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I'm a German citizen. Sometimes I travel to other countries (possibly outside of the EU) to attend events (e.g. concerts). I tend to bring merchandise of the performing groups with me when I travel.

For the purpose of this question, assume that I'm travelling by airplane. According to the website of the German Zoll, air travellers can bring "other goods" (i.e. things other than tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, medical products and fuel) of a value of up to 430 € with them without having to pay import duties.

I usually buy lots of things (like souvenirs, or more merchandise) when travelling. However, if the things I'm bringing with me were counted against this 430 € limit (and that is what this question is about), I wouldn't be able to buy as many things as I would like to. The items I'm bringing are worth less than 430 €, but I think a total value of about 100 - 150 € would be realistic, which would actually amount to about 1/4 to 1/3 of the value limit!

Since I actually brought the merchandise with me when leaving Germany, I believe I'm not obliged to pay import duties for it. But what will the customs officers think? It is not unreasonable to assume that I bought the merchandise in the country I'm travelling to. (In fact, I did buy some of the merchandise abroad, but brought it back to Germany before my next trip, so import duties should be considered to already have been paid.)

The German Zoll also has an article on "Rückwaren" (sorry, could not find that page in English). "Rückwaren" are personal belongings that a traveler brought into their country of travel, which they are bringing back to their country of origin. According to the article, no import duties need to be paid on Rückwaren. But will the customs officers accept that my merchandise are Rückwaren?

In the same article, there's the following passage:

Bei der Mitnahme von wertvollen persönlichen Gegenständen (z.B. Sportgeräte, Kameraausrüstung, Computer, Schmuck) empfiehlt es sich zur Vermeidung von Zweifeln über die Herkunft der Gegenstände und einer damit verbundenen Abgabenerhebung bei der Rückreise, einen Nachweis vorzulegen. Dazu sollten Sie sich vor der Ausreise bei der Zollstelle einen sogenannten "Nämlichkeitsnachweis" (= Nachweis, dass der nämliche wertvolle persönliche Gegenstand zurückgebracht wird) ausstellen lassen.

Rough translation:

When taking valuable personal belongings (e.g. sports equipment, cameras, computers, jewelry) with you, it is recommended to present evidence to avoid doubts about the origins of the goods or whether import duties have to be paid. To do this, you can have the customs office issue a "Nämlichkeitsnachweis" (= proof that valuable personal goods will be brought back) before departure.

This might sound like a solution to my problem, but I'm not sure whether it's really applicable in my case. Firstly, I have a lot of items. Would they be willing to issue a Nämlichkeitsnachweis for every single item I'm taking with me? Second, the goods need to be "identifiable" - they suggest taking a photo or writing down model names and serial numbers of electronic devices. While I could take photos, there would be nothing on these photos that could identify these items - the merchandise is mass-produced after all. Third, they consistently talk about "valuable" goods (they also mention an expensive bike as an example), which my individual pieces of merchandise clearly are not. Would they even issue a Nämlichkeitsnachweis for goods they consider to be "not valuable enough" at all?

So far, I've never had a problem with this. I made sure to stay under the 430 € limit (without counting the things I brought with me from Germany), and went through the green channel at the airport when I returned to Germany. They never checked me or my luggage, so I don't know if there could have been a problem. But now I'd like to find out: what's the correct course of action?

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Technically, you are correct that carrying objects out and back in is customs-free, without value limits.
Practically, probably nobody will ask ever, if you just walk through the green exit.

If you ever get stopped, you should be able to simply declare that all these items were bought before the trip, and simple carried in and out; and for smaller value items with obvious usage, you will be good - after all, nobody claims you might have bought all that dirty laundry in your bag on this trip (which you actually could have done...).
Typically, they care about high value items that either look brand-new, are in original packaging, or where you seem to have an uncommon amount of (for example, 4+ iPhones). For such cases, it is a simple solution to photograph the item with its bill when you buy it, and keep the picture on your phone.

Otherwise, I think you are overly worrying. I travel a dozen times a year into Germany, and mostly have two laptops (company and personal), an iPad, two iPhones (again, company and personal), and two cameras with several lenses with me, easily 20+k€ overall, and mostly without any scratches or dents. Nobody ever cared the least; that seems to be considered 'within the non-conspicuous limits'.
Having a single iPhone inside the original box, however, it would be quite hard to convince customs it was not bought on the trip.

I understand that this is not a real solution, as the small chance of annoying trouble is still there; but realistically, it will probably never be an issue. The chance of something getting stolen during your trip is probably much higher.

  • Thanks for your answer! As I mentioned in the question, I've never been stopped by anyone while walking through the green channel in the airport, so I don't know anything about being checked by customs. I was assuming that if I do get checked, they would start adding up the value of all items that they think I bought in the other country (unless I could prove that I brought it with me from Germany). Basically, you're saying that they would probably only look at expensive and new-looking items, and that I would probably not need a Nämlichkeitsnachweis for not-as-valuable items? – worldtraveler May 22 at 23:44

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