Getting the goods to your customers


  • Ranked 1st out of 160 countries in the World Bank’s 2014 International Logistics Performance Index.
  • Well-equipped to deal with the demands of e-commerce with a logistics network that was advanced in technology and infrastructure even before the digital shopping age due to a long-standing fondness for traditional mail order.
  • Total surface area of 357,170 km2 with a central geographic position that borders 9 other countries. A temperate climate with a relatively unchallenging topography.
  • Developed logistical network with a strong emphasis on efficiency, making delivery costs in Germany amongst the lowest in Europe.
  • The perception of high costs for the delivery of goods purchased online is one of the factors most likely to lead to a German customer abandoning his shopping basket.
  • Local consumers express a desire for multiple, flexible delivery options; 91% of German retailers work with multiple carriers to provide the desired convenient and personalised delivery service that establishes consumer loyalty in this location.
  • Click & Collect is still an emerging delivery service option in Germany; only 23% of respondents have used Click & Collect services when ordering goods online. There are, however, an ever-growing number of locker collection points here.
  • Whilst same-day delivery is commonly offered by local online retailers, German customers tend to prefer free delivery within a timeframe of two – three days.
  • Cross-border deliveries in Germany still make up only a fraction of the total, with many customers citing returns management and reverse logistics as the more prohibitive factors in making international purchases.


  • In Germany, returns rates for goods purchased online are amongst the highest in Europe, ranging from 5-10% for electronics and above 70% for fashion. Certainly, average return rates of 40% are not uncommon.
  • Good returns management is thus key in this market.
  • A majority of German online shoppers (63%) express a desire to have a least two returns options.
Paid postage 54%
Return to convenient location 40%
In-store returns 37%
Appointment pickup 16%
Locker/box drop off 5%


  • Nearly 75% of surveyed online shoppers in Germany report that they have returned goods in the past year, with German e-shoppers on average returning 12% of the purchases they make.
  • 78% of German respondents report that, when deciding whether to make a purchase, they first look at how returns-friendly an e-shop’s policy is.
  • As of June 2014, EU-established e-retailers are no longer obliged to offer free returns, however, free returns are rapidly becoming the norm in Germany. 40% of consumers surveyed said that if they have to pay for returns, they consider their purchases more carefully.



  • Germany is Europe’s number one logistics hub, with a world-class transportation infrastructure of quality roads, airports, railways and ports.
  • Germany’s dense road network forms the cornerstone of its logistical infrastructure; in 2013 around 77% of all tonnage of goods was transported on Germany’s 12,500km of roads and highways. This network is continuing to expand each year.
  • As Europe’s leader in air cargo, Germany has an impressive network of airports – 23 of which offer international services. Frankfurt airport, Europe’s largest cargo airport, handles approximately 50% of Germany’s air freight.
  • Germany boasts two of the four largest seaports in Europe, making it Europe’s biggest shipping market. Hamburg is Germany’s largest port.
  • The nation’s sea and inland ports account for some 12% of the market for shipped goods in Germany, and the nation’s waterways cover an impressive 7,450km.
  • Rail transport covers around 9% of the market for hauled goods in Germany.


Many factors influence the procedures and requirements for bringing goods across German borders – notably the nature of the goods, modes of transport, final destination and purpose of the goods concerned. Germany’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 utmost importance when it comes to the applicable customs process.

The customs territory of the EU includes nearly all of Germany, with the exception of the Island of Heligoland and the territory of Büsingen.


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.

Germany also implements a national coffee excise duty.


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 Germany 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 Germany 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 Germany 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 Germany 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 Germany a seller has to register for German VAT if the annual value of his distance sales exceed the German distance selling threshold of €100,000.

If the annual value of a seller’s distance sales into Germany 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 German limit then he will have to register for German VAT. He must then charge VAT on his VAT-taxable distance sales at the German rate (19% or 7%) and account for it in Germany.

If excise goods are sent to Germany 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 Germany 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 Germany is 19%, however certain products attract a reduced rate of 7%. 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 Germany, including alcohol, tobacco and coffee products.


Fortunately for consumers buying relatively inexpensive goods, Germany imposes duty-free thresholds below which imports into the country have customs duties and VAT waived.

Customs duty will not be payable if the value of the goods imported (excluding shipping and insurance cost) does not exceed €150.VAT will not be payable if the value of the goods imported (excluding shipping and insurance cost) does not exceed €22.Both duty and VAT are waived if the combined value of the customs duty and VAT incurred does not exceed €5.

Other areas of interest

Meeting your regulatory responsibilities

The legislation and tax applicable to you when selling to German consumers will vary depending on whether you are an EU incorporated entity or operating outside of the Union.

Reaching and engaging your consumers

Germany boasts a well-developed e-commerce environment therefore giving German consumers the option to be picky when purchasing from online stores.

Receiving payment from your customers

German consumers are traditional in their online payment methods, favouring direct debit or online bank transfer mechanisms.

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