Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Importing Robot Parts from the USA - How not to do it!

1. How Not to Do It

As mentioned previously, we are using the Arlo robotics platform as the base for AVA. We placed an order with Parallax for the bottom and top decks, power distribution board, motors, wheels and a bunch of sensors on the 14th July. The total cost was USD939.67 and shipping cost USD 119.10. So far so good.

What I didn't know (or more likely had forgotten) was that importing anything worth over AUD1,000 attracts the attention of Australian Customs. To summarise the current situation:
  • For goods that are worth equal to or under AUD1,000, there are no duties, taxes or charges to pay.
  • For goods that are worth more than AUD1,000, you will need to fill out a special form called an Import Declaration, and pay duties, taxes and charges.
  • You will need to pay duties and taxes on some goods (like tobacco or alcohol) regardless of their value
  • Certain types of goods are not allowed to be brought into Australia, or else need special permits.
So stupidly, we placed an order for just over $1K Aussie. This is where you disappear down the rabbit hole.

2. Then Things get Difficult

On the 31st July, I got notice from Parallax that they had shipped the order. Woo Hoo! Parallax provide a helpful link which allows you to track the package as it wings it way to you. On August 4th, the package landed in Australia and then I started seeing the dreaded "Held in Customs" message. No problem we thought, there must be some sort of clearance process, a day or so and the package will be on its way. Nope. On the 10th August we receive a formal letter from Australia Post stating that "the goods you are importing are being held, pending completion of Customs formalities". What's more if you don't sort this out promptly you will start being charged a daily storage charge (called Demurrage - because storage charge would be too obvious) and after a month, the goods will be returned to the sender.

3. Exiting the Rabbit Hole

Mental note - don't order goods worth over $1k on the internet again! Ok, how do we sort this mess out? Australia Post helpfully provides another 2 pages of instructions of where to from here. The process is as follows:
  1. Download and complete import Declaration (N10) - Post (Form number 8374) Including Tariff Classification.
  2. Submit an Import Declaration  to Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).
  3. Your import declaration is assessed for Duty and GST. Allow 5 working days for this, unless additional documentation is required (of course it will be). There is also a manual processing charge of $48.85 on top of the Duty and GST.
  4. You then receive a payment advice. After payment processing which takes up to 3 days, Australia Post is notified that they can dispatch your goods. Expect delivery in 1 - 7 days.
When I stopped crying and the alcohol therapy had done its job, I pulled myself together and said "we can do this!"

4. I was wrong...

I did manage to download "Import Declaration (N10) - Post (Form B374)". This electronic form has a helpful feature that prevents copying and pasting so you need to type it all in. No problems, the bureaucracy and their 13 digit identification codes won't beat me! Then you get to the tariff classification and statistical code section. The first bead of sweat appears. Perhaps Dr Google can assist. Apparently there are 13,000 customs tariffs and 4,000 concessions. You read on, you have to provide the tariff classification and statistical code for every line item in your order. We have 16 items in the order and are starting to feel sick. Then there is Section 243T, which means that Customs can hit you with a Strict Liability Penalty of $2,550 should you get the declaration wrong (even unintentionally).

5. Plan B

We quickly came to the conclusion that we were out of our league. Difficult as it is to believe you are better of hiring a licensed customs broker to manage this process for you. We used eCustoms Broker (for no other reason than they came up first on the search list) but have been very happy with the results. They process the form in one day (3 hours if you are really impatient and want to pay a bit more) and charge $77. There is an electronic processing fee of $40.20, which is cheaper than the manual fee if you do it yourself. I had to pay the GST of $144.39 but because Australia has a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US you don't have to pay duty if the goods are manufactured in the US. I'm not sure how difficult this concession would have been to get if you did it yourself but it would add at least add another 5 days as there is another form to fill in. For the speed and not having to wade through 13,000 tariff codes I'm happy to pay $77. The only difficult part was explaining what the parts were for and what the robot would do...

6. Changes from 2017

At a recent meeting of State and Federal Treasurers it was agreed that from 2017, there will no longer be a $1000 threshold for the GST for online purchases.

That means, in 2017, everything you buy online, no matter the cost, will be at least ten per cent more expensive. This will come into effect from July 1st of that year - so buy up now!