Breaking News – good customer service (and secrets revealed) at the Zollamt!!1!

My mom sent me a package a couple of weeks ago that got snatched by the customs office (Zollamt). This isn’t the fault of the Deutsche Post – they have their issues, as does the USPS (see The Generic Nutty Bar Incident). It happens occasionally and is always a frustrating turn of events. The Zollamt is conveniently located (for truckers, their main customers) on the edge of town next to many scenic warehouses, staffed by delightfully indifferent (if not outright surly) customs officials and served by a bus that only comes once an hour. So it’s an ideal place to go and schlep an unwieldy package while on foot.

Like this, but without the style or charm.

Imagine my surprise at getting there and being helped by a civil, informative individual! We had to go through the typical dog-and-pony-show of opening the box and telling little stories about the contents (which were clearly listed in excruciating detail on the manifest), but the Sachbearbeiterin volunteered to tape it back up for me. Plus, she showed me the exact equations they use for assessing a custom charge. Then she let slip a tantalizing little factoid.

The limit for packages marked as gifts to be delivered customs-free is 45€!

I had no idea there was an actual rule about this. I figured the Zollamt snatched personal packages at random to put the fear of Ordnung into us. Now that I know, we will never receive a package with more than 45€ worth of goods in it. Because, as nice as the woman who helped me was, I’d like to avoid ever having to go out to the Zollamt again.

10 thoughts on “Breaking News – good customer service (and secrets revealed) at the Zollamt!!1!”

  1. J

    Mine looked like the one in the pic too, but was white.

    I made many trips out to it in my time in Germany (similar location) and have to say that while the staff was not as nice as the person who helped you, it was generally acceptable.

    1. Sarah

      I feel a little bad about that picture – it’s from the architecture firm that built it – but it just suits my needs so well! That’s actually not a bad looking building, ours is far uglier.

  2. Jul

    Nice to have an actual figure of €45. Any idea what it is going the other way (ie, for gifts we send to the US)?

    I recently sent a big painting to the US, and it has taken a bit longer than usual to arrive. I keep having flashbacks to that photo y’all posted of the smooshed broken Christmas package and breaking out into a cold sweat. Now I’m kind of hoping the US Zollamt is just spending some quality time with it. (Gift limit won’t apply in this case – for sales I have to declare the sale price, and just be glad I won’t be the one paying the tax bill.)

    1. Sarah

      No idea about things going to the U.S., but I wish I knew.

      I imagine you insured the bejeezus out of the painting. I would be sincerely surprised if either postal service pulls the silliness with insured packages that they do with uninsured. Besides, a painting probably isn’t as attractive for shenanigans as a boxier box is. Our package looked like it showed up at the distribution center on the same day the USPS forklift volleyball season started.

    2. CN Heidelberg

      For the US it’s $100.

  3. tqe | Adam

    Hmmm… I remain a bit puzzled that the US$20 calendar was stopped and held at the Zollamt here in Berlin – this was this past January.

    Do packages explicitly need to be labeled as gifts?

    1. Sarah

      I bet that they still DO randomly grab and check some packages. But, yes, they do have to be marked as gifts to qualify for the 45€ exemption. If the package is marked ‘gift’ and worth more than 45€, they will subtract 45€ from the total, then assess customs charges on the remainder (i.e., if it’s a 75€ value on the package, you only have to pay customs on 30€).

  4. Jen

    I had my first trip to the Zollamt a few weeks ago, when they surprisingly stalled my USPS priority mail envelope full of my travel magazines and U.S. mail, with zero value, of course. The guy at the Zollamt was just shaking his head and laughing about it. He said sometimes the idiots at the airport have no sense and that they flag things like this. I hated to have to go to the Zollamt just to pick up my mail. :-)

  5. CN Heidelberg

    Alas, it’s not hard and fast. We’ve had things that were clearly marked over 45 Euro sail through, and things marked under get stopped. Still, I make sure all senders know about the limit for whatever it might be worth!

  6. krishwala

    Interesting to know. I had a sweater I bought on Etsy that was stuck at the Zollamt for 3 weeks. The value for that was 22 US dollars (shipping included). My husband learned (from the handy dandy internet) the cost is 22 US dollars and up when zollamt flags it, unless noted as gifts. Really!?!? 22 Dollars? WHY!?!? So I am surprised to learn it’s 45.

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