Customs duty & import tax in Thailand: How much they are & how to pay less
August 2, 2022
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How much is the customs duty in Thailand?
Customs duty & import tax are two main (but not the only) taxes when importing products into Thailand. But they aren’t unique to Thailand. Most, if not all countries, impose them on goods brought into the country through land, air or sea.
Customs duty in Thailand is a variable fee depending on the product category (see the table below).
Import tax is a regular 7% value-added tax. However, importing certain products (alcohol, cigarettes etc.), can trigger additional taxes, such as excise tax or luxury goods tax (more on that below).
In Thailand, the government agency in charge of these controlling & collecting these fees is the Thai Customs Department.
In general, import tariffs apply to various goods – from agricultural products to pharmaceutical products. And besides generating income for the country, they allow them to level up (or sometimes stifle) the competition. For example, high tariffs on certain products may make exporters of the said products less competitive on the market.
But in this article, we will focus on personal consumer goods that a regular person like you or me can bring into the country by having them shipped by mail or on a plane. Depending on how you import the products, different level of scrutiny applies.
Customs duty & tax rates for product categories
General consumer products are divided into the following categories:
|Accessory (with battery)||10%|
|Bags & luggages||20%|
|Books & collectibles||0%|
|Computers & laptops||0%|
|Dry food & supplements||35%|
|Health & beauty||5%|
|Mobile phones & tablets||0%|
|Sport & leisure||10%|
Importing other more expensive items, primarily cars, is a chapter on its own. The duty on cars is eye-watering 70+%. You can find out more about the process of importing them into Thailand here.
The above duty rates are only applicable to countries with which Thailand doesn’t have a free trade agreement. Those that do enjoy incentivised tax rates or are entirely exempt. In 2022, this list contains Australia, New Zealand, Chile, India, Japan, Peru, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan and South Korea.
Prohibited & restricted goods
Before you import anything into Thailand, it’s good to know what you can’t bring and what’s restricted.
|Prohibited goods||Restricted goods|
|Narcotics||Buddha image, artifact/objects, antique|
|Pornographic materials||Guns, bullets, explosives, and the equivalents to guns|
|Counterfeit trademark goods and IPR infringing goods||Plants and their parts|
|Fake notes or coins||Living animals and carcass|
|Reserved animals or CITES-listed wildlife||Food, medicine, cosmetics and food supplement|
|Cigarettes, tobacco and alcoholic beverages|
|Communication radio devices and telecommunications equipment|
While the prohibited goods are entirely out of bounds, you can import the restricted items with prior clearance from the relevant agency. For example, drugs or medical devices will need an FDA clearance. You can read more about the respective authorities here.
What do you have to declare at customs when flying to Thailand?
Items you bring with you on a plane fall under one of the two categories: Nothing to declare or Goods to declare.
To not have to declare anything on your arrival, you can bring in the following:
- Personal belongings in a reasonable quantity, which are worth no more than 20,000 baht in total and are not prohibited or restricted goods or food
- No more than 200 cigarettes or 250g of tobacco or 250g of all types combined
- No more than 1 litre of alcoholic beverage
- For the excess quantities of cigarettes, tobacco or alcoholic beverages, you must drop them in the box provided by the Customs. Otherwise, you will be prosecuted.
In practice, this isn’t as strict. I haven’t tried importing alcohol or cigarettes, but flying with personal belongings exceeding 20,000 THB has never been an issue. I believe the stress is on personal belongings in a reasonable quantity. Problems might start If you bring non-personal items (for example, goods still in original packaging) in excess quantity. This could be deemed as importing products for commercial purposes.
You can bring unlimited amount of Thai banknotes into the country, but when you fly out of the country, you must declare amounts above 450,000 THB (or equivalent).
If you have items to declare (goods exceeding the above quota), you will need to present your passport and invoices (if any) and go through the formal customs procedure and payment. You can read more about the process on the Thai Customs’ website.
Personal & households items import clearance
If you are bringing in personal & household items in larger but still reasonable quantities, for example, when you are moving in, you can qualify for a duty exemption and import them free of taxes and duties.
You can read more about the household items duty exemption and its criteria here or here.
