In this series I will look on tips and howtos for prospecting and current online shoppers in Zimbabwe.
They say there are only two things that are certain in life; death and taxes. Unlike cross border trading where you are physically present to smuggle that new shiny laptop in the midst of your clothes or negotiate one of those “side deals”; when making an online purchase you will have to pay the applicable customs duty and or VAT. There is no escaping that.
Once you have made an online purchase, you have to wait for it to be processed. When it’s been processed, the item is shipped to you and you are issued with a tracking number. In order to avoid delays you should visit the tracking portal of the chosen courier, enter your tracking number and register to receive email notifications. Always keep tabs on the progress of your package. Customarily when the package reaches Zimbabwe it is held by the port authorities at the port of entry (for packages this is usually the airport) pending payment of customs duty and/or VAT.
If you are not contacted by the concerned courier in 48 hours after receiving an email notification that you package is now being held at the port of entry you should visit the courier headquarters for clarification. They should be able to avail you with the exact amounts of payable duty and VAT for your package.
At this stage you have two options: you can either have the courier handle the import process for you. If you choose to go this route you should know that you will be charged a handling fee, which at the present is about $30. You should note that this fee is normally fixed which is another reason why you should use the repackaging option when making multiple purchases as mentioned in the previous article. You can instead choose to handle the whole process on your own. This is not recommended unless you have some experience handling import documents.
Whatever route you choose, you should know that it will take a while before your item is processed. The average waiting time if you choose the courier route is two to three working days.
Now this is where I tell you how to calculate your duty so you can plan in advance. I wish I could tell you there is some simple formula that you can use quickly. In principle the applicable rates are set out in the Customs Tariff which is published on a yearly basis in the form of statutory instruments as part of the fiscal policy, which falls under the mandate of the finance ministry. To ascertain this rate you first need to determine the category of the good that you are buying, then visit the Zimra customs duty page here and do a search. ICT equipment like laptops and tablet computers can be imported duty free. However you still have to pay VAT of 15%.
The tariff is not the problem however. It is fabled that some cross border traders in a bid to defeat the duty systems consort with sellers abroad so as to obtain bogus invoices that have ridiculously low prices on them. For example people would present an invoice that claims they bought an ex-Japanese car for $400 instead of $2,500 so the taxman would levy duty on $400. To prevent this sometimes customs duty/ VAT is calculated using a base price for the category of the item under consideration especially if the invoiced amount is deemed to be inaccurate. It is difficult to know the base that will be used. You could try making a printout of the item together with its price and taking these to your nearest Zimra offices for a consult.
Another thing I have noted is that although the seller of the item would primarily ask you to provide your full home address when making a purchase, simply stating your resident town will suffice for shipping processes. Given how involving the import process is, do not be surprised that you will most likely end up picking the item at the courier’s offices anyway.
It is worth saying in conclusion: when importing prudence and patience are the name of the game. You should be careful with your calculations when comparing local prices with online prices otherwise customs duty and VAT will be your bane and undoing.