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I want to bring two of my old MacBook Air laptops as gifts for my friend's kids. The laptops are from 2012 and 2015. Looking on used computer websites, they seem to be worth about $200 to $300 each. I also want to bring my own 2015 MacBook Air to do work while in Romania.

I also want to bring two used iPhones as gifts, and again I will have my own personal iPhone as well. All of these iPhones are the 6S Plus model, from 2015. Looking on used phone websites, they seem to be worth about $150 each.

I see this duty-free website, which says that you can import up to €430 of stuff without import tax.

So let's say I declare that the two computers and two phones I'm bringing as gifts are worth a total of €800.

  • Should I declare €800 worth of gifts? I ask whether to declare at all because I see some websites like this that say computers and phones are duty-free, which which would be nice, but which sounds improbable to me.

  • I have printed out screenshots from those used computer/phone websites showing the cost of comparable items as proof of their value. Will they ask for or even care about such proof?

  • I don't know how to do the calculation on what tax to expect. One way is to say I'm allowed to bring in €430 worth of stuff without tax, but I'm bringing in €800 worth of stuff, so the difference is €270, which will be taxed at about 20%, so the total tax will be about €55. Is that likely what will happen?

  • Should I bring cash to pay the tax, or is it better or even possible to pay by credit card?

  • Should I worry about corruption (e.g., them charging/pocketing a much higher tax based on them saying the items are worth much more than they actually are)? Are there steps I can take to mitigate this, beyond the website printouts mentioned above?

(By the way, I realize a reasonable answer here might be, "Why don't you just buy used computers and phones for the kids while you're in Romania?" One answer is that I won't be there very long. Also, my friend tells me that it's much harder to buy used electronics safely in Romania. Also, I actually have these extra phones and computers so I'd rather give them than buy others.)

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    Corruption at the customs border of the European Union??? Not even in Hungary. That's not going to happen.
    – chx
    Jul 11 at 2:39
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    @chx there certainly have been instances of corrupt officials, for example when it comes to drug trafficking through major ports. Luckily, this mostly applies to organized crime where the value of the smuggled goods are worth the bribe/coercion. That's unlikely to apply to regular passengers, then it's not worth the risk of getting caught from the official's point of view.
    – JJJ
    Jul 11 at 3:31
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There are two different types of taxes on imports: duties (also called tariffs) and VAT (the equivalent of sales tax, though the rules can be quite different from those in the US).

Duties are the real “import tax” and depend both on the type of product and the “country of origin”, which is not where they were bought or where they are arriving from, but (to simplify) where they were made. They are anti-dumping tools, so goods of a specific type coming from a specific country may be taxed at a higher level (sometimes very high) to protect local manufacturers.

When the site you linked to says computers and phones are duty-free, it’s those they are talking about.

VAT is a more general consumption tax, and it applies both on locally produced goods (and services) and to imports.

If you are over the duty free allowance, then you are supposed to pay duties (if any) and VAT on the total value of your imports, rather than just the part which exceeds the allowance.

I honestly don’t think a customs officer is going to care for a minute about 5 year old used computers and phones. The 2012 MacBook Air is classified as “obsolete” by Apple, and the 2015 model will soon be “vintage”.

Most people would indeed probably walk through the “nothing to declare” lane, but to be safe you should indeed walk through the “goods to declare lane” and explain the situation to an officer. The chances they will wave you through without a thought are quite high. If they don’t, then have documentation ready showing the age of the devices and their current value. In the worst case you’ll have to pay VAT on the total amount, but I doubt it: the goal of assessing VAT on imports is to avoid an imbalance with local sales, which is quite far from your situation.

To improve your chances, make sure the devices are in no way in “resale” condition: no original boxes for instance.

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  • Thank you. This response helps me understand the overall situation much better. Indeed, these computers are a bit banged up and are far from "resale" condition. I never had boxes for them in the first place.
    – M Katz
    Jul 11 at 21:55
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Bring some documentation of the actual age of the devices. Doesn't need to be the actual devices but even similar models can be fine.

Then just walk through the "nothing to declare" lane. First of all, the likelihood than anyone will stop you and ask is exceedingly low. If they do, simply argue that the IRS sets the deprecation life time for computer equipment to 5 years and since that the IRS thinks it's basically worthless you assessed the residual value to be less $100 per device. It's highly unlikely that any customs agent would argue with that, since you have obviously done a good faith effort to value your goods and document that value.

Your own MacBook doesn't count, since it won't stay in the country.

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  • One more argument for the lower value of the computers, you do not buy them from a reputable shop, you have 'old' computers of unknown history.
    – Willeke
    Jul 11 at 9:46
  • Let's say I believe/document/justify that each computer/phone is worth $100 or less. What if I still go through the "something to declare" line and just tell them I'm there because it's unusual to bring in so many devices, and I thought it was better to show them instead of worrying that I'd be "caught" with a suspicious number of computers and would have to explain. Is that just putting me at more risk in an effort to reduce my risk/anxiety? (And of course the other problem is that, IRS and "old" computers notwithstanding, I believe their value is actually what I said in the OP.)
    – M Katz
    Jul 11 at 10:43
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    @MKatz If you have more than €430, then you must go through the red line and declare it. Do not assume that US IRS rules apply outside the US. For goods up to €700 over the limit: 17.5% of the value of the goods (how that is determined is not quite clear). For sums over 700 add import VAT (in Germany 19%, may differ in Romania). The percentages apply for the whole sum, not the difference from the limit. Jul 11 at 12:28
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    @MKatz: I know what I'm saying is controversial but in my experience going through the "something to declare" line is just asking for trouble. Once you have their attention, you have their attention and they may charge you something just for bothering them. I've crossed EU borders with stuff that actually needed customs sign-off and was in the tens of thousands of dollar value range, and most customs officers were annoyed by us creating extra paper work for them for such a small amount. I often carry multiple laptops and phones and no one ever cared.
    – Hilmar
    Jul 11 at 14:37
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    @MarkJohnson: fair point, but the key question here is: how do you determine the value of these devices in any consistent or reproducible way? My argument here is that there is a "defensible" way to value the goods at less than 430 Euros and hence you can go through the "nothing to declare lane" without penalty or the assumption of malicious intent.
    – Hilmar
    Jul 11 at 14:41

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