Feisty said

Issues with Customs Fees on US to Canada Tea Orders?

Hi everyone!

After finding out about some amazing looking teas and tea companies from posts here I really want to order some online. The only issue is that many of the companies are American, and I am a Canadian beaver. More specifically I’m a Canadian beaver who has been badly burned by Canada Customs when I’ve ordered things online and been whacked with HUGE unexpected customs fees (such as $60 shoes having a $30 customs fee tacked on?! Ouch). The weird thing is this has only happened with some orders, and I can’t find rhyme or reason about what warrants a big duty fee.

Anyone from Canada who has had experience ordering tea from the States, have you had any experience/issues in this area? I’ve looked up the duties and imports information from Canadian Border Services but the hundred-page document hasn’t left me feeling certain that I’m not going to get burned again when I order tea.

Any reassurance would be very appreciated. I sooooo want some of those teas!! drool

26 Replies

First, I think Canadian custom is unpredictable, so any strategy may or may not work. I have a home in Canada and have a lot of mails sent between US and Canada, and so far I’ve never understood how the customs work. But the anecdote is, Canadian custom is less likely to charge on mails from USPS to Canada post (including regular mail, EMS, etc.); but they are more likely to charge on other carriers, such as DHL and FedEx. But this is not theory, and just what I heard many people said.
Besides something I’ve found odd is, priority mail sent to Canada sometimes (although not always) is much slower than regular mail (while much more expensive, but at least it’s trackable). Buyers never said anything to me but sometimes I wonder if a buyer would be upset paying so much for postage only to receive it much later. My personal mail from Canada was once sent by expedited mail and took 12 days while another time a regular mail only took 3 days.

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Oh by the way if you get something $60, and are charged $30 at the customs, the $30 contains probably more than $20 flat processing fee. I know this sucks! It ends up a relatively big loss for people who only buy small items and are charged duty. I have been wondering, in such a case, can the receiver possibly appeal with the customs?

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Miss Sweet said

I’m not from Canada but I do a toooon of online shopping and have had issues with customs regarding paying duty on items from the states. It seems to be similar worldwide regarding duty fees – its as if they toss a coin to see if they’ll charge you or not! Though usually the more an item costs the more likely it’ll garner the attention of customs, and I have known some places to state the item is a gift to get around the duty fee.

And you should be able to appeal to them (I have in my country) and depending on the circumstances they can drop the fee.

Have you tried contacting the customs office? Mind you I did that and asked about duty on a certain item, they said I wouldn’t be charged, but I ended up having to pay the fee when it arrived anyway! So confusing…

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Feisty said

Well I’m glad I’m not the only person who’s had this issue with the wackiness of Canadian Customs. I called them today, waded through the maze of menus and finally talked to a customs agent. He said that tea and coffee are totally exempt from customs duties (though I forgot to ask if that was only on US to Canada orders or if it includes non-US orders), and I shouldn’t get charged at all (yay!).

However he said some postal carriers charge “brokerage” fees to bring things across the border? I honestly don’t really understand the whole, overly complex system, but I’ve decided to take a gamble with it and order a few samplers from Adiago (even though the chai sampler is still sold out! sob).

I’ll let you know whether I get duty-dinged! And thanks everyone for the replies/advice! :)

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TeaFrog said

Feisty – as someone who deals with both sides – customs is a real pain. When buying from the States, it depends on the shipper. If it is UPS/FedEx, and the value of the shipment is over $20 – UPS will charge you Brokerage, AND assess the GST on the order. It is the brokerage that is the killer. And you are correct, there is no duties on Coffee/Tea.

USPS on the other hand, leaves it up to YOU to pay the government the GST you owe them on that purchase – ya right ;)

Then again… you could always try ordering from a Canadian company as well (ahem ahem), no brokerage/duties guaranteed! ;)

As for our US friends, when ordering from Canada, pretty much the same, when shipping Canada Post (our UPS) and the value is under $20 – no brokerage/taxes. We never ship UPS because of the cost, but same thing there if we were – you would be dinged on brokerage/taxes.

So, when you are ordering out of country, always try to have your order shipped via their federal postal carrier, and ask if they would be nice enough to keep the declared value on the package a bit lower, tho it may take a bit longer to get to you than a UPS/FedEx order would… (but MUCH cheaper!)

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Feisty said

Wow! Thank you TeaFrog for clarifying those mysterious “fees” and especially for the advice on how to avoid them! I’ll definitely weigh my shipping choices much more wisely now (and lean on companies a little to cut me a shipping-deal). Checking out the home-grown tea companies is now at the top of my list, I just found another thread on here about Canadian tea companies; I had no idea there were so many options available (including a certain TeaFrog Teas, who’s “Beginner’s Guide To Loose Leaf Tea” I just requested!).

