If part of your travel budget is earmarked for buying electronics on the cheap while on vacation, you should make sure that the supposed bargain doesn’t turn into a cost trap; after all, customs can impose fines of up to 50,000 euros. And a criminal case for attempted tax evasion is not exactly pleasant either.
The trip to the USA or the backpacker trip through Asia has been planned for a long time, and now it’s finally time to go. The travel fund is well filled, because the low prices for electronics promise real bargains. However, the price advantage can quickly come to an end if you find out after your vacation that the device does not work properly in Germany or that its operation is not even permitted. Some things to consider when buying electronic devices on vacation are quickly clarified: The new laptop should have a German keyboard if you do not want to get used to typing. A foreign power plug – there are 20 different ones worldwide – can still be “bridged” with an adapter.
Electronic devices from other EU countries – check CE marking
When it comes to the technical safety of electronic devices, you are usually on the safe side within the EU. This is because only electronic devices with CE marking may be sold in other EU countries. If this is not the case, don’t buy it! It is most likely product piracy, which will cost you dearly in customs.
However, you could also get into trouble despite CE marking if the device has a defect. The warranty is valid for two years throughout the EU, but you will have to deal with the dealer from whom you bought the device. Even if you were to find a dealer in Germany, it cannot be guaranteed that he has the appropriate spare parts.
Also interesting: Order from Amazon abroad
Cheap smartphone from the USA – what you need to consider
When vacationing in the USA, the cheaper prices for an iPhone, for example, are tempting. However, if you buy a smartphone with SIM card on vacation, make sure that the device also works with a SIM card from Germany. Otherwise, the SIM lock of the foreign mobile provider will quickly put an end to the joy of the new smartphone.
In addition, the language selection is often skimped on with inexpensive smartphones. Without German, it can be difficult to find the right settings. Furthermore, when buying a smartphone outside of Europe, you have to make sure that the device also supports the frequency bands used in Europe so that you do not have to accept any restrictions when surfing the Internet or making phone calls. This is especially true for LTE reception, because almost 40 different frequency bands are used worldwide for this standard.
In Germany, mobile providers use frequency bands around 900 MHz for GSM, and in some cases also around 1800 MHz. UMTS transmits via frequencies around 2000 MHz in this country. LTE is received by smartphones in the 800 MHz range, and in some cases also in the 900 and 1800 MHz and 2000 and 2600 MHz ranges.
It is better to refrain from buying a 5G smartphone while on vacation. In Germany, the frequency range between 3.4 and 3.8 GHz is used for this purpose, as well as isolated frequencies around 700 MHz. But 5G can also be used in many other frequency ranges. As with LTE, there is no cross-border harmonization here. The issue of frequencies also plays a role when buying a drone. The remote control frequencies used must also be approved in Germany. In this country, the frequencies 2.4 and 5.8 GHz are usually used for the radio connection to the drone and a camera attached to it.
This is what customs requires for electronic devices
If you have purchased an electronic device within the EU on vacation, all duties are already included in the purchase price. If, on the other hand, you are traveling back to Germany from a non-EU country, you must declare the goods to be cleared verbally to customs if the so-called travel allowance is exceeded.
For air and sea travel, the allowance is 430 euros. Of course, this applies to all goods purchased on vacation and imported into Germany, such as clothing, alcohol, cigarettes or even electronic devices. If you are not traveling by plane or ship, the allowance is 300 euros. For travelers under the age of 15, the allowance is 175 euros. If the value of the electronic device exceeds these amounts, an import duty is due. It amounts to 17.5 percent of the value of the goods if this does not exceed 700 euros. If the device is even more expensive, customs will demand further duties. Be sure to keep the proof of purchase, otherwise customs will estimate the value as a lump sum, which is often to your disadvantage.
Better not to cheat – burden of proof on the traveler
If you now think you can pass off your new smartphone as the one you already owned when you started your trip, you should know that customs is quite capable of determining the origin of electronic devices. In the case of particularly high-value goods, they can also demand proof of purchase. The burden of proof is on you.
If you are caught smuggling, you will have to pay duty on the goods. If the value of the goods is up to 700 euros, a customs surcharge in the amount of the value of the goods will be added in any case. So you pay double. In addition, you could be fined up to 50,000 euros.
For goods over 700 euros, criminal proceedings will be initiated for attempted tax evasion. You could face a fine of up to 360 daily rates or, in very serious cases, imprisonment for up to five years. In any case, it’s certain that the vacation break will soon be over.
- Federal Network Agency