Travelers flying to Germany have an allowance of EUR 430 that also applies to souvenirs. If this exemption is exceeded, draconian penalties may be assessed by German customs authorities.
Customs offenses comparable to tax evasion
Customs offenses are often comparable to tax evasion, with the latter being handled by revenue offices. When it comes to imposing penalties for small offenses, however, customs authorities far exceed what is imposed by revenue offices for comparable offenses.
Using Frankfurt am Main as an example, the revenue and finance authorities impose penalties in the form of “daily rates” for smaller tax evasion offenses. The person concerned has a choice of either paying the assessed daily rate or of spending 24 hours in custody for each rate. The overwhelming majority decides to make the payment.
The amount of the daily rate depends on the person’s individual income situation and varies between EUR 1 and EUR 5,000. The monthly income available to the individual is determined by the authorities. If souvenirs result in a tax recovery, it is crucial how many daily rates are imposed.
These issue are often resolved in mass procedures based on tables listing the range of sentences. In Frankfurt, for example, the individual must expect three to four daily rates as a penalty for EUR 500 in evaded taxes. Customs authorities, on the other hand, use a different computation method, where the evasion amount is divided by a factor of 40. Customs and duties evasion of EUR 500 then result in some 12 daily rates as a penalty. Compared with tax evasion of the same amount, this is a significantly more severe punishment!
Using the red exit area on airports
Taking this into account, it is urgently recommended to notify customs authorities of all souvenirs once the traveler’s allowance has been reached. Generally, by using the “red” exit area when leaving the airport, customs authorities will check whether there are duties to be paid. This is a way to make certain that souvenirs will keep bringing joy long after the traveler has returned home.
More on German Customs Law:
Honeymoon and wedding abroad: German Customs shows no mercy