulations imposed by the corresponding government officials.
Cross-border shipments must clear German customs to enter the country, and there are many reasons customs could delay a shipment. Some examples include the following:
- Missing Documentation
- Incomplete Documentation
- Unpaid Duties
- Seized products
- Destroyed items
- Open box inspections
- Items returned to the country of origin
Familiarizing yourself with German customs regulations and import and export laws can help your business begin the customs clearance process on a positive note when shipping to a new territory.
What are restricted goods?
Restricted goods are items that require additional paperwork or special permits or licenses to travel across borders. Restricted items vary from country to country and may be allowed to ship under certain conditions. Items like weapons, alcoholic beverages, or perishable products like dairy products are considered restricted goods in many countries. Other items like credit cards and higher monetary values may also have strict regulations when importing overseas.
Prohibited goods will also vary based on country-specific regulations; however, items considered prohibited are not permitted to cross a country’s border. For example, in Canada, counterfeit goods, live animals, and secondhand cars are all considered prohibited goods that cannot be shipped across Canadian borders. Australia prohibits the import of various items, including firearms, tobacco products, illicit drugs, and certain chemicals. Further, dangerous goods or hazardous materials, like flammable liquids, batteries, and radioactive materials, may be marked as prohibited or restricted, depending on the destination country.
German customs: Restricted items to know
If your eCommerce business is ready to ship to Germany, it’s important to familiarize yourself with restricted items applicable to your shipment.
The following items are restricted from importation or exportation to Germany.
- Firearms or ammunition
- Explosive or radioactive materials
- Metals, stones or jewelry
- Playing cards
- Live plants and animals
- Human remains
- Food containing saccharin
- Ivory or ivory products
- Pornographic material
- Tobacco or tobacco products
Certain publications or media are also restricted from travel if they pose a risk to minors or have unconstitutional content, as these types of publications infringe on legally protected interests. Further, certain embargo measures are restricted from entering Germany. Embargos are trade restrictions enacted between two countries to prevent goods from being imported or exported from one country to another. Germany works with various national competent authorities responsible for overseeing and regulating different sectors, ensuring proper compliance and authorizations of certain products.
Navigating shipping to Germany: Avoiding mistakes that cause delays
Attempting to ship restricted items could result in detrimental fines, legal consequences, and, inevitably, shipping postponements. Here are 6 mistakes that cause delays.
Mistake #1 Failing to research country-specific shipping rules and regulations
Country regulations and restrictions constantly change based on newly enacted laws or trade disagreements. When shipping to Germany, it’s essential to understand what is not permitted in the vast country to avoid complications with customs authorities that could result in seized or destroyed items, causing detrimental shipping delays.
Working with a knowledgeable shipping provider can help your shipping team research German customs regulations and develop reliable shipping procedures to mitigate risks that could develop when trying to clear customs.
Mistake #2 Missing documentation
Items held in customs are commonly due to missing or inadequately filled out customs documentation. Correctly declaring and pricing your cargo is a complex process that must be completed with the utmost care and precision to avoid items being held with customs authorities.
Here are some common documents required to avoid delays with German customs:
Declaration of Goods: Declares the details of goods imported or exported to a country.
HS Code: International shipments require a Harmonized System (HS) code to define a product.
Certificate of Origin: A document stating where the goods were originally manufactured.
Commercial Invoice – This document includes information like the product name, description, quantity, unit price, and currency for the goods being imported.
Today, many countries are requesting customs documents via electronic submission. This process transmits data directly from your business’s system right to customs authorities. However, if a document is even slightly filled out incorrectly, it could result in your items being held. A qualified shipping partner can help you fill out customs forms appropriately to ensure every detail is correct.
Mistake #3 Using inadequate packaging
Spills and broken items could result in dangerous or hazardous shipments. Inadequate packaging could also make customers dissatisfied with your product. It’s essential to use proper packaging, mainly if you are shipping a restricted item. Consider packing peanuts or extra cushioning for sensitive items and review proper packaging procedures to ensure the safety of fragile items. If a customs agent sees your shipment as a threat due to insufficient and unsafe packaging, it could result in an open-box inspection, delaying your transit time. Further, improper labeling could result in items being sent back to their origin.
Mistake #4 Neglecting the proper permits for restricted goods
Each country has a list of prohibited items that can never enter a country; however, in some cases, certain restricted goods may enter a country if they are acquitted with a special license or permit. For example, shipping plants to Germany or other countries could pose an environmental risk. A Phytosanitary certificate may be required to ship plants to another country, which verifies that the plant being shipped is free of diseases or pests and complies with the plant health regulations of the destination country. The exact plant name and origin must also be identified on the customs declaration document and certificate of origin.
Mistake #5 Not accounting for import duties and taxes
When shipping internationally, everything has a value for customs purposes. The customs value is based on the actual price paid or payable for the goods sold for export. This value includes the cost of the goods, shipping and insurance charges, and other expenses like taxes or import duties. Some countries have duty-free exemptions; for example, certain personal effects or products for personal use are exempt from import taxes when returning to the U.S.
All imports to EU countries, including Germany, Croatia, France, and beyond, are subject to an EU value-added tax (VAT). VAT is a consumption tax that is levied on goods and services. Further, tariffs, also known as a duty or tax, may be imposed on certain items to help regulate goods imported from another country. Tariffs raise the prices of imported products to help protect domestic industries from overseas competition.
It’s essential to recognize taxes and tariffs when importing items to Germany to prevent customs authorities from holding your product due to unpaid fees.
Mistake #6 Failing to work with a qualified shipping partner
It may be easy to choose the most cost-efficient mailing provider when shipping to Germany, but it’s important to consider other aspects of the international shipping process when choosing your partner. For example, shipping providers should understand customs regulations and restrictions, packaging requirements, and know the most efficient way to ship and package goods to save on costs and avoid delays. An experienced shipping provider will know what is allowed for international travel and how to avoid consignments or other risky transactions to avoid additional fees.
Shipping to Germany with ePost Global: A trusted partner
When you work with ePost Global we ensure compliance to prevent common mistakes other traditional mailing providers like FedEx or UPS make when shipping to Germany. How do we do this? We offer an array of customized services, creating the best experience possible when expanding to new horizons.
Comprehensive Customs Management Services
At ePost Global, we offer comprehensive customs management services to ensure your shipment complies with all requirements and restrictions. Since missing documentation is a leading cause of delays with customs, we provide a file that includes HS Codes and their corresponding values so your items are never declared incorrectly. Then, our knowledgeable team takes care of all required documentation and creates the necessary labels for customs offices to clear, allowing you to focus on other areas of your business.
Customized Shipping Plans
In addition to identifying German customs requirements and restricted goods, our team also supports your international shipping efforts with a customized shipping plan catered to meet your business needs at a cost and shipping speed that works with your budget.
Quality Customer Service & Enhanced Tracking Capabilities
Further, our knowledgeable team of customer service experts help assist customers in identifying why their shipment was delayed and how to resolve the problem swiftly and efficiently. Our enhanced tracking capabilities help facilitate this point by offering customers a transparent view of where their package is at, from the post office to their front door, and notifies them of any delays.
International trade brings many positive advantages for eCommerce businesses, but it’s vital to understand country-specific restrictions to do so compliantly. It’s easy to make mistakes when shipping internationally, but when you work with ePost Global, we make the process simple, so you can focus on other aspects of your business while we do the legwork to prevent delays.
If you’re ready to expand your operations to Germany, contact us. We’d love to help you get started.