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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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PostNord to continue Danish deliveries until 2023

The Danish arm of Swedish-Danish post distribution company PostNord is to continue delivering the country’s post until at least 2023 after a new deal was agreed with the government.

PostNord to continue Danish deliveries until 2023
PostNord will deliver Denmark's letters until at least 2023. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Post Danmark – the Danish subsidiary of PostNord – extended its contract to deliver post in the country with the government and its allied left wing parties, the transport ministry confirmed in a statement on Monday.

“Distributions of post is an important societal task which every sitting government must take responsibility for,” transport minister Benny Engelbrecht said in the statement.

A “large proportion” of people in Denmark still “do not receive their post digitally and therefore need to receive their post at their home address,” Engelbrecht said.

“It must be possible to receive a letter from your family and to write to your family, regardless of where in the country you live.

“That’s why the deal with Post Danmark has been extended, so Danes can be reassured that post will get through while political work to secure a new, long-term postal agreement continues,” the minister 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. The Danish state has spent to keep the Danish side of the company afloat. Inefficient mail distribution and poor financial management have been among the criticisms.

PostNord was established in 2009 via a merger of the formerly-national Post Danmark and Sweden’s Posten.

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