Getting the goods to your customers


  • Ranked 13th out of 160 countries in the World Bank’s 2014 International Logistics Performance Index.
  • Has a logistics infrastructure that is amongst the most developed in the world. Despite the relatively large size of France, its high-speed rail network, excellent motorway system and ocean port facilities ensure the rapid transportation of goods, and distribution costs are typically low.
  • Total surface area of 549,091km2 covering a wide variety of landscapes. These range from the coastal plains in the north and west to the mountain ranges of the southeast and southwest.
  • Divided into 27 regions, 5 of which are overseas. The 22 regions within mainland France are set to drop to 13 on the 1st of January 2016, as areas will be merged together.
  • 88% of French retailers agree that offering next day delivery increases repeat purchases, whilst also establishing customer loyalty. However only 18% of consumers feel that speed is the most important factor when it comes to delivery for online purchases.
  • The majority of French consumers rate free delivery as the most important logistical factor when purchasing online items. Consumers expect free delivery for small items in a 48-hour timeframe, but infrequently free next day delivery.
    Over the coming years, customer delivery expectations will change; technological improvements will result in less patient consumers.



Within France, average return rates are exceptionally low at around 10%, and the standard of returns services are high. When surveyed on the overall ease of making returns, the vast majority of French respondents (87%) reported that making returns was either ‘very easy’ or ‘quite easy’.



Convenience is highly desired by French consumers, so it is important to provide a selection of delivery methods. Delivery to home is the most popular delivery method, but collection points are rapidly increasing in popularity.




Many factors influence the procedures and requirements for bringing goods across French borders – notably the nature of the goods, modes of transport, final destination and purpose of the goods concerned. France’s status as a European Union (EU) Member State is also a highly significant factor; whether goods are dispatches from other EU Member States or exports from non-EU countries is of the upmost importance when it comes to the applicable customs process.

The EU customs union encompasses nearly all of France’s territory, including Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique and Reunion Islands but does not include New Caledonia, Mayotte, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Wallis and Futuna Islands, French Polynesia and French Southern and Antarctic Territories.


By and large, intra-EU movements of goods are unrestricted, with minimal internal trade barriers. This means that in most cases European goods need not comply with the onerous customs documentation and border controls associated with exports coming from outside the EU. Goods are deemed to be in ‘free circulation’ and will not require a commodity code. Quantities of exports will also not be limited.

Practically speaking, however, some restrictions do apply to intra-EU dispatches and acquisitions, and specific rules must be observed where certain goods and/or excisable products are concerned.

Some goods are considered restricted imports across the EU, regardless of their country of origin. These include:

  • Medical products;
  • Chemicals;
  • Cultural assets; and
  • Plants and products containing vegetable substances.

Such goods require special customs documentation, such as import licenses.

Excise goods also attract special procedural rules. Across the EU, alcoholic drinks, tobacco, and energy products are carefully monitored and require official accompanying documentation. Excise duty must also be paid.


EU countries implement trade defence instruments which can mean additional procedural and documentary requirements for certain categories of good and countries of origin, or altogether prohibition. Examples include:

Mandatory import licences issued by Member State authorities for particular categories of goods;
Import quotas on particular products exported from non-EU countries;
Temporary, emergency restrictions of some specific imports.
All goods imported into France from non-EU countries must be cleared by customs, and unsurprisingly the restrictions that apply to categories of goods imported from outside the EU are broader than those that apply to goods dispatched within. Additional restricted items include:

  • Agricultural products;
  • Iron and steel products;
  • Food and animal feed;
  • Products subject to strict product safety requirements;
  • Textile products and clothing;
  • Animals and products containing animal substances.


An EORI number is a unique identification number assigned by a Member State customs authority to an eligible economic operator (EO). This number:

  • Is a prerequisite for import clearance in the EU, though will only be required by a company based outside the EU where they are involved with import activity;
  • Does not have to be applied for in each individual Member State in which customs activity is undertaken by an importer; registration in one Member State is sufficient for the whole of the EU.
  • Will be registered to an EO outside the customs territory of the EU by the customs authority of the Member State where the EO first lodged a summary or customs declaration, amongst other things.
  • Must be quoted in all communications with EU customs authorities where an EU-based identifier is required. Those established outside the EU only need an EORI number if they lodge a customs declaration, an entry summary declaration or an exit summary declaration.


Submitting an ENS is an EU customs requirement. An ENS provides information on cargo entering the EU, and must be lodged at the first EU customs office encountered by a carrier of goods/importer/representative before these goods are moved into the customs territory of the Union. Deadlines for submission depend upon modes of transport.

