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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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the value of imported goods exceeds 1,500 THB, it can go in three different ways:
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)
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.
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:
Courier handling fees may include:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.