Customs clearance in France: what you need to know

Customs clearance in France: what you need to know

Foreign operators who want to get their merchandise through French customs quickly and reliably should follow a few simple guidelines and make sure they choose the right partners.

Foreign companies who aren’t established within the EU often run into trouble when it comes to customs clearance in France. Although the customs regulations laid out by the EU Customs Code provide a uniform standard for handling merchandise throughout the EU, experience shows that there are subtle variations in national regulations and even certain local practices which can lead to blockages or delays. However, customs clearance in France is easy if you follow the right steps and work with the right partners.

French customs decoded by Helene Plaquet, customs trainer with MATHEZ FORMATION, Head of customs compliance at MATHEZ FREIGHT – registered customs representative in France and AEO-Full accredited European freight forwarder.

Import & export: what are the French customs formalities?

ECU, import, export: definitions

  • France is a member of the European Union (EU), which makes it part of the European Customs Union (EU’s customs territory). The principality of Monaco is also considered as part of the ECU, however, as of the 1st February 2020, the United Kingdom has officially left as far as legalities are concerned.
  • All physical movement of merchandise leaving the European Customs Union is considered an export. Export happens when a customs declaration is made to French customs, this declaration is called a D.A.U. (Document Administratif Unique = Single Administrative Document).
  • All physical movement of merchandise entering the ECU is considered an import. Importing into France also takes place using a D.A.U. which contains the applicable duties and taxes to be paid by the importer in line with the type of merchandise they are importing.
  • Not sure about something? Check which countries belong to the European Customs Union on the EU website.

Customs and export leaving France

As a general rule, the formalities and pre-requisites for export are easier than for import, so as not to block the movement of goods. The fact of the matter is, that to export from France, the exporter should:

  • be registered in the EORI database (Economic Operator Registration and Identification).
  • Check if the merchandise is considered as “under customs supervision”, as the formalities for these types of products tend to slow down the export.
    Examples include cultural goods, protected plants or animals (CITES), goods pertaining to military or civil use (BDU = Biens à Double Usage), materials of war etc.
  • Finding a Registered Customs Representative (RCR) to carry our customs formalities with the French customs services.

Customs and import in France

Formalities for importing into France are more laborious than for export in terms of financing. The prerequisites for export listed above are applicable, but the importer must also pay particular attention to

  • respecting the 3 cornerstones of customs: The type (customs code), The origin (the economic nationality of the goods), and the value.
  • In line with European standards: the importer should ensure that their products meet European technical regulations. Watch out: there are standards hidden everywhere.
    Examples: children’s toys and accessories, electrical materials, bikes, protective equipment and even microwaves.
    Your freight agent will warn you about CE standards in line with the customs code of your products and can direct you towards the approved laboratories.

Not conforming with EU standards could lead to your merchandise being blocked when it comes to customs clearance.

3 key points for customs clearance in France

  1. Owning or obtaining an EORI number

    Companies carrying out import/export operations with France should have an EORI number (Economic Operator Registration and Identification). This unique number is valid throughout the European Union and means that each operator and their transactions with the customs authorities can be identified. Companies established outside the EU who do not already have an EORI number in the EU should register with the French customs services. You’ll save time by getting help from your freight forwarder!

    An example EORI number for a Chinese company that imports to France: FR +CN+ number given by the customs service when you registered.

    > You can check an EORI number in the European database.

    Warning:if your EORI number starts with GB, it will no longer be valid after 31st December 2020, following Brexit. Think about registering for a new number.

    Please note: when it comes to trade fairs and exhibitions, having an EORI number isn’t strictly necessary. It would have to be looked at on a case by case basis in line with your activities.

    Once you have an EORO number, you can export or import with France in your name.

  2. Understanding the fiscal framework in France

    Upon arrival in the ECU, merchandise should be declared at its actual value and the importer should pay any applicable duties and taxes. There are several systems in France which allow you to suspend, delay or reduce the payment of duties and taxes:

    Make the most of agreements at the origins of both import and export.

    The country making products for the European Union may have negotiated a sales agreement meaning that customs fees are suspended or reduced if the products “originate” from one of the two contracting parties. If this is the case, this has to be noted on the sales documents, or you can produce a certificate of preferential origin.

    “The exporter of products covered by this document (customs authorisation no,..) declares that, without indication to the contrary, these products are of preferential origin…”
    > See the list of unilateral agreements and preferences (in French). 

    Requesting the fiscal framework for imports

    As a third party importer, you can opt for reverse charge VAT import in France. To do this you’ll need to obtain ATVAI, (authorisation for VAT reverse charges) which is fairly easy for third parties to achieve in France: the importer must register for VAT in France, via a tax representative (for example, EASYTAX), and contract the services of a registered customs representative with AEO certification to carry out import formalities – like MATHEZ FREIGHT.

    Using the right system for your import or export activities

    – If you store goods within the EU: the customs warehousing system allows you to push back paying duties and taxes until the goods are on sale.
    – If you are presenting your merchandise at a trade fair or exhibition or carrying out trials within the EU: the temporary admission system allows you to use your merchandise within the ECU free from duties and taxes and then re-export them.
    – If you repair or transform your merchandise in the EU: the inward processing system which means you avoid paying duties and taxes until you either re-export or put your goods up for sale.

  3. Choosing the right partner for customs clearance in France

    Having a registered customs representative (Représentant en douane enregistré)

    In France, it is practically mandatory for any importer or exporter to use a registered customs representative. There are many around and we recommend you pick one that holds AEO certification (Authorised Economic Operator) as this is a way of knowing you can trust them to achieve customs clearance for your merchandise. Custom systems are becoming more modern, disputes are becoming more and more frequent, the centralisation of your movements on a small number of brokers you can obtain the right advice for your import/export activities while avoiding unpleasant surprises and customs blockages.

    Selecting a tax representative or VAT tax agent.

    If your company is not established within the European Union and it carries out operations which are subject to VAT or declarative obligations in France, then it’s well worth having a tax representative.

    – If you are the owner of stock in a customs warehouse in France
    – If you export in your name when leaving France
    – If you import with reverse charge VAT in France, in your name (selling under the DDP Incoterm)

    then you’ll need a tax representative for VAT declarations, refund requests etc.

A registered customs representative since 1950, AEO-Full accredited freight forwarder since 2013, the Mathez Freight group has also developed a VAT & Customs compliance pole (MATHEZ FORMATION) and tax representation throughout Europe (EASYTAX). Carry out your import/export operations reliably: Contact-us!

Helene Plaquet, MATHEZ FREIGHT
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