I heard about custom duties (tax) we have to pay when we purchase something from another nation (in own country it may included in bill, for instance in India added as VAT - Value Added Tax).

So for example, if I purchase some electronics items from Dubai, how will it be handled at airport by custom officers? If the officer requires me to pay money that I don't have? I can't return the items to the store at that point.

How to handle this situation? Would I lose my item?

  • Note that, if you get something in the POST, and the local authorities assert you should pay some sort of duty, and, you don't want to pay the duty: Generally you can say "Sorry, I won't/can't pay" and (in most countries) the customs authorities will in fact send it back to the sender (i.e., nat no cost to you). (In the case of Fedex etc, they "have to do this" as part of their deal w/ the authorities.) This can be quite handy if you are * cough * trying to get away with not paying fees on something (or it's incredibly difficult to learn whether you have to or not) and you want to try it.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 14:22
  • @JoeBlow The OP states he cannot pay, not that he does not want to pay. Unsure why you are recommending customs and VAT avoidance.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 16:06
  • "Sorry, I won't/can't pay" Note the "can't" -- the bottom line is -- again this was just a footnote, the OP is asking about "at the airport" situations -- surprisingly I've found over the years that (at least in most countries) if you get something in the post and can't pay the tax in question, they will send it back at their expense. I'm afraid I don't know what happens "at the airport" .. confiscation, or some sort of similar "send it back" situation.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 6:25
  • @hemang, you'd have to state WHICH COUNTRY you mean arriving at.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 6:30

1 Answer 1


It would be handled in the country where the item is imported. That means the item has already been moved to your country by air, ship, train etc. It doesn't happen before your flight, it happens after your flight. So if you buy a refrigerator in Dubai and fly to Belgium, the Belgian customs will ask you to pay. Customs in Dubai doesn't care.

You should first lookup the duty and tax for the country where you are importing. For example, when importing to the UK, duty will be quite low and tax will be 20% of the value in the UK, but depending on circumstances you can import up to some value without paying anything.

If you don't want to pay customs and tax (for example, customs estimates that an item is worth £2,000 with £400 tax, and you think it is only worth £100), customs will likely keep it until you pay. In most places I expect you could then say "I don't want it", and they keep it, without you getting money back or having to pay tax.

For small items, people will often try to smuggle them into the country. Like buying a new laptop and hiding it in your luggage (obviously not with a refrigerator). You'd have to say which country you are importing to and people might tell you how risky it is and what the extra cost if you get caught. Never, ever do that for someone else.

  • That's only if you answer truthfully all questions and don't try to pretend you have “nothing to declare”. If the goods are discovered on secondary inspection, you could be liable for fraud charges.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 1:05
  • An excellent point @Relaxed
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 12, 2014 at 6:26
  • This is almost always true, but there are a few situations where it can happen before your flight, e.g. flying into the US from a Canadian airport with US preclearance, you clear customs and immigration in Canada for the US. Similarly, if you travel by Eurostar from London to Paris, you clear French customs in London. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 19:24

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