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Wednesday, January 16

Zoll- Customs Office

The customs office experience is new. I say that because I’ve never dealt with customs office in America. The husband informed me every country has stringent rules for international packages. Surprisingly, I’ve never dealt with any of this in America. And I’d already decided I wanted to share this story.

I ordered a warm sweater from Etsy. (Did I mention it’s brutally cold here?) Etsy is a host website for individual/private parties to sell homemade and/or vintage materials without outrageous fees. It allows people to start an online business with free promotion. Etsy sellers sell everything under the sun including clothes, shoes, jewelry, paintings, and household goods.

After ordering and paying, the seller (in US) mailed me the sweater by post. Few weeks later I received a letter from Zoll (customs) asking me to pick up my package.

Unfortunately for us living in old city customs office is in the middle of nowhere. It’s an ubahn to the last stop and two bus transfers away. If that wasn’t enough, there is a 6 minute walk from the bus stop to the office.

Once there, I took a number to be called by one of the workers. Everyone has to wait until their number is called. When my number was called, I went through a closed door and asked for my package. The lady behind the counter asked for my passport and afterward fetched my package. With the box in hand, she asked me for an invoice. Invoice? I gave her a puzzled look. She explained all packages require invoices; if the package does not contain an invoice to scan, the recipient has to pick it up, with an invoice.

I didn’t get that memo.

So I called the husband for plan B since the office is so far away from our apartment. The clever man that he is suggested he fax the invoice while I wait. The kind lady agreed and gave me the fax number. After 15 minutes, she retrieved the package and called me to the back room. She wrote my information on a form and signed off on the package. She explained that items valued at less than 22 Euros are tax free and I was free to go, however in future if I had an international item worth more than 22 Euros, I would be called into the Zoll to pay the appropriate tax for the item.

An American friend in Nürnberg told me her mother sent her a kindle as a gift. She had to deal with customs and paid tax on the kindle, a steep sum, she said.

I ordered two pairs of sandals from a vendor in Greece and asked him to include the invoice in the package. He knew the process so he agreed to reduce the price of the sandals on the invoice even though I paid him the full amount. There are always ways to find loopholes in the system, leave it to us to find them.

Although I haven’t worn the sweater and the sandals at the same time, I’ve enjoyed both in their appropriate season.


  1. hahaha after all the trouble you went through, you better wear that sweater and sandals till they wear out! :D

    so passport?? really? now that's new.

    having lived away from the philippines in so long, i didn't realize receiving international packages there is a similar process. we had mailed a box of cards to my parents late last summer. they received a note from the customs office that a package was waiting for them, but similar to your experience, no note on bringing an invoice, nor any information on who the package is from. luckily she didn't have to travel far.

    this concern is similar to why we have to bulk ship to Roy's family in the UK. we do have it quite easy here in America.

  2. Hm. In Regensburg they explained to my wife that the cut-off amount for Zoll liability is 45€. for the story there.

    What a PITA it is when people send you gifts; don't even get me started.

  3. Privatsendungen = gifts = 45 €

    Sendungen mit geringem Wert (Kleinsendungen)=shipments of low value
    less than 22 € = free of customs duty and VAT tax
    less than 150 € but more than 22 € = free of customs duty but subject to VAT.

  4. Anne- passport is universal ID in Europe. No one really uses their license for proof of ID. That seems like such a hassle with the cards to Philippines- glad it got to your family okay. I am not sure about the UK but I can't imagine it's much different than here.

    Cliff- I've asked all my friends and family to not bother with gifts through mail; it's not worth it.

    Thanks for the links Anon. Google translate helped.