Importing Your Household Items and Vehicle Into Australia
Are you going to be moving Down Under, and need more information about importing your household goods and vehicle into Australia? Importing is usually an involved operation, and you need to have all your ducks in a row to avoid setbacks. This means following the various regulations and having all of your paperwork meticulously prepared ahead of time (when possible). To help you understand more about the import duties you may be subject to and the exact forms you will need - here is what you should know about this important topic.
Duties For Your Household Items
The good news is that your household goods can enter Australia free of any import duty if you’re eligible for the concession laid out in Schedule 4 to the Customs Tariff Act of 1995 (1). You can also be exempt from paying the usual goods and services tax (GST) or other taxes.
In order to be eligible for these concessions, you must meet certain conditions. These include the items being your own property, which you’ve been in possession of (and used) for at least one year prior to shipping them to Australia. You also need to fulfill the conditions necessary for permanent residency in the country, and your shipment must be entering Australia from abroad (2).
If you satisfy all of these prerequisites - then your shipment of household goods should be eligible for an import duty and GST concession. That means it can enter Australia’s borders without any additional duty or tax being levied on your items. The exception to this is specific items which are dutiable - a full list of which can be found here.
While not an exhaustive treatment of dutiable items, you should be aware that if your shipment is entering Australia unaccompanied by you (Unaccompanied Personal Effects or UPEs) - the typical duty relief for limited quantities of alcohol and tobacco that you’re personally carrying don’t apply. In other words, all the alcohol and tobacco included in your unaccompanied shipment will be subject to GST, import duty and/or Australia’s wine equalization tax (3).
Documents For Your Household Items
Before getting into the applicable forms and paperwork you will need, it’s important to be prepared to pass the quarantine inspection process. Australia has a unique ecosystem, which is a closed system due to being surrounded by the ocean on all sides. For this reason, customs officials take contamination or introduction of new flora and fauna extremely seriously.
Thus, every shipment of personal items crossing into the country is subject to a full quarantine inspection. Some items may be rejected or may be classified as requiring treatment in order to be safe to enter the country (4).
If your shipment is being sent from the U.S., then be aware that pre-fumigation is now required, in order to ensure it’s not contaminated by the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (5). Requirements such as these are subject to change, so as always, it’s best to contact Australian customs directly - to confirm the steps necessary to ship your items.
The quarantine process aside, the customs forms you will need when importing your items will vary. The right form for your situation depends upon whether you are travelling with your shipment or bringing it in unaccompanied. For the former, you’ll need to fill out and present an Import Declaration. If the latter is the case, then you’ll be required to submit a customs B534 Form, which is the Unaccompanied Personal Effects Statement (6).
A customs form is not all you will need, to successfully clear your shipment. You’ll also need a copy of your Passport, and a copy of either your visa or e-visa. A completed inventory that carefully lists every item is also mandatory, and this should be written in English. A separate inventory of any alcoholic beverages is required as well (if any are included in your shipment). Finally, customs officials will need to see your Original Bill of Lading (if you don’t have a telex release) or your Air Waybill (7).
Filing Your Paperwork
The process of filing the required customs form (either the Import Declaration or B534 Form) isn’t always simple - as you can do so in person or electronically. Also, your customs forms must be tendered 10 full days before your shipment arrives (though it might be possible to fill out the Import Declaration once you arrive) (8).
Filing your customs forms electronically requires using the Integrated Cargo System (ICS) - which appears to only be accessible to transport companies or third party customs brokers. If you’re not using an outside agent to help you successfully navigate customs - then you’ll likely need to go to customs in person (or send a friend or family member).
Evidence of Identity Check
If filing in-person at the customs office, you’ll have to pass the Evidence of Identity (EOI) check - which customs requires before your shipment can clear. Besides the EOI required documentation, during your EOI check, you’ll need to show your detailed inventory.
You’ll also need to present invoices, receipts or other paperwork that proves the monetary value of any items which you purchased less than one year ago. You’ll need to provide your shipment paperwork, which should show you’re the owner of the goods and your address. Finally, your B534 Form and any required permits (if necessary) must be given to customs officials (9).
