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How to avoid import taxes on a parcel from the U.S. to Chile

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When BMW quoted $2000 to replace the ECU in my bike, I nearly fainted. The same part costs half that in the U.S.

Like everything else, these bikes cost double in Chile. And sure enough, the parts cost double, too.

I decided to order the new ECU from a dealer in the U.S. Even with shipping and taxes, this saves $600 and four weeks of waiting.

In Chile, import taxes include a customs duty of 6% on the CIF value (total of the item’s declared value plus shipping and insurance) when the declared value exceeds $30.

There is also a 19% value added tax on the CIF value and duty regardless of the declared value. Another 1% classification charge applies if the declared value exceeds $30.

Luxury goods, jewelry, alcohol, tobacco, etc. are taxed even more — sometimes as much as 50 percent.

It’s all quite complicated, and you can estimate your taxes with the help of this free online duty calculator and tax guide for Chile. Chile also provides their frequently asked questions in English.

On a $1115 computer for the bike, all this adds up to a whopping 27 percent, or about $300!

But what if you don’t want to pay import taxes? There are a few options.

Option 1: Ship your things to Chile as a gift with a very low declared value.

Gifts of less than $30 in declared value are exempt of the 6% customs duty but are still charged the 19% VAT–about $6. One caveat is that you might only be able to insure the package up to its declared value. Consider your risk if the package is lost or stolen.

Option 2: Transport your things to Chile through a border crossing, and declare the stuff as luggage.

This works well if you have someone visiting you who can declare the things as their own or if shipping and taxes would exceed the cost of flying out of Chile and returning with the stuff you need.

Option 3: Ship your things to Chile within 120 days of arriving as a tourist, and request a tax exemption.

Tourists are permitted to receive the things they intend to use during their visit as unaccompanied baggage. There are limits and restrictions to this method. The declared value per package cannot exceed $1500, and the things must not be used commercially. The packages must also arrive in your name.

Shipping to Chile is straightforward. Major couriers like FedEx, UPS, DHL all ship to the major cities. The USPS will also ship to Chile, and Correos de Chile will handle final delivery.

For couriers, the packages will stop at the airport courier customs office, where you can show your passport and tourist permit to avoid paying the taxes. These couriers have people and systems in place to facilitate the process. Santiago’s courier customs office is located just southeast of the departure terminal at the airport.

For packages handled by regular mail, the airport customs office processes every package as if the recipient is NOT a tourist. Taxes are levied accordingly, and the package will await payment at the Correos de Chile office nearest the delivery address.

To avoid paying taxes on postal mail, you must visit the customs office at the airport. Go to the aduana and ask for help in the OIRS office. Santiago’s customs office is located just southeast of the departure terminal at the airport.

You should wait until the tracking information says customs is processing the package, but don’t wait for the package to leave customs.

Say that you are a tourist receiving your things by mail. You need to ask for the “declaración de admisión temporal de efectos de turistas.”

It is very likely that no one will know what you want. Be persistent and friendly. Explain that you are receiving your belongings as unaccompanied baggage and need the import taxes waived.

The customs agent will inspect and copy your travel documents. For example, he asked to see my motorcycle documents because the invoice for the new computer included the VIN of my moto.

If all goes well, the agent will mark the import documents FREE and send you on your way with your package.

The agent said that you can also include a note written in Spanish on the invoice indicating you are a tourist. Include your passport number and date of entry and expected departure.

This will facilitate the process, but there are no guarantees your package will be held at the airport or delivered to the destination without taxes imposed. The agents process hundreds of packages a day and don’t bother reading more than the invoice values.

Each of these three options can be used to avoid paying import duties on packages entering Chile.

For items with a low value that won’t need insurance, go with Option 1 and pay the $6. For items up to $1500, ship with a courier or postal mail but expect to spend a day at the airport doing paperwork. If the item’s value exceeds $1500 and the taxes would cost more than a round trip airline ticket, go with Option 3 and simply declare the stuff as baggage.

Brian

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