DHL want to charge me for something I already own!
November 4, 2008 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm in Germany for the next few months. Had one of my hard drives shipped to me by a friend so I could get to some of my files. DHL have it now and won't give it to me without a fee and a receipt! What's up with that?

The drive is about a year old, bought it in Sydney, used it to back up all my files, went overseas. I'm in Berlin temporarily on a working holiday visa, leaving in a few months. Had the drive shipped here.

DHL want proof of purchase (this is possible, but I'll have to get someone in Sydney to try and find it, and then fax it to me or something). If it's an old item, why would they need it?

They want to charge me 9% of the declared value. I assume that's the VAT.

Apart from being a foreigner who's going to leave the country soon and so shouldn't be liable for the VAT, this hard drive is old, is mine, and has a bunch of my files on it.

I guess they think the drive is new. How can I convince them it's an old drive without having to go through the rigmarole of finding the receipt for it when I'm halfway across the world? Our friend who sent it labelled it as a gift - I didn't think this would be a big deal. Maybe it is? This is all compounded by my crappy handle on the German language. Your advice will be bestowed on a grateful recipient. Thanks all.
posted by mooza to Travel & Transportation around Germany (11 answers total)
Provide manufacturing date based on the serial number? If it old enough, maybe they won't care.
posted by chillmost at 11:01 AM on November 4, 2008

They want the proof of purchase so they know the true value and the age. Now that it has gotten to this point I doubt you will be able to convince them otherwise. Can you get a credit card statement with the purchase on it online perhaps?

Given your circumstances, and the fact that you will be taking the goods with you when you leave a few months later, you may be able to get out of paying duty or import VAT to German customs, but I don't think you will be able to get out of DHL's brokerage fee (which I imagine is a flat fee rather than a percentage).
posted by grouse at 11:03 AM on November 4, 2008

The only way to do this is to get proof of purchase. DHL is being paranoid about getting nailed for VAT, because people try this time of dodge all the time. Buy something someplace cheap and then ship it some place expensive. This kind of arbitrage is actually called "smuggling," and governments don't like it and generally make it a pain in the ass for shipping companies as a result.

It may be old, you may be leaving soon, it may have your stuff on it, and you may not be planning on giving it to someone who will be staying there, but they don't know that in a way a court would believe. Just get the receipt and you'll be fine.
posted by valkyryn at 11:06 AM on November 4, 2008

I don't think they care if it is new, or used, or yours, or anyone elses, or what's on it. They care about importing goods.

You are importing a piece of goods and you have to pay VAT for that, and if you don't want to do that, theoretically, you have to plan that pretty well in advance, provide a carnet following the item that shows that this is an item you are bringing into the country, with no intention of staying, planning on taking it out later, and usually you then have to pay a percentage of the items value which will be reimbursed when you leave the country.

I think what they want is: A receipt for the item to show it's value (NOT your ownership, just the value), so they can calculate and have you pay 9% in import fees of that. So just get an receipt, either yours or else, of the harddrive, pay the import tax, and be done with it, get your files. I think your other options is shitloads of work, bureacracy and struggles.

Not sure if this is entirely correct for Germany, but this happens everytime I either buy myself, or get shipped technological stuff via courieres, into Norway. Some of the couriers charge the fee after delivery, including their brokerage fee, but then the value of the item is stated on the shipment.

YMMV and would be great if you could get someone in Germany to comment on this, I could be wrong, but think I'm right :)
posted by gmm at 11:19 AM on November 4, 2008

Best answer: I'll give this one a try, based on my experience with German customs.

Most of the above is right- they need you to prove that this is not something you imported for a dodge, or will attempt to re-sell. Marking the package as a gift was a red flag for DHL.

Do they have a physical location you can go to where you can discuss this? Or are you dealing with them only over the phone? When I went to pick up some books I'd shipped to myself at the Zollhaus, I had to open the box in front of a customs agent and show him the marks in the books to prove that they weren't new, thet they were mine, and that I had no intention of selling them. If DHL can give you an address, you can request to open the box in the presence of an inspector to demonstrate that your stuff is on it, that it's old, and that your friend made a stupid mistake by labeling it as a gift.

Are you conducting these conversations in German? You also might contact DHL USA for help.

It might be easier to have someone you trust back up your files and try to re-send them.

Feel free to MeFi mail me if you think there's anything I can help with.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:35 AM on November 4, 2008

the law says goods that have been yours for more than six months have no import taxes levied onto them. fedex would have been a better choice for you here. I don't think they will release the package without you paying up or showing proof of purchase at this point (even though it's yours and I think this is illegal in germany) but the good news is that you can just take any old harddrive receipt and show them a copy. just get a friend to fax or email you a receipt from two years ago.
posted by krautland at 12:23 PM on November 4, 2008

Keep in mind that your friend falsified customs documents on your behalf when he listed the item as a "gift." So you might not want to bring a lot of attention to this by trying to get out of the duties and fees by arguing that it has been your personal property for so long.
posted by grouse at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah we didn't pick DHL - the package was sent using Australia Post, DHL just seems to take care of all the domestic package post in Germany...maybe I'm wrong about that but DHL seems to be everywhere.

We're going to try to access the files in their presence so they can see all the old files on it and how old the drive actually is...I'm having trouble finding the actual receipt for this drive, but if I can use any receipt that could be a goer.

Surely I could explain our friend just made a mistake in declaring it as a gift? Especially if we can show them that the drive is actually quite old.
posted by mooza at 3:32 PM on November 4, 2008

"DHL seems to be everywhere"
well yeah, they are Deutsche Post World Net. as in the old Bundespost.
posted by krautland at 1:09 AM on November 5, 2008

Deutsche Post, and especially DHL, is totally screwed up. Makes the USPS look like a well-oiled and maintained machine. Seriously! (in spite of that wonderful Gary Larson animation they had as an advert, years back).

As a legal resident, you have the right to import your personal household goods, with the caveat that such goods must be older than x-months (I don't know exactly how old, possibly the 6 months stated above is correct). That is the nature of this case. The mis-labeled "gift" thing is unfortunate. I would present to DHL a copy of your personal papers (visa/passport/residential permit, from the "Auslanderameldungamt") Demonstrate the existing files and their age, and apologize that your friend (who is, after all, an ignorant Australian, undoubtedly descended from criminals) said it was a 'gift'. You will still have to pay fees for DHL handling the paperwork. (Global economy my ass, amirite?)

Consolation prize: fees for goods coming in to Switzerland are more onerous. 18 Swiss Francs just for paperwork!
posted by Goofyy at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thought I would let everyone know what happened.
We went armed with our passports, plane tickets and a print out of the bank statement with the purchase transaction on it (we couldn't find the receipt easily). We also had our laptop so we could hook the thing up and show the guy our files.
He didn't speak very good English, and we didn't speak very good German, and he ended up just giving up and letting us go without making us pay anything. We didn't even show him our documents.
I get the impression that we could easily have been screwed.
But hooray!
posted by mooza at 12:54 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

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