Now I just hope I don’t get dinged on the the teas I ordered today… I know at least one of them is coming by air mail gulp!

Kittenna said

I don’t know if you’re still active here, but I was wondering how everything worked out? I’m Canadian and was looking for info about this very same thing. I don’t want to be paying extra fees at all!

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Wow this is an old post :-p

Ok, something I’ve newly learned in the past 2 years:
1. I heard it from a Canadian teachatter that tea is NOT supposed to be taxed by Canadian customs. She said she looked it up in the book to make sure of it. At least so far I haven’t heard of a tea tax case yet. But if you are taxed on tea, you should try to argue about it (although I don’t know how effective one could be arguing with the bureau…)

2. USPS now has online tracking for first international mail too. Another reason to choose USPS over privately owned courier services.

Uniquity said

Tea definitely doesn’t get taxed up here. Most ‘healthy" (non-processed) foods aren’t taxed.

Kittenna said

An old post, but one asking the exact same question I was going to pose to the Steepster community. I have read a few times now that low-value orders are ok, and tea is not taxed, but I’m still concerned about brokerage fees. :( It would crush me to make a, say, $40 tea order and end up paying double that for it. Luckily the only cross-border order I’ve really placed so far (other than for a couple sample packages) is with Verdant Teas, and the value was only $12 or so, so I’m hoping that goes through ok, but now I’m nervous to make larger orders with them or say, 52teas, which I’ve been eyeing up for a while now.

Uniquity said

I’ve ordered from 52Teas and Verdant Teas (and one from Harney) and have never had any additional charges put on there. I always have these things shipped to my work (because that’s where I am all day) and it’s possible that customs people don’t put extra charges on things going to businesses – either that or I’m really lucky. I honestly never even worried about it before.

By the way I remember there was a Denmark or Dutch (one of the two but I don’t remember which) client who once bought stuff of about $30-35. She told me she was notified of customs charge and went to argue with the postal office about it (holding the fact it was merely $30 and it was only a second hand teapot), and she got rid of the customs tax eventually. So sometimes if customs tax ever happens, dispute may work. At least give it a try ;-) But let’s hope this doesn’t happen to tea anyway.

Jessie said

I have been badly burned by customs and brokerage fees too, but never on tea! Tea is duty-exempt. I’ve ordered lots, and relatively large orders, from India, the UK, the US, Taiwan, and China, and it always arrives hassle-free. They seem to be well aware of the exemption. If you’d like to be reassured, you can go to www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca and search tea. The schedules with tariffs for plant material comes up, and most (spices, coffee, tea) are exempt.

If only it was true for clothes and makeup, too! Order away. :)

Kittenna said

That’s reassuring, everyone – thanks! I’m not a big online purchaser but it appears that for tea, it’s a pretty popular option. I think I’ll start small and work my way up – if my current small orders go well, I think a larger order from Verdant Teas will be next on the agenda.

And Jessie – thanks for the link :)

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missPrizm said

I’ve been wanting to order teas across the border and have been wondering if duties/taxes are assessed. Thanks for getting my questions answered guys! The only thing I’m unclear about is whether brokerage fees are still applied even though tea is duty-free? It looks like avoiding couriers is key but I hope it’s not just luck of the draw.

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StaLLZee said

I am wondering this same thing! I know this post is old, but can someone tell me about ordering tea from China to America? Do i need to do anything for customs? Are there any special fees!??

I’m not really familiar with personal use entry, so double check this but I think this is correct. If you are ordering for personal use and the amount is under $2,000 then you will be using “Informal Entry” and there shouldn’t be anything that you would need to do. The company you are purchasing from will need to send a Prior Notice to the FDA. So, you would need to make sure that company is doing that.

Missy said

I’ve ordered from Teavivre before and not had any issues. I have to say I’m not rich enough to need over $2000 in tea though.

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Helena said

I’ve only ordered from Adagio (US company) to me (Canada) and there was no shipping fee because I ordered over $50. I know that David’s tea free ships with either purolator or Canada post (your choice) if you order over $50. I’ve been eyeballing 52teas but I’ll need to save up before I can order from them.

missPrizm said

Thanks Helena. I have a David’s Tea nearby so I don’t need to order online from them. I’ve been wanting to order from Adagio but their shipping is high ($26.93 for up to 1kg). I guess they no longer offer free shipping to Canada… :S

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