Importantly, some of the information that a carrier/importer is obliged to include in the ENS originates from documents submitted by an exporter.

Following submission of an ENS, goods for import are placed into temporary storage under customs supervision until they are assigned a customs-approved treatment – such as the release of goods for free circulation – and all regulatory requirements are met.


Goods are released for free circulation (or other customs-approved treatments) upon the presentation of a SAD, which is either submitted electronically or delivered directly to a Member State’s customs office by an importer/representative. This document is the equivalent of an import declaration and is the common form for all EU Member States. Its completion is necessary whatever the mode of transport used for imported goods.


A customer/importer may have to pay VAT, customs duties and/or excise duties on goods imported into France before he can obtain them. Applicable taxes and duties depend upon whether such goods are dispatches from other EU Member States, or exports from non-EU countries.


No customs duties must be paid when goods are dispatched to France from other EU countries. With VAT, however the situation is more complex.

A seller may have to:

  • Record all goods sold to other EU countries on his VAT return;
  • Fill in an EC Sales List where purchasers are VAT-registered businesses;
  • Fill in an Intrastat Declaration if the seller’s total dispatches to the EU exceed the threshold of the Member State in which his organisation is registered.

Applicable rules depend upon whether or not buyers in France are VAT registered:

Customer is VAT-registered in country of residence Customer is not VAT-registered in country of residence
The seller will not pay any VAT, as goods sent to someone who is registered for VAT in another EU country are zero-rated.

A seller will require a buyer’s VAT registration number for his VAT return, as well as paperwork proving that the goods have been sent within specified time limits.

‘Distance selling’ occurs when a VAT-registered business in one EU country supplies and delivers goods to a customer in the EU who isn’t VAT–registered (i.e. a private individual).

When distance selling into France a seller has to register for French VAT if the annual value of his distance sales exceed the French distance selling threshold of €100,000.

If the annual value of a seller’s distance sales into France are <€100,000, he must charge VAT at the rate that applies in his own EU country and account for VAT there. If the value of a seller’s distance sales goes over this French limit then he will have to register for French VAT. He must then charge VAT on his VAT-taxable distance sales at the French rate (20%, 10%, 5.5% or 2.1%) and account for it in France.

If excise goods are sent to France by an EU seller, the excise duty must be included in the price of goods. If not, the goods may be seized at customs


Whether it is a commercial entity or a private individual importing goods into France from outside the EU, duties and taxes will likely become due.

Under usual circumstances, a product’s commodity code must be identified. This code determines the level of duty and tax that must be paid, and identifies whether a license is required. Regulations, trade measures and product standards are harmonised across most EU member states.


Where duty has already been paid and other import conditions have been met, goods that have been produced outside the EU and brought in are in free circulation. Where this is not the case, the rules for importing goods from non-EU countries must be followed.

The EU operates a common external customs tariff based upon the harmonised system of the World Customs Organisation to goods that are imported from non-EU countries. Applicable tariff rates can be researched at the Integrated Tariff of the European Union database.

Duty rates applied typically range between 0% and 17%. Some products – e.g. many electronics – are duty free. Some goods can also be subject to additional duties depending on their country of origin.

Most import duties are calculated ad valorem, meaning they are expressed as a percentage of the CIF (cost, insurance and freight) value of the imported goods.


An importer/customer may have to pay ‘import’ VAT on goods imported into the EU from outside the territory before they are released from customs. The standard rate of VAT for importing products into France is 20%, however certain products come under a reduced rate of 10%, and still others attract a significantly reduced rate of 5.5% or 2.1%. VAT is calculated on the CIF price of goods plus any import duty due.


Excise duties will also become payable on the import of certain goods into France, including alcohol and tobacco products.


Fortunately for consumers buying relatively inexpensive goods, France imposes a duty-free threshold below which imports into the country have customs duties waived. VAT is, however, always payable for imports into France.

Customs duty will not be payable if the value of the goods imported (excluding shipping and insurance cost) does not exceed €150.

Other areas of interest

Meeting your regulatory responsibilities

The legislation and tax applicable to you when selling to French consumers will vary depending on whether you are an EU incorporated entity.

Reaching and engaging your consumers

French consumers are efficient online shoppers who place great value on the accessibility of information and are very likely to shop around for the best deal.

Receiving Payment From Your Customers

Online shoppers in France are very confident when it comes to placing trust in online payment mechanisms.

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