All goods imported into Australia must be cleared by customs before they can pass through the border to the end purchaser. The Australian Border Force (ABF) may screen, x-ray or examine any goods for import. Note that the Department of Agriculture may also need to inspect and clear goods before they are released from customs.
All imported goods must be cleared by customs whether they are carried by air, sea or post, though processes for clearance and any duties and taxes to pay differ depending on the value of goods and how they arrive in Australia.
An importer does not require a general import licence to bring goods into Australia, though there are a variety of procedural and regulatory considerations an importer will need to be aware of before and during the customs clearance process. Depending upon the nature of the goods to be imported, an importer should educate itself on:
What import permits, quarantine permits and treatments apply to its specific category and type of imported goods;
Whether it’s goods are subject to mandatory safety or information standards they must meet before they are supplied or sold.
Authorities in Australia have imposed a number of obligations on suppliers of goods in relation to certain consumer products bound for Australia. These can be broadly grouped into mandatory safety and minimum information standards, though there are also voluntary standards.
Mandatory safety standards require supplied goods to comply with particular performance characteristics, composition requirements, contents, methods of manufacture or processing, design, construction, finish or packaging rules.
Minimum information standards, required so that consumers are provided with important details of a product, might mean that a supplier of goods must, for example, affix appropriate labels to goods supplied to Australian consumers.
This can include ingredient labelling for cosmetics, labelling for tobacco products and care labelling for clothing and textile products. Information standards may or may not relate to safety.
Goods that are subject to Australian mandatory standards include baby dummies, bean bags, bicycles and bicycle helmets, blinds, curtains and window fittings, cots and sunglasses. There are, of course, industry-specific regulations.
For some imported products there are also package labelling requirements that must be met in order for goods to clear customs, though not all products require such labelling. Certain goods, e.g. watches, clothing and shoes, cannot be imported unless they are correctly labelled with the required trade description.
All trade description labels require the inclusion of the country of origin of the goods concerned as well as a true description of the goods.
Australian authorities prohibit the use of certain packaging for goods imported into Australia. In some circumstances, customs may quarantine a parcel. Avoid using any of the following packaging materials:
Some imports into Australia are restricted or prohibited altogether.
Restricted goods will require written permission to be imported. Such products include diamonds, novelty erasers and goods bearing an image of the Australian national/territory/state flag(s) and coat(s) of arms.
If goods contain industrial chemicals (e.g. cosmetics, adhesives, plastics, inks, household cleaning products and toiletries), they will also require additional registration.
Duties and taxes may become payable on goods imported into Australia, though applicable rates depend upon the type and value of the goods in question, as well as their country of origin. Customs service fees, customs duty and Goods and Services Tax (GST) are all possible charges.
Please note that when sending goods for inspection, Australian customs may apply additional tax or duty to your shipment. If so, these charges will be the responsibility of the person receiving the parcel.
GST is a 10% tax on the sale of most goods and services in Australia, and most goods imported into Australia are taxable importations for GST purposes, though there are exceptions (i.e. certain foodstuffs, some medical aids and imports that qualify for certain duty concessions – see detail on Australia’s duty-free threshold, below). Businesses registered for GST will usually include it in the sales price of goods offered to Australian consumers.
The ABF collects GST on taxable importations. The value of a taxable importation to which this tax is applied is the sum of:
The customs value of the goods;
For foreign companies providing goods or services ‘connected with Australia’, there may be a statutory obligation to register for GST, though there is an annual GST registration threshold of AUD 75,000, based on both current and projected turnover.
All goods imported into Australia require classification for tariff purposes, and declaration procedures for products are based upon self-assessment by importers. The classification of the good and the good’s country of origin are both relevant in determining the rate of duty payable by the importer (the consumer). Declarations must be made to the ABF.
Duty rates in Australia vary from 0% to 10%, with an average duty rate of 4.6%. Some goods are not subject to duty (e.g. laptops and other electronic products). The valuation method for customs duty is FOB (Free on Board), which means that the import duty payable is calculated exclusively on the value of the imported goods.
Import processing charge is applicable on all imports where the goods’ value is higher than AUD 1,000. The amount depends, amongst other things, on the mode of entry and the type of import declaration.
Australia has a high duty-free threshold of AUD 1,000 (FOB value):
|Value of goods is equal to or under AUD 1,000||Value of goods is over AUD 1,000|
|There are no duties, taxes or charges to pay. These are referred to as ‘low-value imports’. Where such goods arrive at Australian customs by air or sea cargo, they must be accompanied by a Self-Assessed Clearance (SAC) declaration, though this will generally be taken care of by the cargo company or freight forwarder, as opposed to the end consumer. Goods arriving by post do not require a SAC declaration.||The end consumer will need to fill out an Import Declaration and pay any applicable duties, taxes and charges. An Import Declaration provides information about the goods a customer is importing and there is an associated processing charge.|
An Australian consumer will need to pay duties and taxes on some goods (like tobacco or alcohol) regardless of their value.
Thus, imports with a value up to and including AUD 1,000 are exempt from duty, GST and Import Processing Charge. There is an exception to this rule in that the supply of low value goods into Australia can be a taxable supply if the supply is ‘connected with’ Australia – for example if you choose to import the goods yourself.
Overall, this GST exemption means that offering low-value goods to Australia can equate to a price differential between your goods and those sold by Australian retailers. This can be a significant factor in consumer choices.
Australia has nine free trade agreements currently in force and many more under negotiation. It has also framed its tariffs and tariff quotas according to commitments under the World Trade Organisation.
Provenance of goods can therefore be important because certain origins (the United States, for example) qualify a retailer for benefits like reduced duty rates.
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