Acting as an importer

Importing goods is a continuation of the company’s procurement and purchasing operation. Procuring goods from abroad is part of the purchase agreement, whereas the costs incurred from importation are part of the purchase pricing. It pays to find out the costs and requirements regarding importation, before a decision is made regarding the procurement of goods.

Find out before you import

  • the trade name and commodity code of the goods
  • import prohibitions and restrictions regarding the goods
  • requirements of other market surveillance authorities as well as
  • the required import authorisations and licences.

An exact description of the item helps in defining its correct commodity code. This ten- digit commodity code has to be entered in its entirety in the customs declaration. An adequate goods description would for instance be “computer”, whereas “electronics” is not specific enough to describe what kind of product is in question.

The company can apply for a written decision from Customs regarding the commodity code to be used for the goods (Binding tariff information (BTI). The binding tariff information is valid within the EU territory for three years from the date of issue. The decision is binding for both Customs and the holder of the authorisation. 

The goods’ commodity code, customs value, country of origin and customs procedure (code) are examples of important data in the customs import declaration. They determine the company’s direct costs resulting from the import of the goods.

Customs value

The customs value of the goods is primarily based on the trade value of the goods, i.e. on the price actually paid or payable for the imported goods. An invoice showing e.g. the price paid for the goods and the terms of delivery must therefore be presented for the goods in connection with the customs clearance. The transport costs from the country of dispatch to the place where the goods enter the EU, are also included in the customs value.

The ad valorem duties of goods imported to the EU are assessed on the basis of the customs value of the goods. The customs value is also the basis for value added tax payable upon import.

If the trade value cannot be used, the customs value is defined using secondary methods of value definition.

The right to lower customs duties or zero duties can be granted based on the origin of goods. The application of this kind of preferential treatment always requires a written declaration or certificate of origin. See Preferential treatment

Points to consider

It pays to apply for a comprehensive guarantee authorisation and an authorisation for payment deferment if the company engages in regular and financially significant import of goods from outside the EU.

  • The authorisation for comprehensive guarantee covers all procedures that require the use of a comprehensive guarantee.
  • The holder of an authorisation for payment deferment has about a one-month term of payment for customs duties, value added taxes and performance payments for imports from non-EU countries. With an authorisation for payment deferment, the company gets possession of their goods before paying customs duties, taxes and other payments.

If the company does not have authorisations for comprehensive guarantee or deferment of payment, then it is a cash customer and has to pay the customs invoice before the goods can be released.

If your company lodges the customs declarations, choose whether they are lodged

  • by message exchange, which is subject to authorisation and requires customer testing
  • online, which requires identification with with a ID
  • with a paper SAD form, which always requires that the form is presented to Customs together with the goods.

Web declarants will receive email notifications on declarations and decisions. Web declarants can retrieve decisions from Customs e-Services.

Things that affect the choice of transaction

  • the volume of customs transactions
  • how much data the declarations contain
  • customs know-how
  • the data systems of the company.

When does it pay to choose message declaration?

When declaring by message, the volume of customs transactions is a significant factor. Message declaration makes it easier to handle a large quantity of declarations and a great amount of data. Message declaration is the best choice when importing several consignments, dealing with several sellers, using many different customs procedures and customised user interfaces.

To be able to use message exchange, the company must have extensive all-round customs know-how, as well as functioning work instructions and arrangements regarding replacements. Message exchange also enables an integration with the company's data systems. This means that data, which has once been saved, can be sent to Customs electronically; guaranteeing the accuracy and correctness of the customs declaration.

When does it pay to choose online declaration?

Declaring online is handy, for instance when you often import the same products from the same seller, since the data elements of the declaration remain virtually unchanged. To find out what is required when declaring imports, you can check the Customs' website yourself. There you find user-friendly instructions for the online service. When declaring online, you can also use previously lodged declarations as templates for new ones, thus saving time.

The company authorises an agent to lodge the customs declaration

A declarant may authorise a representative to carry out operations and procedures prescribed in the customs legislation. Choose the form of representation:

  • direct representation
  • indirect representation
  • direct representation with the responsibility of a guarantor.

The form of representation must always be specified in the customs declaration. The form of representation affects the importer’s and agent’s customs debt liability, the use of a guarantee, customs invoicing, what customs procedures are used, and the responsibility to archive documents. The fees charged by the agent for services rendered may differ considerably depending on the form of representation.

Direct representative

  • Lodges customs declarations in the name of and on behalf of the importer.
  • Is responsible for the customs debt only in situations where they were aware or should have been aware of the incorrectness of information provided in the customs declaration. Otherwise, the importer alone is responsible for the customs debt and possible post-clearance.
  • The term of payment and other benefits of direct representation are defined according to the authorisations of the importer.

Indirect representative

  • Lodges customs declarations on behalf of the importer, but in their own name, and is thus liable in the same way as the importer. Guarantees required for debt or liability are collected from the indirect representative.
  • The importer and the indirect representative are both responsible for the customs debt (including post-clearance).
  • Customs always collects debt mainly from the indirect representative. The client of an indirect representative is only subjected to collection measures if the indirect representative is found to be insolvent.
  • An indirect representative cannot be used when using special procedures in importation, which are - specific use (temporary admission and end-use) and processing (inward and outward processing), or if national procedure codes are used in other customs procedures.

Direct representative with the responsibility of a guarantor

  • Guarantees on behalf of the importer that the due payment of an incurred debt or any resulting debt, is paid within the time limit. A reservation made in the guarantee management system concerns the comprehensive guarantee of the representative.
  • The direct representative as guarantor is not responsible for possible post-clearance if they were unaware or should have been unaware of the incorrectness of information provided in the customs declaration.
  • If the representative provides a limited guarantee for direct representation at the responsibility of a guarantor, the representative’s responsibility is, at the most, limited to double the amount of the provided guarantee.

More information: Acting as a representative

When the customs declaration is approved, Customs sends the decision on release, the invoice and the customs clearance decision to the company. Payment of the invoice releases the guarantee reserved from the comprehensive guarantee. Customs also sends a periodic filing to the holder of the payment deferment authorisation, containing all customs clearance invoices of a given period.

The warehouse keeper or road border customs releases the goods against the decision on release.

The importer must maintain archives of import clearance documents during the current and the following six years. These documents include decisions on customs clearances and releases, trade invoices, freight and transport documents, proofs of origin and decisions on revisions related to appeals. If the importer uses an agent as indirect representative, then the responsibility to archive documents lies with the representative.

The documents can be archived either electronically or on paper. Only permits or other documents verified by an authority with a signature, stamp or otherwise must be stored as paper documents. Documents can be archived in Finland, either on the premises of the importer or, based on an assignment, for example in an accounting company or on the premises of a representative.

You can apply for a revised clearance decision. Corrections to imports entered in the new Customs Declaration Service are to be requested electronically.

Customs carries out post-clearance audits, both on documents lodged by the company as well as on the company’s accounts.

The post-clearance audits usually cover the current and the previous three years. The aim of the audit is to make sure that the legislation has been adhered to regarding customs duties and taxes as well as other instructions provided by legislation or by Customs. The audit can result in customs duties being returned or alternatively in possible post-clearance recovery.

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