Customs glossary

Authorized Economic Operator
An AEO is an economic operator that is particularly reliable and trustworthy. Reliability is determined by the following criteria: Compliance with customs requirements, satisfactory system for management of commercial records, solvency, and in some cases appropriate security and safety measures. The AEO entitles the operator to benefits related to security-relevant customs inspections and/or in customs simplifications as per customs regulations. 

Automated Export System (software module for electronic export customs declarations).

You can have DHL Express handle the process for you using the AES Ausfuhranmeldeservice (AES Automated Export Declaration Service).

If the electronic confirmation of exit has not been received, alternative proof can be submitted by the customs office of exit to the customs office of export at the earliest within 70 days after release of the goods for export for the purpose of post hoc completion of the export operation. Customs authorities can use it to issue an "alternative export notice." Since this notice is issued as alternative documentary proof for VAT purposes, the customs office of export can also recognize freight forwarder certificates, waybills and import customs clearance documents from third countries as alternative proof.

An ATR is a customs certificate (formal proof of preference) for the movement of goods between the European Union (EU) and Turkey (both ways).

The Automated Tariff and Local Customs Processing System (ATLAS) is an IT procedure put in place by the German Federal Ministry of Finance to provide largely automated clearance and supervision of the cross-border movement of goods.

Status as an authorized consignee can be granted to persons wishing to receive at their business location or other specified location goods moved under the Community Transit procedure without presenting them at the customs office of destination.

Border inspection posts inspect animal products to determine if they may be imported, using documentary, identity and physical checks. Import of these types of products into the European Union is not allowed without proper inspection.

For more information

The term frequently refers to the commission due when a third party handles clearance of inbound and outbound consignments.

The Carnet ATA is an international customs document. It was created under the terms of the Customs Convention on the ATA and the Istanbul Convention and is a globally accepted guarantee.

The Carnet may be used in lieu of national customs documents and as security (guarantee) for the payment of import duties and taxes. It covers the temporary admission of goods and the transport of goods.

The Carnet ATA can also be used for controlling/monitoring the temporary export and re-import of goods. In this case, however, the international guarantee is no longer valid.

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - and is also called the Washington Convention. Signed in 1973, CITES went into effect in 1975 and regulates the international trade of endangered species and plants in 175 countries (as of 2011) including cacti, orchids, corals, parrots as well as caviar and ivory. The aim of the convention is to ensure the survival of protected animals and plants with the help of import and export controls.

Additional information can be found on this page (English version) or in German here.

A commercial invoice must be created for merchandise consignments whose contents are intended for re-sale. This type of invoice serves as the basis for billing between business partners, as legitimation for proper export clearance in the country of export and as a legal customs document for import of the goods.

The commercial invoice must always be in English and should contain the following information at minimum to ensure a smooth customs clearance process:

  • Precise description of the merchandise and the tariff code (Harmonized System (HS) code)
  • Realistic assessment of goods value and freight costs
  • Country of origin of the goods
  • Invoice number and date
  • Addresses of the consignor/exporter and consignee
  • VAT ID of the consignor (for exports) or the consignee (for imports)
  • EORI number of the consignor (for exports) or the consignee (for imports)
  • Reason for export or import (e.g., sale of goods)
  • Declaration of origin
  • Preference depending on trading country

For free consignments containing commercial samples (e.g., catalogs or utility models)) or goods that require no payment to the consignor and thus are not intended for re-sale, a proforma invoice is used for clearance instead of a commercial invoice.

Create a commercial invoice online

Commercial policy measures are non-tariff measures, established as part of the common commercial policy, in the form of Union provisions governing international import and export of goods. This can include monitoring and protective measures, quantity restrictions and import and export bans.

Provides a precise list of the shipped goods. The list is confirmed by the consulate or embassy of the country. Some governments that want to have stricter control over their imports require consular invoices. Printed form 0349 is used in Germany.

A mandatory declaration or procedure for providing required information in a form accepted or prescribed by the customs authority. The customs declaration is also used during import or export to determine import duty or compliance with export regulations.

Customs duties are taxes within the meaning of the tax code and are levied at the moment of entrance into the EU economy, which they are designed to protect. Specific duties are charged per unit of a good, for example by size, volume or unit quantity. Ad valorem duty is a percentage of the price of the good, whereas compound duty is a combination of both a specific rate of duty and an ad valorem rate.

The last customs office before the goods leave the EU. Here the goods are actually presented and approved for exit in an export procedure.

The customs office at which an export declaration or a re-export declaration is lodged if the goods are being moved out of the customs territory of the Union.

