Shopping Online from Australia, Customs and Duty Charges
– a Quick Primer

Current as of January 2015

If you’re shopping online for products, for either your own personal use or as gifts for friends and family, as well as general online shopping tips, there are a few general guidelines that you should be aware of to ensure that you don’t end up with a nasty surprise in the form of customs and tax charges.

While importation rules are many and varied, you should keep the following general rules in mind when shopping online:

  • Use your commonsense and don’t import anything that is restricted or prohibited. This covers all of the usual categories, such as drugs, weapons, pirated material, offensive material, biological material and so on.

  • You can import products up to AU$1000 without incurring any duties, taxes or other charges however this does not apply to all products. Items such as alcohol and tobacco, for example, attract duties and taxes irrespective of the value of the goods (see our guide to importing alcohol to Australia).

  • While the duty rate will vary depending on the product imported, as a general rule of thumb most online shopping products will attract roughly a 5% rate of duty (for goods over AU$1000).

  • For any items where duty and taxes are to be paid, the GST payable will be calculated on the ‘landed’ cost of the items. This is the cost of the product (according to Customs) + any insurance costs + freight costs + any applicable duty costs. After all of those have been added together, GST is then added to the cumulative cost.

  • If you purchase products from overseas with a value exceeding AU$1000 you will need to make an Import Declaration. There is a fee for ‘processing’ the declaration, and you will also have to pay the applicable import duties and taxes.

  • If you pay customs duties and taxes on any items that you bring into Australia, but later return those products (for example, clothes that don’t fit), you cannot claim back the duty and taxes paid.

  • Items sent as gifts, either to yourself (sent from a third party), or to someone else (ordered online by you) are subject to the same rules as listed above.

So, for the time being you can generally shop online and purchase items such as clothing, books, gadgets and so forth and, as long as the combined value of your import is under AU$1000, you will escape any customs duty or taxes. The government, of course, is currently looking at ways to lower the threshold to extract more taxes so if you’re thinking of making a purchase close to the AU$1000 limit you may wish to double check on the official Australian Customs website for the current law.