Custom Procedures in Germany and the European Customs Union

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The European Customs Union

All member states of the European Union (EU), including Germany, form a customs territory (the European Customs Union) where unified customs arrangements apply. Goods imported into the EU are subject to EU-wide import regulations, customs tariffs and customs procedures.

This means that customs duties are only levied when the goods are imported into the EU. Once goods have been imported into the EU, no further customs duties must be paid within the customs territory - even if the goods cross internal borders of member states.

! Please note: The European Customs Union in Practice A German product may be shipped to Hungary without paying any duty and without any customs control. Conversely, a Japanese product imported into the European Customs Union is subject to customs duties only when and where it first enters the EU, for example, Germany. Subsequent to entry and initial customs clearance, no further customs procedures and duties are necessary. The product can circulate freely within the European single market.

Through the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA), Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein also comply with most of these European Community regulations. The EU has also concluded customs unions with Andorra, San Marino and Turkey. Trade agreements allowing the duty-free import of certain goods or preferential tariff import agreements exist with many other countries.

Please see the EU-website for an overview of existing free trade agreements between the EU and third countries.

Single Customs Tariff in the EU

Import duty is stipulated by the Common Customs Tariff (CCT) and import duty tariffs are the same for all member states. The applicable tariff rate can be researched at the EU’s TAR IC (Integrated Tariff of the European Union) database.

The nomenclature of the EU customs tariff is based on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS ) of the World Customs Organisation (WCO). Through the regulations defined in the system, every single commodity can be classified according to the nomenclature and allocated a commodity number (the “goods code”).

The vast majority of tariff rates are stated as ad valorem values. The basis for their calculation is the customs value of the goods. This is defined in accordance with the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) customs valuation code - the basis for assessment of customs values valid worldwide. According to this code, the customs value of imported goods is usually the so-called “transaction value,” in other words, the value of the consignment according to the commercial invoice not including any adjustments such as transport and insurance costs up to the EU border.

Customs Procedures

Goods in the customs territory of the EU either have the status of Community goods (goods manufactured or obtained in the EU or “goods released for free circulation”) or of non-Community goods (all goods which do not comply with the criteria of Community goods). Importers may only be in possession of a limited amount of non-Community goods, or in some cases none at all, according to the amounts permitted by the customs administration.

Different customs procedures apply subject to the reasons why goods are imported. Goods may be imported to be sold, repaired, temporarily stored or used in the production of other products for re-exportation.

In total, the Community Customs Code stipulates eight different customs procedures (including export procedures which are not detailed here). The intended use of the goods determines which customs procedure is applied.

Alongside placement under a customs procedure, goods can also be placed in free zones or in free warehouses. There are currently four such free zones in Germany: the free ports of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Deggendorf, and Duisburg.

Overview of different Customs Procedures

Free use or storage in customs territory

Release for free circulation Goods traded freely with the EU - Payment of import duties
Customs warehousing (1,2) Goods stored within the customers territory - No import duties during the storage period

- Goods must be placed in another customs procedure at the end of the storage period

Transit (2) Goods whose import formalities are completet at a customs office at the place of destination - Presentation of goods at the customs office at the place of destnation in due time
- Placement infor another customs procedure once there
Temporary importationm(2) Goods which may be used within the EU for a limited period of time, such as demonstration products - (Partial) exemption form import duties
- Goods may not e modified
- Goods must be re-exported


Processing of Goods

Outward processing (1) Community goods which are exported from the EU and are subject to outward processing procedures in the third countries but which are then re-imported to the EU Import duies are calculated on the basis of:
- the difference between the amount of dute for the processed goods and the amount of duty for the primary product (differential method)
Inward processing (1,2) Goods imported into the EU, processed there and then re-exported - Import duties are levied as the goods are imported, but are reimbursed upon export
Processing under customs contrl (1,2) Goods imported into the EU, processed there and then traded in the EU - Import duties are only levied on products manufactured in the EU

These customs procedures (known as customs procedures with economic impact) must be approved by the Head Customs Office and have a limited time period. Goods must subsequently be re-exported out of the EU or placed into another customs procedure. Import duties only become due when the goods are placed in the economic cycle of the EU.

2 These customs procedures are amongst what are known as the suspensive procedures, where no import duties are levied provided that proper processing occurs.

Alongside placement under a customs procedure, goods can also be placed in free zones or in free warehouses. There are currently five such free zones in Germany: the free ports of Hamburg, Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Deggendorf, and Duisburg.

Presentation of Goods to Customs

There are uniform regulations for the registration of trade in goods, and these are implemented according to a defined model. In order to be able to be placed in a customs procedure, the non-Community goods must be presented to customs (in other words brought to the respective customs office via specified customs routes).

Customs authorities are informally notified of the arrival of the goods at the respective customs office (the actual presentation). As of this point, and through to the assignment of customs-approved treatment or use, the goods are placed in temporary storage and may be inspected by the customs authorities at any time.

Customs Declaration

The presented goods are then declared for a customs procedure. In order for this to happen, a customs declaration must be submitted. This can either be submitted in writing as a customs declaration form (single administrative document) or electronically via the AT LAS procedure. Information about the procedure can be found at the website of the German Customs Administration.

Declaration formalities must be carried out by a company registered in the EU. Submission of the customs declaration by a representative, such as a forwarding agent, is permitted.

In the case of regular imports, there is also a possibility of simplified customs declarations where certain details can be skipped. These details must then be submitted in the form of a supplementary declaration within a period of 20 days (45 days in the case of maritime transport).

As from 10 March 2012 an EORI number is required to lodge a customs declaration. An EORI number (Economic Operators Registration and Identification number) means a number, unique throughout the EC, assigned by the designated authority in the European Community, which aims to identify economic operators and if applicable other persons to the customs authority. An economic operator means a person who, in the course of his business, is involved in activities covered by customs legislation. The EORI number therefore replaces the German tax number.

All companies registered in the EU can apply for certification as an Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) from the respective Head Customs Office. Certified companies are considered as being particularly trustworthy within the member states of the European Union and are able to take advantage of certain easements in customs clearance. In addition, their risk assessment is also looked upon more favourably, meaning that they are not as frequently affected by customs controls.

Customs Declaration Documentation

As well as the customs declaration, a number of other documents usually have to be presented when releasing goods for free circulation:

  • Declaration of customs value (with value of goods greater than EUR 10,000) (or: with goods valued more than EUR 10,000)
  • Commercial invoice or proof of value
  • Transport documents (such as CMR form, air waybill or bill of lading)

Depending on the goods, other documents may also be required, including:

  • Certificate of origin/declarations of origin/movement certificates (such as in the case of the utilisation of benefits from free trade agreements, preferential agreements, cooperation agreements and association agreements)
  • Import permits/import licences and surveillance documents
  • International import permit/delivery verification certificate (such as in the case of goods and technology with strategic importance)

Import Restrictions

Some goods may only be marketed in Germany if they comply with certain conditions regarding ingredients, materials or technical specifications. The TARIC database shows whether any limitations or restrictions exist. However, actual import bans only apply to a tiny number of goods.

Different authorities are responsible for the granting of approvals or licences, depending on the nature of the goods. Please feel free to contact us for further information or refer to the responsible institutions websites:


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