Customs duty & tax when importing goods into Thailand by mail
Sending products to Thailand by mail is probably the most common & practical way of importing products, but not necessarily the cheapest. How smooth the process is depends on the value of what you are importing and the goods’ value.
Goods exempt from duty
The good news is that products whose total value (price + shipping + insurance) is lower than 1,500 THB are exempt from customs duty & tax and will be delivered to you directly without any problems.
Goods liable for duty
When the value of imported goods exceeds 1,500 THB, it can go in three different ways:
- Goods valued between 1,500 – 40,000 THB and are not restricted
Goods imported by international post (DHL, FedEx, UPS etc.) and valued between 1,500 and 40,000 THB are liable for customs duty & tax (the products must not be prohibited, restricted or require a sample analysis). The Customs officer calculates the customs value and duty & taxes before handing the package over to the Thai post, which then distributes the goods and collects any taxes on behalf of the Customs Department. The Thai post will send you a letter notifying you of the package and where to pick it up. This is typically at the district post office. For example, if you live in the Bangna area, it will be Bangna Post Office. If you are unhappy with the customs value of your goods or want to get an exception, you can file an objection.
- Goods valued between 1,500 – 40,000 and can be restricted
Imported goods are valued between 1,500 THB and 40,000 THB and are/or can be on the restricted list. Depending on each case, this type of goods is handed over to be stored at the Postal Customs Service Division or Customs Bureau/Customs House. You, as a recipient, aren’t required to prepare and submit an import declaration electronically. Customs will calculate customs value and duty and taxes at the same customs office and send you instructions on where to pick up your goods.
- Goods valued at 40,000+ THB
When the value is greater than 40,000 THB, the goods are likewise stored at Postal Customs Service Division or Customs Bureau/Customs House. In this case, however, you will have to prepare & submit an import declaration electronically to the Thai Customs Electronic System.
How is import duty calculated in Thailand?
The bad news is that in Thailand, the Customs Department calculates import duty & taxes based on the value of the imported goods and shipping & insurance costs (the so-called CIF method – cost, insurance & freight). In other words, it looks at the total cost of the product right up to delivery.
According to the CIF formula, the duty is calculated as:
Duty = Y% * X
Tax = 7% * (X + Duty)
Assessed value for duty (X) = Product price + Shipping costs + Insurance costs
In practice, this means that expensive shipping and insurance (if any) can make your product’s final cost much more costly.
The final price of the imported products will consist of:
Final price = Assessed value for duty X + Duty Y% * X + VAT 7% * (X + Duty)
Determining the assessed value for duty
The Customs Department calculates the product’s assessed value (also called customs value) using six methods. But they don’t always get it right, especially when the declared value in an invoice issued by the seller is 0 THB or otherwise adjusted.
In the above example, the real customs value was 78 USD (~2,680 THB), but because the seller stated the declared value as 0 THB, the customs used one of their methods to determine the assessed value. I got off lightly!
It can also go the other way if the officer overassesses the value of your goods. When that happens, you can object and present them with additional documents, such as invoices, product page or proof of transaction.
Example: Buying clothes online from abroad
Product price = 1,900 THBShipping costs = 0 THB
Insurance = 0 THB
Assessed value for duty = 1,900 THB
Duty = 30% * 1,900 = 570 THB
VAT = 7% * (1,900 + 570) = 7% * 2,470 = 173 THB
Price to pay when collecting it: 570 + 173 = 743 THB
Post office collection charge: 20 THB
Final price = 1,500 + 400 + 570 + 173 + 20 = 2,663 THB
Price increase: 77.5%
In this case, the final price is 77.5% greater than the product’s original price, making it almost twice as expensive. Ouch!
If this is all confusing, you can use this handy calculator to estimate your taxes.
Unfortunately, customs duty & import tax aren’t the only taxes you may encounter. Some of the other taxes you can come across are:
- Excise duty (usually levied on alcohol, tobacco, and fuel products)
- Consumption tax on luxury goods (30% in Thailand!)
