I am wondering how many laptops I can take from the U.S. to Europe – of course within baggage – but what about declaration value? What if I took 15 stacked in a suitcase, each worth $70? That is only a bit over $1000 and cheaper than many people's overly expensive Apple laptops. Of course I might have plans to sell them, but am I OK if I am under a particular declaration amount? I have receipts.
There is a EUR 430 allowance but it's explicitly for goods “having no commercial character”. So if you want to sell them, you're not OK, no matter their value. Incidentally, even a single brand new Apple Mac Book for your own use would not be OK either because it would be over the limit (bringing back your own used laptop is a different question).
It was a long time ago (before the EU rules detailed in the link above) but someone from my family once got in trouble for a handful of baby napkins or something like that. The issue is not merely the value but the fact that having several identical items, especially with receipts or intact packaging is taken as a sign that the goods are new and you might want to sell them instead of carrying them for your personal use.
Under this logic, the answer to the title question would therefore appear to be “one” even if there is no explicit limit. A suitcase full of identical laptops is certainly likely to attract attention.
Customs usually wants to know the following things:
- Did you buy it while abroad?
- Is it coming TO this country, or THROUGH this country?
- Is it intended for resale?
- Is it worth their time?
A new MacBook in a box brought back by a resident would satisfy 1-4. 2kg of baby wipes, opened, would stop at #3. A MacBook not in a box would probably pass as used and thus fail #3 and #4. 50 different women's shoes, left only, with a punched hole in the sole would also fail #3.
Item #4 is a big one. If you have 30 items that satisfy 1-3 with collectable tax of €5 most agents will not bother. If you didn't declare the goods, and they found them doing a time-consuming baggage search, now they need to justify their time by busting you for attempted smuggling. If the agent is new and is still in the something-to-prove mode they might care about €5.
15 boxed products would definitely match #3, so unless you can do the Jedi-mind-trick declare the laptops. But at wholesale value, not retail (this is 100% legitimate). As €70 each is laughably cheap for a new laptop also bring references like websites they can check themselves - undervaluing for tax evasion also gets their attention.
Source: acquaintance of mine who is a badged customs officer at an international airport.
Keep in mind that customs is not your only concern. Due to safety concerns, IATA issues guidelines concerning the transport of lithium batteries, which airlines will likely enforce. (In a worst case scenario, a lithium battery could spontaneously explode and cause a fire in the cargo hold, which is inaccessible to humans during the flight.)
The Lithium Battery Guidance Document for 2014 states (emphasis added):
Passenger Provisions [p. 12]
Transport within Passenger Baggage
… certain replacement batteries which are not OEM or aftermarket batteries but simply low-cost copies of those – also called “fakes” – may not have undergone the required tests. Untested batteries are consequently excluded from air transport.
220.127.116.11 Portable Electronic Devices (including medical devices) containing Batteries
18.104.22.168.1 Portable electronic devices (including medical devices) (such as watches, calculating machines, cameras, cellular phones, lap-top computers, camcorders, etc.) containing batteries when carried by passengers or crew for personal use, which should be carried in carry-on baggage. Spare batteries must be individually protected to prevent short circuits by placement in the original retail packaging or by otherwise insulating terminals, e.g. by taping over exposed terminals or placing each battery in a separate plastic bag or protective pouch, and carried in carry-on baggage only. In addition, lithium batteries are subject to the following conditions:
(a) each installed or spare battery must not exceed:
1. for lithium metal or lithium alloy batteries, a lithium content of not more than 2 g; or
2. for lithium ion batteries, a watt-hour rating of not more than 100 Wh.
22.214.171.124 Lithium ion batteries exceeding a watt-hour rating of 100 Wh but not exceeding 160 Wh may be carried as spare batteries in carry-on baggage, or in equipment in either checked or carry-on baggage. Batteries must be of a type that meets the requirements of the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, subsection 38.3. No more than two individually protected spare batteries per person may be carried.
Although the text provided above does not impose a limit on the number of lithium metal and lithium ion batteries that fall under the 2 g or 100 Wh limitation (See 126.96.36.199) being carried as spares within a passenger’s carry-on baggage it must be emphasized that the number of spares must be “reasonable” in the context of the equipment used by the passenger and his or her itinerary. Furthermore, these must be intended to power portable electronic devices (including, but not limited to, cameras and professional film equipment, laptop computers, MP3 players, cell phones, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s), pocket calculators etc).
Batteries which are carried for the purpose of resale or beyond personal needs are clearly not covered.
For reference, the built-in battery on a 15-inch MacBook Pro has a 95 Watt-hour capacity.
In summary, the number of battery-powered laptops you can take on a plane would be limited by what you can fit in your carry-on, and it has to be reasonable and for personal use. Check your airline's policies, which may differ from the guidelines above.
"Of course I might have plans to sell them": that attitude will get you in trouble if nothing else will. Of course you're going to sell them. If you bring in a shipment like this and tell a customs inspector that you "might" sell them he'll know you are prevaricating. What else "might" you be up to?
Take the red line, my friend, and tell the truth. As an alternative, [removed illegal activity]