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I have been required to pay a hefty Value Added Tax (VAT) and customs duty on my wedding dress that I brought from Australia to the Netherlands (I was stopped at customs, so I likely also need to pay a fine).

Do you have any ideas on how I can get out of this, as I think it is very unfair (it was a pretty unkind welcome back to the Netherlands after such a nice wedding trip)?

I only brought the dress back to show family and friends, and I plan to take it back to Australia the next time I visit (although I have not booked a flight yet). I am a resident of the Netherlands, but I am Australian by nationality. The dress was bought in Australia, and the wedding was in Australia - the dress is clearly used. I also paid Australian Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the dress ages ago, so I could not have even claimed a tax refund when leaving Australia.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Willeke
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:47
  • Can you give us an update on how this ended? The same things just happened to me today and I'd like to understand if there's any hope! Commented Apr 22 at 19:12

2 Answers 2

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Regulation in this area can be rigid or feel unfair but neither the fact that the dress is used nor the fact you paid GST are relevant as such. As a resident of the Netherlands, you are definitely importing this dress.

Consider what would happen if it was an expensive piece of jewellery or a camera you have used for a month: The EU doesn't want this to be an easy way to circumvent VAT (shop while on a vacation, open the package, import without paying any taxes). For a wedding dress there is the additional emotional context and you could also ask how much it is still worth but the analysis is still the same: It's an expensive item bought abroad and brought back by a resident.

On the other hand, the fact that you intend to reexport it could be relevant. For professional equipment, there are (rather cumbersome) procedures like an ATA carnet but I am not sure it would apply to you as a resident. Without that, customs is entitled to treat it as an import and I don't think you can get out of this easily.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Willeke
    Commented Mar 8, 2023 at 5:13
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Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer.

In The Netherlands, you can virtually always object ('in beroep gaan' / 'bezwaar aantekenen') against decisions made by government agencies. You need to make sure of the following

  1. Make sure you object within 6 weeks. Send your letter per registered mail ('aangetekende brief').
  2. Make sure you have proof in writing of the dress returning to Australia. Attach a copy of this proof to your objection. It's probably best to return it per registered mail instead of in your suitcase (unless advised by Dutch and Australian customs, see next point).
  3. Before returning the dress, consult with both the Dutch and Australian customs agencies to make sure no additional fees are incurred there!

For objecting to fees, see here. Basically, write a letter that says that you are objecting to the fees (don't forget that bit!), and then explain the full situation. Add as much proof as possible supporting your case. Argue that, similar to returning your online shopping, you are returning the dress and thus want the import fees waived. There is no point in arguing that you did not know the law; only argue why the fees are unjust in this particular case. Send the letter per registered to Douane \ Postbus 3070 \ 6401 DN Heerlen \ The Netherlands. Make sure you send only copies of proof, not originals. Make sure you have a copy of your letter.

Notes:

  1. if you find any discrepancy in the paperwork from customs, definitely point that out in your objection. An objection based on technicalities is very likely to succeed.
  2. As a last line of defense, include a reference to article 120 about equity ('billijkheid'), which is basically the 'unfairsies' playground argument in legal form.
  3. If your objection is denied, make sure all the points you raised are addressed. If not, reply with a new letter requesting those points to be addressed too.
  4. You cannot raise new points in a follow up letter. Make sure your original objection contains everything that you think may be relevant.
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    (+1) Would writing in English work? I have had some success with that for a (wrongful) speeding ticket in the past but I recall that, e.g., the Belastingdienst sometimes seems to resist communicating in English. An appeal is always worth trying but if you don't know the law and the language, it's hard to be successful and the amount is a little low to involve a professional.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:16
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    I think English should work but if OP speaks Dutch, that's usually preferred.
    – Sanchises
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:34
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    Thank you so much for this help and for the suggestions! This is very helpful and I will definitely do this. My written Dutch could be better, particularly in this kind of situation, but I could ask my husband for help with translating to Dutch.
    – as12345
    Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 21:34
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    I think you're better off just writing in English.
    – Sanchises
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 18:12

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