- Environmental tax
- Clearance/entry fees
Courier handling fees may include:
- Customs clearance fee, or customs handling fee for processing the import declaration
- Terminal & customs permit charges
- Warehouse fee – per day until the shipment is released from the customs
- Advancement fee for paying the duty and VAT on behalf of the recipient
- Airline handling fee for loading and unloading the goods
- Security fee for screening or x-raying the goods
Tips for minimising import duty & tax and streamlining the import process
The thing is that you don’t always have to pay customs duty & tax in Thailand. Even though the Customs probably follow some formal process, no one knows how it works, so there’s luck involved. Sometimes you will get away without paying a dime; sometimes not.
But since you can’t rely on luck all the time, below are a few strategies that can help save you some money and make the importing process easier.
Beware of mixed item orders
This is the low-hanging fruit. When you order a package containing both exempt and taxed items, the assessed value of the import duties and taxes assessed will be for the total purchase price and shipping costs of the entire package since the Customs Department doesn’t itemise products.
So to avoid paying excess import charges, it’s best to separately ship products that will have an import duty assessed.
Shop at bigger retailers
Big retailers like Amazon anticipates the import fees and charge you for them in advance. If they don’t need the funds, they will refund you.
You will have a similarly seamless experience with “local” retailers in Thailand, such as Lazada and Shopee or even the Chinese AliExpress.
On the other hand, you are largely on your own when shopping from independent stores abroad, meaning you will have to take care of the import duties and communication.
Avoid private shipping companies if possible
The same applies to private shipping companies, such as DHL, FedEx or UPS. With them, you can’t pay for import taxes in advance, and they ultimately leave the matters in the hands of Thai Customs, which isn’t always transparent. But more importantly, you will have to deal with the department or post office yourself.
In general, people recommend using the public post offices where possible, such as the United States Postal Service (USPS), China Post etc.
Knowing what product categories to buy/import and what to avoid
Knowing the duty rates (and other taxes) for each product can help you see what’s worth buying or importing into Thailand and what’s best to get while you are abroad (although this is not always practical).
For example, imported clothes, cars, liquor and luxury goods are some of the categories hit hardest by taxes in Thailand (luxury goods face an additional 30% luxury goods tax). So it’s best to stay away from them if possible.
Interestingly, even though there’s no duty on books, English books are much more expensive in Thailand than in the UK or USA.
Another problematic category is health devices. Many require FDA clearance, and it’s quite a hassle to bring them in.
On the other hand, some product categories can be cheaper in Thailand than abroad, namely certain electronics, such as Apple devices, GoPro cameras etc.
Undervaluing your goods
Since importers need to include necessary paperwork in the package, including a commercial invoice, one way of minimising your fees is having them undervalue your goods. You can safely get away with some modification but need to be sensible about it.
Potential difficulties could arise, for example, if your package needed to be insured, as lowering the declared value limits the amount you can insure it for.
Sensibility is the key. If you undervalue it too much, it may raise suspicion. The officers may end up with unfavourable customs value of your goods. Sometimes you could also be asked for additional paperwork, such as proof of payment, the product page on the website and your invoice, so bear that in mind.
Get a broker to help with additional clearance and stuck items
This method might not always save you money but can make the process easier. If your item got stuck at the Customs and required additional clearance, for example, from FDA, it can be a chore to orchestrate its release.
You may be required to register as an importer (which happened to me before) and send additional paperwork. Then there are more fees involved, such as customs clearance and a daily warehousing fee until your package is released (this can add up if you don’t act fast).
If that happens, you might be better off using a broker to help you get your product unstuck or get it faster.
Sending as a personal package/gift and using your Thai friend/spouse as a recipient
There’s anecdotal evidence that these two methods may help you fly under the radar, but don’t rely on them. Thai people are liable to pay customs duty just as foreigners, but they might perhaps raise less suspicion. Gifts or personal packages can be intercepted as well.
If you have a chance to use these methods, they may decrease your odds of getting caught, but they are not a guarantee.
Importing products into Thailand and customs duty is a complex topic. We barely scratched the surface here, but I hope it will serve as a good starting point for understanding how it all works and saving you money and time.
I’ve linked official and useful resources throughout the article. If you want to know more about other people’s personal experiences, read this thread on Aseannow.
Do you know any more tips for minimising the customs duty & import tax in Thailand? Let me know by submitting the form here.