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When I recently went to Sydney, I was surprised to find that you had to declare items if the total cost was above $900? That seems like a rather small amount. I checked the box in the immigration card; they sent me to a different queue; the lady there asked me what I was carrying, I told her. She asked me whether I would be taking the items back with me. I said yes since I would be leaving the country in a week. I am a permanent resident but I haven't actually started to live there.

I want to know whether everyone checks this box because there is a extremely high chance that most people are carrying a laptop,a camera and a phone which would easily cross the $900 limit.

In particular, I want to know what permanent residents/Citizens do? Do you check this box each time you enter the country? Does this apply only to new goods? Or goods bought from outside the country? What about used goods that you bought from somewhere else that you always carry with you when you travel?

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    Isn't the limit AU$900? – Relaxed Jun 26 '15 at 6:49
  • @Relaxed: Yup. My bad. Corrected. – bobbyalex Jun 26 '15 at 6:52
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According to the Australian Customs Service, there is a duty free concession for things that are:

  • owned and used by you overseas for 12 months or more
  • imported temporarily (a security may be required by Customs and Border Protection)

Most everything else would be covered by the AU$900 limit (see the webpage for the details and some caveats). Technically, as the bit about posting a “security” suggests, expensive things might still need to be declared but not taxed.

It applies to everything that hasn't been properly taxed in Australia, so things bought abroad, purchased duty-free in Australia or things on which you claimed a tax refund.

In practice, most people don't bother (arguably a used laptop and smartphones might not be worth that much) and many get away with smuggling new goods over the limit (those would definitely need to be taxed).

That limit is actually quite high, in the EU, it's €430 so about $600. In particular, once you do live in a country (citizen or PR or not, that's usually not relevant as such), you are definitely not supposed to buy a high-end laptop abroad and bring it back tax-free. But travelling back-and-forth with a laptop you are mainly using abroad is allowed under the aforementioned concession. And returning to Australia with an Australia-purchased laptop is obviously allowed too.

Note that while I don't know the exact rules in Australia but there are also typically allowances for personal effects when you move into a country. So if you bought something elsewhere before becoming a resident, bring it with you, and then travel in and out of the country with it, it should also be OK.

But if you bought an expensive gadget after effectively residing in the country, you would need to declare it and pay all applicable duties and taxes, after which it should be treated like something you bought in Australia.

In both cases, it might still look as if the goods weren't purchased in Australia (based on the serial number or some other characteristics) so it's best to retain all relevant documentation to be able to prove when you moved and that you completed all required formalities. (On a related note, some customs administrations recommend not to travel with a lot of jewellery if you don't have a proper appraisal because it might simply be impossible for you to prove that you really bought them in the country.)

  • So if all the items I am bringing in are more than a year old even though they were not bought in Aus, I need not check the box on the immi card? – bobbyalex Jun 26 '15 at 7:09
  • @legomaker I don't really know to be honest. Official info does not spell that out clearly. That's what most tourists do for sure and even if challenged you should be fine if you can prove the goods are not new and you reside abroad. But if you have particularly expensive gear, you might want to check the box anyway as a CYA tactic. You won't pay any duty or taxes in the end but might in theory have to give them some money you will get back when leaving the country. – Relaxed Jun 26 '15 at 7:26
  • Now that I think about it.. I was the only person in that queue! – bobbyalex Jun 26 '15 at 7:27
  • @legomaker Importantly, all this applies to goods you are importing temporarily while you live abroad. Once you are a resident, it's a bit different, you also need to prove you imported them properly at some stage and/or that they were covered by your moving allowance. The condition is that the goods were used by you overseas. Every word counts: you can travel with your stuff but you may not import a one-year old laptop a friend gave or sold you without paying taxes if you have lived in Australia for more than a year. – Relaxed Jun 26 '15 at 7:30

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