If you prefer to skip this extra rigamarole - then it is highly recommended that you work with an international moving company experienced in Australia relocation services. They’ll have access to the ICS system, allowing them to electronically file your customs forms (so you don’t have to visit the customs office and go through the additional Evidence of Identity check).
Duties For Your Vehicle
A Strict Process
While working with a qualified moving company can help streamline the process of importing your personal goods - it is even more strongly suggested that you hire one when importing your vehicle. Why? The process of vehicle importation into Australia is rather strict, and there can be consequences if you fail to comply with all the applicable regulations.
For example, if you don’t obtain prior permission to import your vehicle before sending your shipment - you can be fined up to A$13,000 (Australian dollars). In addition, in this case, your vehicle would also be returned to the origin country or destroyed (10). Clearly, you need to carefully follow all the requirements, so you don’t find yourself in this kind of problematic situation.
Currently, the duty rate to import a used passenger motor vehicle stands at 5% when shipping from the U.S., Japan, and Thailand. Schedule 4 of the Tariff Classification from the Australian Department of Home Affairs, also seems to indicate that this 5% rate applies to all other origin countries - though this isn’t entirely clear. One exception is shipping a vehicle from Canada, for which no import duty is assessed (11).
These duty rates pertain to used passenger motor vehicles which are less than 30 years old. If the vehicle you’re importing is more than three decades old - it is not subject to any import duty (12).
Additional Duty (Likely Exempted)
Also, technically an added A$12,000 customs duty on second-hand road vehicles exists - though Schedule 4 of the Tariff (under Item 37) allows for an exemption if you have a valid Vehicle Import Approval (VIA) and meet the other requirements (13).
These additional requirements are not enumerated - but are likely the same as those needed to bring in household goods so they’re eligible for concession. It also seems that most (if not all) vehicles successfully obtain an exemption from this A$12,000 duty. To confirm this is the case, contact Australian customs for the most up-to-date information.
Goods and Services Tax (GST)
Australia has a goods and services tax (GST), which is similar to the value-added tax (VAT) which some other countries impose. The GST rate is 10% and it applies to the majority of services and goods sold in the country. During importation, GST is assessed on your personal motor vehicle, an exemption from this tax is not typically available (like it is with your household goods) (14).
Documents For Your Vehicle
Steps Needed to Obtain Required Paperwork
A series of steps are necessary, to obtain all the appropriate paperwork and permissions to import your vehicle. First, you are required to apply for a Vehicle Import Approval (or VIA) with the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. This VIA is not only needed to clear your vehicle through customs - if you don’t have a valid VIA in-hand prior to shipping your vehicle - you’ll be charged with an official offence. Also, no matter what the monetary value of your vehicle is, a VIA is mandatory.
The second step of the process is to file an Import Declaration (or possibly B534 Form) with customs. Again, if you do this in person (rather than having a third-party transport company use their access to the electronic ICS system), you’ll have to go through an additional Evidence of Identity check (15).
However, some sources seem to indicate that an import company or broker must fill out this Import Declaration - so working with one may be required (16). It’s recommended that you contact Australian customs to learn if this is the case.
Other Documents Required
In addition to a valid VIA, you’ll need other documentation to successfully import your vehicle. These include the vehicle’s registration in the country of origin, and paperwork proving you own the vehicle (invoice, purchase agreement or receipt). You may also need the Bill of Lading or Air Waybill, though most sources don’t list these as being required.
Other regulations and accompanying paperwork may apply to your shipment, such as the need to pay Luxury Car Tax (LCT) (17). As always, it is best to speak with either your international transport company or customs - to ascertain what documents are needed for your particular situation.
Customs also requires that you thoroughly vacuum the interior of your vehicle - because they are concerned with foreign soil making its way into the country. Your vehicle’s entire exterior (including the undercarriage) must be carefully steam cleaned as well, for the same reason. Finally, your vehicle must adhere to the Compliance Plate guidelines and Territory/State registration rules. The exception is vehicles manufactured 15 years ago or longer, which don’t have to meet the Compliance Plate regulations (18).
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