Customs allows donations of food, clothing, toys

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American military communities throughout Europe have done great work in providing clothing and other aid to refugees flooding to the continent in the greatest numbers since the end of World War II.

Around one million asylum-seekers fleeing Syria, Iraq and other countries filtered into Germany by the end of last year, according to the Stars and Stripes.

“However, U.S. Forces personnel in Germany must remember that the items they buy at the commissary or post and base exchange are generally tax and duty-free,” said Tim Sellman, acting director of the USAREUR Customs Executive Agency in Wiesbaden, which is responsible for customs enforcement in Germany. The same may apply to the household goods they imported when they moved to Germany or any other item purchased tax or duty-free while stationed in Germany.

Therefore, giving used personal belongings or items bought at U.S. Forces sales facilities to people who are not eligible for customs exemption under the NATO Status of Forces Agreement for Germany is subject to certain restrictions. But customs experts say U.S. Forces personnel and organizations in Germany can donate foodstuffs, clothing and children’s toys to refugees without any restrictions based on an exception granted by German customs authorities.

“Foodstuffs, clothing and children’s toys can be donated either directly to a refugee or to organizations which collect items for refugees, such as the Red Cross, without the requirement to effect customs clearance,” explained Rula Strumpen, who leads the Executive Agency’s NATO SOFA Office. Coordination with German Customs or U.S. military customs offices is not necessary as no taxes would need to be paid, she added.

Items bought in German stores are taxed by German authorities and so can be donated to any charitable organization without restriction.

If you have any questions dealing with customs, you can find your local customs office online at