Customs tariff numbers (or TARIC codes) are used for the unique classification of goods. They are used around the globe and structured according to a standardized system (the Harmonized System). For example, the customs tariff number is always 11-digits long for import declarations in Europe and 8-digits long for export declarations. The customs tariff numbers/TARIC codes have been regulated by the World Customs Organization since 1988 in the form of HS (Harmonized System) nomenclature. The first six digits of the commodity code are identical in nearly all countries.

A group of two or more countries that have decided to create a common customs area (free trade area). The EU is in a customs union with Turkey, Andorra and San Marino. Trade in goods between the EU and these countries is, following presentation of the relevant proof, duty free.

A declarant is any person who lodges a customs declaration, a declaration for temporary storage, an entry summary declaration, an exit summary declaration, a re-export declaration or a re-export notification in their own name or the person in whose name such a declaration or notification is lodged.

All non-union shipments originating from a third country (e.g. an order from an online shop, from China) have to be submitted into customs proceedings. The transfer / customs clearance into free circulation in accordance with customs and tax law is hereby the most common procedure. After submission of customs entry, which we as third party will undertake in your name, your shipment will be available to your free disposal. Only after a successful declaration of the goods will import duties be calculated. Those import duties can be comprised of duties, import sales tax and for certain contents excise taxes.

The declaration of origin on the invoice confirms that the goods were manufactured/produced in the EU. The rules of origin stipulated in EU legislation are applicable in this case. The declaration can be used as a preferential declaration of origin for goods valued up to EUR 6,000.

Before imported goods can be released by customs authorities for free circulation, the import duties must be paid. A deferment account approved by customs can be used to pay customs duties by direct debit on the 16th of the following month.

Dual-use goods are items that can be used for both civilian and military applications. They include data processing programs and technology as well as all goods that can be used for non-explosive purposes or for any form of support in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosives.

The customs duty rate for a specific good. It is based on the customs tariff of the Union and is the benchmark for the final customs amount.

Electronic Data Interchange. As of 2009, all exports to non-EU countries must be declared exclusively electronically to customs. ATLAS, the Automated Tariff and Local Customs Processing System, offers paperless interchange of data and thus significantly simplifies and automates import and export customs processes.

The customs tariff is a systematically constructed list of goods, i.e., a nomenclature. All goods that can be traded internationally as commercial goods are listed in this customs tariff nomenclature. Here each good is assigned a specific code number. Correct classification of the goods in the customs tariff helps ensure a smooth and standardized clearance process. For imports, the tariff classification is carried out by encoding the description of goods in a code number up to 11-digits in length. The code may be longer for market regulation purposes. The code number for exports is up to eight digits long. Each code number contains duty rates, the benchmarks for the amount of duty. The codes can not only be used to determine custom rates but also other legal consequences associated with the cross-border movement of goods.

An embargo can halt the trade of goods and/or raw materials between individual nations. Embargoes are used to discourage breaches of international law or to convince the country under embargo to undertake, or refrain from, specific courses of action. An imposed embargo generally causes economic problems that can impact an internal political situation.

The Excise Movement and Control System (EMCS) is a computerized movement and monitoring system for excise goods (excluding coffee and Alcopops).

The Economic Operators Registration and Identification number (also called the customs number) is a number assigned by the relevant authorities in the EU to identify economic operators and, in some cases, other persons to customs authorities. The legal basis for the EORI is Art. 9 of the Union Customs Code (Art. 1 (18) UCC DA). All economic operators (i.e., persons) who in the course of their business are involved in activities covered by customs legislation are required to have an EORI number.

What does an EORI number look like?

In Germany, the existing seven-digit customs number has the country code DE as a prefix (e.g., DE1234567). Recently assigned EORI numbers have 15 digits as well as the prefix DE. Structurally, there is no difference between a customs number and previously assigned EORI number (regardless of the DE).

When should the EORI number be used?

EORI numbers must be entered on import and export declarations (exporter for exports; consignee for imports).

How do I obtain an EORI number?

EORI numbers can be requested from the General Directorate of Customs’ Master Data Management office in Dresden (GZD – DO Dresden – Stammdatenmanagement), fax: +49 (0) 351 - 44834 - 442, -443, -444, phone: +49 (0) 351 - 44834 - 540.

Information on requesting an EORI number and application form 0870 can be found here. The EORI number is assigned free of charge upon request by the General Directorate of Customs’ Master Data Management office in Dresden and stored in a central EU database.

Geographically, EU special territories are part of Europe but, under customs law, they are not considered part of the territory of the European Community. As a result, customs documents are also required for consignments to these territories.

The EUR.1 movement certificate (formal proof of preference) is a form used in the trade in goods with the EU (both ways).

The EUR-MED movement certificate (formal proof of preference) is a form used in the trade in goods with the EU (both ways).

Excise duty is charged on the sale or use of specific goods and services such as alcohol, tobacco products and energy.

