Customs tips for your home business

by Robert Szostek
Customs Public Affairs

HEIDELBERG, Germany ― A home-based business can be many things ― selling aroma candles, kitchen containers or pots and pans. Maybe a fingernail studio or trading on Internet auction sites is what you like best. But whatever your preference, you have to follow German and military home-based business policies.

The main things to remember are that you cannot use your U.S. registered vehicle, the APO, the exchange, commissary or the tax relief program for a business. You may also need permission from your garrison commander and German tax office for your commercial venture.

First, U.S. Forces plated vehicles are for your personal use only. Using one as part of a business is illegal.

“Examples of abuse would be if you used your USAREUR-plated van to deliver goods to customers, transport people for money or carry pottery from Poland for resale over the Internet,” said Bill Johnson, director of the USAREUR Customs Executive Agency in Heidelberg.

Register your business vehicle in the German system to be legal, he said.

Second, packages you send or receive as part of your business must go through a commercial shipping company or the German postal service. The APO system is a privilege for your personal use only and using it to send or receive business wares is not allowed.

Third, you must declare any goods intended for resale to German customs when you bring them into the country.

“If you buy commercial items in other countries, you must stop at the border and tell German customs your goods are for re-sale,” Johnson said.

Goods sold in the post or base exchange, AAFES catalog, and commissary are tax-free, so you cannot buy anything there for your business either. Not surprisingly, using VAT forms to support your business is off-limits, too.

Customs, tax and postal regulations need to be followed when you sell things over the Internet in Germany, too.

“People who occasionally sell personal property via the Internet are usually good to go,” Johnson said. However, in most cases you will need customs clearance paperwork if you sell personal property to residents of Germany who are not U.S. military members, U.S. civilian employees or family members.

As members of the “forces,” U.S. personnel normally pay no taxes when they bring their personal property into Germany, which is why clearance and the payment of taxes is required.

Selling goods over the Internet on a regular basis to make money is a completely different kettle of fish, Johnson said. The same rules about you using your U.S. registered vehicle, the APO, the PX/BX, commissary or the tax relief program for your business apply here, too.

Those who don’t follow the rules risk receiving a hefty fine and tax demand from German customs or tax authorities and military administrative or civilian misconduct action, where applicable.

So are you running a business? Do you need a German tax number or even a U.S. tax ID?

“To answer these and other questions, talk to your installation commercial affairs office to be sure where you stand,” Johnson said.

You can also download the pertinent directive, Army in Europe Regulation 210-70 (On-Post Commercial Solicitation). Details on Internet purchases can be found at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at