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How to deal with high import fees on non-EU parcels to Sweden

Residents of Sweden have been complaining of high charges levied on items sent from outside the EU. Here's how the charges work and what you can do about them.

A Postnord counter at a Coop supermarket in Sweden.
A Postnord counter at a Coop supermarket in Sweden. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Receiving a parcel from someone you love can be one of life’s small pleasures, whether it’s a thoughtful handmade gift or something special for your birthday.

But in recent months, many residents of Sweden have been furious to discover that their parcels from outside of the EU have been held by couriers and are only released upon payment of steep import charges and admin fees.

What charges do I have to pay when I get a parcel from outside the EU? 

There are several different charges, which when piled on top of one another, can come as a shock. 

First, there are the taxes: VAT, customs duty, and perhaps excise duties, depending on the goods being important. Then, on top of that, you have to pay a fee to the postal or courier company handling the import. 

How much VAT is levied on non-EU parcels?

The main cost you are likely to face is VAT, or importmoms. How much you have to pay will depend on what kind of parcel you are receiving, and in particular whether it’s a gift or an online purchase. 

Gifts

Gifts worth less than 500 kronor are exempt from VAT.

But remember, the sender needs to state very clearly on their customs declaration that the parcel contains a gift, what the gift is, and how much it is worth, or postal companies charge VAT anyway. 

To qualify as a gift, the item must be: sent between two private individuals; for personal use; and sent on a single occasion with no payment whatsoever from the person receiving it.  You can find the details here in English on the Swedish Customs website. 

Purchases

Some goods have pre-paid VAT. Sweden’s main postal service, PostNord, has an agreement with the e-commerce platform Wish which allows customers to pay their VAT when buying their goods online. This means the VAT does not have to be paid when the goods arrive in Sweden. 

On July 1st, 2021, an exemption on low value purchases from EU countries was dropped. That means that, from this date, any goods ordered from outside the EU are subject to import VAT and, in the case of so-called luxury goods like tobacco and alcohol, excise duty. 

Import VAT in Sweden is almost always 25 percent of the total cost of the parcel, including freight and customs duty (so you pay tax on your tax). For food, it’s 12 percent, and for books and other printed material, it’s 6 percent.  

How much customs duty is charged on non-EU parcels? 

Customs duty, or tullavgift, is only charged on parcels containing goods worth more than 1,600 kronor, so is only an issue for bigger purchases or parcels sent from abroad.

You can calculate the likely customs duty on this website, but it tends to be between 0 percent and about 7 percent, depending on the type of goods. 

Will I have to pay excise duty? 

There are six types of excise tax in Sweden: on alcohol, on energy, on tobacco, on nicotine, on chemicals, and on plastic bags. 

In practice, the first two won’t matter to you. It’s forbidden to send alcohol by post to Sweden from outside the EU, and the second is for energy traders. Excise tax on tobacco is eye-wateringly high, but most won’t be buying their cigars online. 

The type that’s most likely to hit you by surprise is chemicals tax, which has been applied since 2020 on all sorts of electronic goods, such as fridges, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, computers, tablets, game consoles and computer screens.

One thing that has been criticised in Sweden is that the chemicals tax on electronic goods is even applied to second-hand goods.

A good rule of thumb, sadly, is that you should probably avoid buying them outside the EU. 

How much does Postnord charge for handling customs declarations? 

It can be extremely irritating when receiving low-value goods to end up paying more to receive them than they are worth. 

For parcels worth 1,600 kronor or less, Postnord charges customers 75 kronor, including VAT. This means, that if you buy, say, a hard-to-find electronic cable from China worth 30 kronor, you could end up paying far more than it’s worth in just handling charges. 
 
For parcels worth more than this, the company needs to fill out a complete customs declaration, pushing its fee up to 125 kronor including VAT. 
 
You can make your own customs declaration by filling in this form, but Postnord will charge you anyway. 
 
Can I refuse to pay for a parcel if the charges are too high? 
 
Yes. If you contact the postal company handling the delivery and ask for it to be sent back to the sender, you will not have to pay any customs, VAT, or other taxes.
 
How can I complain if I think I’ve been charged the wrong amount? 
 
You can contact Postnord here do demand a refund. You can also contact them by email at [email protected], or ring them on 0771-33 33 10. 
 
If you think Postnord or another courier has charged you excessive customs duty or VAT, you can apply to the Customs Agency for a reassessment, which could result in having the amount reduced. 

To do this you need to either email [email protected] or send a letter to: 

Swedish Customs
Box 27311
SE-102 54 Stockholm

The letter or email must include the customs ID, the item number, an extract from your bank account or, say, PayPal, showing how much you paid, your bank details, your name and your address. 

The above information was correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of publication. We advise readers to also consult the official information on websites such as Swedish Customs, which has detailed information in English on sending and receiving goods across the border, and Postnord.

 
 
 
 

Member comments

  1. This actually worked, the only thing you don’t get back is Postnord’s administration fee, so postnord still gets something for sending in the document to register tax that you didn’t actually have to pay… go figure.

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Could Denmark split with Sweden over PostNord postal service?

The Danish Ministry of Transport is to look into the consequences of withdrawing Denmark from PostNord, the postal service it co-owns with Sweden.

Could Denmark split with Sweden over PostNord postal service?
Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Several political parties favour withdrawing Denmark completely from the Danish-Swedish postal company, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reports.

The Danish People's Party, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Social Liberal party all see benefits in leaving the cooperation, according to the report.

A final decision by the parties is pending further consideration, however. The Ministry is to make an assessment no later than March.

The Swedish government has meanwhile announced it will launch an inquiry to look into the postal system by early spring.

Hans Kristian Skibby, the Danish People's Party’s spokesperson for post, said he would prefer a purely Danish company to operate the country’s post.

“Hopefully we can have a happy divorce with PostNord in Sweden,” Skibby said.

The Danish government owns 40 percent of PostNord, with 60 percent owned by its counterpart in Stockholm.

The company has faced sharp criticism on several occasions since it began announcing losses in 2012.

Inefficient mail distribution and poor financial management have been among the criticisms.

But pulling Denmark out of PostNord would be as expensive exercise, according to says Per Nikolaj Bukh, a professor of business economics at Aalborg University.

“Costs for separation would be in the 100-million-kroner class,” Bukh said.

Neither would such a move solve the issues with Denmark’s postal service, according to the professor.

“The Danish part of the postal service will not become more efficient by splitting it up,” he said.

One concern amongst the Danish political parties is that the financial situation in the Swedish part of PostNord will come under increasing pressure in the future due to digitalization. That could result in a negative impact on Danish state finances, given the current joint ownership.

But Denmark cannot simply run away from the bill, Bukh said.

“Experience with the Swedes tells us that the matter can be viewed in different ways. Sweden is not just going to let Denmark make off with the benefits,” he said.

Skibby claimed that Denmark has paid its share in the form of bailouts to PostNord.

“We cannot go blindly into a partnership in which we take on some of Sweden’s financial burdens,” he said.

PostNord continues to make a loss but came increasingly close to breaking even in Denmark in 2019.

The company has also cut deliveries, raised prices and closed virtually all of Denmark's post offices over the last decade, replacing them with counters in supermarkets and convenience stores.

The Danish and Swedish states injected funds to assist the company during the 2018 cost-cutting programme.

An EU commission opened in June 2019 will investigate whether state support of around two billion kroner from Denmark and Sweden breached EU rules.

READ ALSO: Danish postal service continues to lose money, but closer to breaking even

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