Home Based Business: Customs tips in Germany

BeautiControl, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Tupperware — many family members around the world are trying their hands at home-based businesses.

An HBB can be an attractive alternative for a family member who finds themselves relocating every two or three years. Family members are limited only by their own interests and the financial resources needed to start up a new business. But whatever business a family member decides to enter, they must follow German and military policies. The main things to remember are that U.S. registered vehicles, the Army Post Office, the Exchange, commissary or the tax relief program cannot be used for a business.

Permission must also be granted from the garrison commander and/or German tax office. The first point is that U.S. Forces plated vehicles are for personal use only. Using one as part of a business is illegal.

“Examples of abuse would be if you used your USAREUR plated van to deliver goods to customers, transport people for money or carry pottery from Poland for resale over the Internet,” said Mike Dean, Director of the USAREUR Customs Executive Agency in Heidelberg. Register a business vehicle in the German system to be legal, he advised.

The second point is that any packages a HBB owner sends or receives as part of the business must go through a commercial shipping company or the German postal service. The APO system is a privilege for personal use only and using it to send or receive business wares is not allowed.

Third, any goods intended for resale must be declared to German Customs when brought into the country. “If you buy commercial items in other countries, you must stop at the border and tell German customs your goods are for resale,” Dean said.

Goods sold in the Exchange, Exchange catalog and commissary are tax-free, so an HBB owner cannot buy anything for the business there, either. Not surprisingly, using VAT forms to support a business is also off-limits.

Customs, tax and postal regulations need to be followed when selling things over the Internet in Germany.

“People who occasionally sell personal property via the Internet are usually good to go,” Dean said.

He added, however, that in most cases customs clearance paperwork is needed if selling personal property to residents of Germany who are not U.S. military members, U.S. civilian employees or family members.

U.S. forces personnel normally pay no taxes when they bring their personal property into Germany, which is why clearance and the payment of taxes are required.

Selling goods over the Internet on a regular basis to make money is a completely different kettle of fish, Dean explained. The same rules about using a U.S. registered vehicle, the APO, the Exchange, commissary or the tax relief program for a business apply here.

People who don’t follow the rules risk receiving a hefty fine and tax demand from German customs or tax authorities, and military administrative or civilian misconduct action where applicable.

So are you running a business? Do you need a German tax number or even a U.S. tax ID?
“To answer these and other questions, talk to your installation commercial affairs office to be sure where you stand,” Dean said.

More information on Internet purchases can be found at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/trade/basic_trade/internet_purchases.xml.