Life in Berlin: Merry Christmas from the Zollamt


 photo kevin dooleycc by 2.0

Expecting Christmas presents from home? If you’re living in Berlin, or somewhere else in Germany, and are pining for Yuletide deliveries from Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, or any other non-EU area, pay attention. The European Union might have its own very special Christmas present in mind just for you: import tax.

It will take some trial and error, some grinding and gnashing of teeth, some unexpected bills and maybe some frustrating confrontations. Often, your well-meaning loved ones in foreign lands don’t realize that their lovingly prepared parcels can cause so much angst.

Here’s how it works

If the perceived value of the package is less than 45 EUR, there is no import tax.

If the perceived value of the package is over 45 EUR, import tax is charged at 19% of the value of the package, plus a customs duty charge.

Ouch! Sometimes, when couriers or the Deutsche Post deliver packages to your house, they ask for import tax on delivery, or they send you a bill. Sometimes your package slips through the cracks, and you get off scot-free. Other times, your package is processed at a place called the Zollamt, and you might have to pay a personal visit to this delightful office. In Berlin, it’s located on Kufsteiner Str. 71-79 in Schöneberg. It’s not the cheeriest of places, but they get the job done.

How do they perceive the value of my package?

If there is an amount displayed on the accompanying paperwork, they’ll use that, and they will add the costs of postage and handling. They sometimes use the internet for research, and once opened, they can look at the tags or brands and research the recommended retail prices. If there’s doubt, they’ll request that you pick up your package personally, and they’ll ask you questions and open it in front of you.

What about the exchange rate? 

The values are calculated in Euros. Feel free to help your customers officer do his or her job effectively, by writing the EUR exchange rate on any invoice amounts you have that are listed in foreign currencies.

Can I just tell my friends and family to write a lesser value on the accompanying paperwork?

If you did that, it would be at your own risk. This could be a disaster if you or your family want to insure the goods, and they’re actually worth a lot more. If they go missing, and your sister wrote a total value of 20EU on the paperwork, you can kiss your insurance claim goodbye. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the personnel at the Zollamt can smell a rat.

What about secondhand stuff from home?

If you really truly want your mum to send over some “secondhand personal goods”, it should be stated clearly on the paperwork, it would help if there were no tags on any garments, and I’ve seen cases where the sender scruffs things up a bit so that there is no doubt.  You could take along a Facebook photo of you wearing the clothing in question to the Zollamt. Bonus points for garment underarm sweat marks, and leftover crumbs or oily bits on food appliances (true story). Ewwww.

Handy Tips for Visiting the Zollamt

  • Be prepared for a bit of a wait.
  • Take your passport, your Anmeldungsbestätigung, and any proof of purchase if you’ve ordered goods from countries outside of the EU.
  • Don’t treat them like idiots, be nice.
  • Don’t roll your eyes and think that import tax is a “typical German” thing. It’s not, it applies to the whole European Union.
  • If you want some help arguing your case, or you are completely overwhelmed and you can’t speak German, take Red Tape Translation with you.

About Red Tape Translation: Kathleen Parker founded Red Tape Translation in summer 2012, to give English speakers the support they need settling into life after moving to Berlin. Kathleen offers affordable interpreting services anywhere within the Berlin AB metro area, and phone interpreting or Skype consultations, to help English speakers communicate in German.


Red Tape Translation at Auszeit


This weary translator can be found tucked up in this cosy Wedding cafe between appointments at the Ausländerbehörde, and in this regard, the cafe’s name is quite fitting. Auszeit (Time Out) is on a picturesque corner of Kiatschoustraße in Wedding, a short walk over a quaint bridge connecting the quarter to Friedrich-Krause Ufer, where the foreigner’s office is located.


I was initially attracted to the al fresco dining by the river on a warm late summer afternoon between appointments, and then noticed a fabulous lunch special between 12 and 2pm – two courses and a coffee or juice for 5,90 EUR. I’ve tried this on two separate occasions and it has been, quite frankly, delicious. One particular appetizer, a salad with rocket, fresh oyster mushrooms and a delectable balsamic dressing, could actually be ranked as life changingly good.


Now I find Auszeit is the perfect refuge from the cold – the dark wood, candles, and cosy atmosphere are very inviting, and the waitstaff always friendly. Auszeit has a whole range of breakfast platters, salads, pizzas, pastas, burgers, roesti, desserts etc, and I’m looking forward to trying a Tuesday evening create-your-own gourmet pizza extravaganza at some time in the near future. I’m not the kind of reviewer who goes nuts about coffee, as I don’t drink it that much, but may I bring to your attention that auszeit is all up with a new trend I’ve noticed in Berlin – ungesüßte heiße schokolade (unsweetened hot chocolate), and I’m a huge fan.


If you’re at the foreigner’s office in Wedding and you wish to celebrate the approval of your new visa, come to Auszeit and say hi. Alternatively, you may wish to commiserate your pending deportation with a cocktail. But not if you hire me to go with you to your appointment!


Auszeit: Kiatschoustr 12a, 13353 Berlin

Open from 10am, kitchen open until 11pm.


About the Author: Kathleen Parker is very good at helping English speakers communicate in German after moving to Berlin. Red Tape Translation was founded in the summer of 2012, and Kathleen Parker is frequently spotted interpreting at the Ausländerbehörde, or offering affordable interpreting help by phone.

Red Tape Translation is a Solutioner at G1obals

Red Tape Translation will be attending the G1obals event tonight: perfect for expats living in Berlin, newcomers, anyone looking for friendly faces or access to English language services. If you’ve just moved to Berlin, come along to Franke Brasserie, Bar & Lounge from 7pm. Tickets cost 5 EU for G1obals members, and 10 EU for non-members.

Click here for Event Details

And when you get there, come over and say hi to Red Tape Translation!

About the Author: Kathleen Parker founded Red Tape Translation to help English speakers cut through the red tape upon arrival in Berlin. Kathleen accompanies Berlin newcomers to their appointments at the foreign office, job agency, real estate agencies, or any other appointment. She also offers inexpensive German phone interpreting.