Maltese consumers buying goods from the UK are facing a set of complicated new charges because of the country’s exit from the EU’s single market.
Like any other non-EU country, goods costing more than €22 may now be subject to VAT while customs duties might be added to some purchases over €150.
There could also be a customs clearance fee, ranging from €5 to €18 depending on the price of the product and whether it is delivered through MaltaPost or another courier such as UPS or DHL.
In an update on its website detailing the new changes, MaltaPost said anyone buying from the UK should now consider themselves an “importer”.
Jan Micallef, a lawyer specialising in EU and international trade law, said trading with the UK has now become “more complex”, despite the Brexit trade agreement.
“Consumers in Malta shopping from UK e-commerce sites may be faced with situations such as unexpected customs formalities or having to pay customs duties if the goods they purchase do not originate in the UK and/or the EU,” he explained.
For example, if a person buys a set of sheets from a UK retailer that originated in China there could be fees but if they are mostly made from UK or EU materials, there would not.
“In certain cases, they might also end up having to unfairly pay VAT twice (in the UK and Malta) when, in principle, they should only pay it once and in Malta.”
And if the fees are not handled at the point of sale by the online retailer, goods may be held at customs pending payment of duty and tax.
Many online retailers have already come up with solutions
Many UK-based online retailers have, however, already come up with solutions by building in the charges at the check-out stages.
For example, Amazon UK has included an “import fees deposit” that applies an estimate of import fees applicable to the delivery region.
The deposit is to reimburse delivery companies for import fees they pay on behalf of a customer. If the deposit exceeds the final import costs, Amazon refunds the difference.
Another solution is to use the German-based Amazon.de, or other EU sites such as Amazon.it and Amazon.fr, and so bypass fees and charges.
ASOS, another popular UK-based online retailer in Malta, has also bypassed the problem, telling customers “there’s no need to worry” because any orders to Malta will be shipped from their EU-based warehouse.
“In order to avoid unpleasant surprises, at least for the first few months of 2021, consumers might want to consider shopping from sites based in the EU or having warehouses in the EU or from UK sites that have adjusted their procedures to be in harmony with the new Brexit agreement and which are able to sell to consumers in the EU with conditions that are transparent,” Micallef advised.
Consumers who bought goods after New Year’s Eve are already beginning to be sent e-mails from MaltaPost’s SendOn service asking them to complete a customs declaration form.
This form, detailing the contents of the package, will then be checked to see if customs duty, excise duty and VAT is chargeable.
Which new charges can shoppers expect?
Under the new Brexit agreement, no duties will have to be paid if the good purchased from the UK is deemed to originate in the UK and/or the EU. This is known as ‘rules of origin’. However, if the good originates from elsewhere (say, it is specifically made in China or the US), then duties might need to be paid. This further depends on what product it is and where it originates from.
Any duties would apply only if the goods are valued at over €150.
VAT is not payable if the consignment of goods is below €22 unless they are tobacco or alcohol products. The taxable amount is made up of the customs value plus the duty paid including any transportation and insurance costs.
Alcohol and tobacco products which arrive in Malta will be held by the Malta customs authority and will be released from customs after the payment of excise duty.
Customs clearance fees
The customs clearance fee is the ‘permission to pass’ that the national customs authority grants to the imported goods.
Charges vary from one courier to the other.
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