22 Euro limit dropped – will customs processing turn digital now?

From Janine Lampprecht | 23. June 2021 | Reading time: 4 Minutes

If you currently order a cell phone case for 5 Euros in China, neither the 19% import turnover tax, nor customs duties are due. That makes it very attractive for providers like Wish and co. to trade internationally today. But not for much long: it will soon become more expensive. With the IT process ATLAS (translates as: Automated Tariff and Local Customs Processing System), the clearance and monitoring of cross-border goods traffic is guaranteed and controlled. ATLAS is the German customs administration’s  IT solution, with which customs clearance and internal process handling are automated.

Previously, shipments up to 150 Euros were duty-free, shipments up to 22 Euros were exempt from import turnover tax. From July 1st, 2021 all shipments from non-member countries will be electronically registered by customs and subject to the EU customs tariff and import turnover tax.

What does this mean for authorities and economic operators? Doesn’t this current change in the law also offer the potential to finally digitize customs clearance ? The authorities do not want to be overwhelmed with parcels either. How will things continue from July 1st?

Why is the import turnover tax exemption being abolished?

In 2016 only 56% of all orders were from abroad. By 2018, 71% of internet users were already buying goods internationally. Customers are increasingly making their decisions based on the total price. They don’t pay attention to where the shop is located. 86% of all internet users shop outside the EU – often without even realizing it. The five largest platforms in e-commerce account for more than 70% of all purchases. These are Amazon (25%), Alibaba (20%), eBay (14%), Wish (11%) and Lazada (3%). The reason for the legal change from July 1st, 2021 is that around 25% of all small shipments are systematically issued with a lower value or incorrect descriptions of goods in order to save customs and import turnover tax. The EU states lose approximately 5 billion Euros of tax on this p.a.. Almost 150 million parcels are imported into the EU VAT-free every year. The new requirements should also enable better control of whether the content of small shipments actually comply with valid norms and standards. The e-commerce sector will be affected by this, but they won’t be the only ones. Customs will also provide detailed information about the relevant changes in a technical report.


What is ATLAS IMPOST about?

Anyone who has submitted a customs declaration knows that a lot of data is required for this. If this is not correct, e.g. customs tariff number and customs value, among other data, then customs will query it. This often delays the process and leads to trouble. Since, as described above, a significant increase in the number of packets is expected, a solution is needed: The authorities have developed a system specifically for handling such small consignments: ATLAS IMPOST. Only a reduced data set, the so-called “super reduced data set”, needs to be specified for the handling of so-called small shipments. For example, instead of an eleven-digit customs tariff number, a six-digit number is specified here. ATLAS IMPOST can only be used for small items up to 150 Euros.

However, as is often the case with digital products, the solution will not come on time for the changeover. The General Customs Directorate (GZD) is currently assuming commissioning on January 15, 2022. A transitional arrangement is planned to bridge the gap. The current transitional regulation stipulates that the companies concerned transmit manifestos in the form of Excel tables to the customs administration, which then creates a tax notification. How this will work in view of the planned volume of 150 million mail items remains to be seen at the moment.

Customs authorities in other European countries, such as the Netherlands and Belgium, show that it can be handled differently. Both countries have already implemented the new requirements in their IT systems. But what consequences can there be if German customs cannot meet the deadline for introducing the software? Since the IT systems will not be completed on time in all EU member states, it is expected that shipments will be rerouted via other, smaller EU countries. This could mean that the IT systems, which have already been adjusted to the new requirements, will be overwhelmed because they are not prepared for the increasing quantities of mail items. Although the change in customs value limits is an EU-wide regulation, no simultaneous introduction is required in the member states. According to the E-Commerce Association BEVH, especially with large import quantities, delays or even bypassing Germany as the importing country can occur during this time.


Opportunities and challenges in customs clearance

Check how many small-value shipments are being delivered to you in order to estimate the additional work involved in handling. Keep up to date with the development of the ATLAS IMPOST customs administration system. Not only in the e-commerce sector, many more packages are currently expected than usual. Correct data and values ​​on the commercial papers are therefore essential.



The innovations and new regulations will certainly bring new, challenging times, new structures and also some obstacles to companies, that have to be solved. If you need support with customs declarations, our Zollpiloten operational department will be happy to help. Last but not least, it is important that customs use the new regulations to combat VAT fraud and thereby ensure fair competition for all EU businesses.