Exhibition goods are incoming goods used for exhibition purposes. Those are traditionally give-aways (e.g. pens, leaflets, keychains) and can be declared without additional charges. However, clearance of any other goods requires an EORI number. 

Should you not have an importer who is registered in the EU, please contact the service point of the exhibition.

An Export Accompanying Document (EAD) is a printed copy of the electronic export declaration form and required if the value of the exported item exceeds EUR 1,000 or the weight 1,000 kg. 

Please make sure that all items declared via ATLAS are handed over with the corresponding Export Accompanying Document (EAD). The document must be printed out if the goods are declared with the ATLAS system. You can also use the AES Ausfuhranmeldeservice (AES Export Customs Declaration Service) to have DHL Express declare the goods for you through ATLAS and print out the EAD. 

Please note that exceptions and embargo regulations may apply to some countries, making the EAD potentially mandatory for items valued at less than EUR 1,000. The EAD is also potentially mandatory if the implied goods value of export consignments dispatched on the same day exceeds EUR 1,000. 

The consignor presents the tax office with the export certificate as proof of export. The certificate must contain the following information:

  • Name and address of the supplying entity and date of supply
  • Name and address of the contractor and the client (if the latter is not the contractor)
  • The commercial name and the quantity exported
  • The place and date of export or the place and date of dispatch to third country territory
  • Consignee and destination in the third country territory
  • The Master Reference Number (MRN) of the EAD (Export Accompanying Document)
  • A statement by the issuer that the information in the document is based on business records that can be verified in Community territory.

An export consignment comprises the goods which an exporter exports simultaneously via the same customs office of exit to a consignee in the same country of destination. (Paragraph 115 of the Export and Re-export Regulations, A 0610)
In practice, "simultaneously" is generally equated with "on one calendar day". If you have any questions, please contact your competent inland customs office (= customs office of export) or your Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

All goods for export must be declared on an export declaration form. There are different types of customs declarations: electronic, verbal and implied (use of the “nothing to declare” exit). An electronic declaration is the standard procedure. Depending on the type of good or its value, the declaration can be simplified by using a verbal or implied declaration.

Certain goods are subject to special monitoring by authorities and may only be exported with an export license. These goods include protected species (CITES treaty), narcotics and dual-use goods. A two-stage export procedure must be used to declare these goods.

Proof of successful export after formal declaration by means of an Export Accompanying Document. The notice is automatically issued electronically by ATLAS to the declarant/exporter as soon as the export has been confirmed by customs.

Certificate of origin (formal proof of preference) for import into the EU (one way).

An area within a country (harbor, airport, warehouse or designated area) designated as outside the customs territory. Importers may import goods of foreign origin into the free zone without paying customs duty and charges. This all depends, however, on the processing, transshipping and re-exporting available at the location.

Free zones are also known under the names of freeports, free warehouses or free trade areas.

Customs clearance of gift shipments is only possible as such if sender and receiver are private individuals. Otherwise clearance into free circulation will be conducted. 

For fast and accurate customs clearance, the shipment documents should contain a meaningful, detailed description of the goods. It should include the customary trade name, what the goods are made of and what they are used for.

The 11-digit code number is based on the Harmonized System, which is administered by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and assigns the first six digits of the code number.

Internet portal (Internetausfuhranmeldung Plus) provided free of charge by the German Central Customs Authority. The portal lets you create electronic export customs declarations on the internet without having your own connection to the ATLAS system; an ELSTER signature from the German tax authorities is required.

An import consignment consists of all consignments sent on a single day by the same consignor to the same consignee.

Import duty consist of tariffs, taxes, and in some cases customs handling costs. Calculation and settlement is based on the INCOTERMS noted on the commercial invoice.

Import VAT is the tax rate that applies to imports into the destination country and corresponds to the value added tax rate of the import country.

Import duties are charges that arise for the movement of a good across a customs border. Settlement is based on the INCOTERMS noted on the commercial invoice. The amount of the duty is uniform within the EU.

You provide us with written guidance in the form of import instructions explaining the type of customs clearance you would like for your import items.

The import of items into the German tax territory is subject to import value added tax. This tax is an excise duty as defined by the tax code and is administered and levied by customs authorities.

INCOTERMS (International Commercial Terms) are a set of clear rules for interpreting the commercial terms that define the costs, risks and obligations of buyers and sellers in international transactions.

INCOTERMS overview

If the contents of your consignment can be considered luggage/baggage and you have been abroad for a maximum of 12 months, we need the following information/documents:

  • Copy of your passport
  • Copy of your tickets/travel documents
  • Written statement that the contents of the consignment consist of personal and used goods of a traveler
  • Description of contents

These documents can be sent digitally by e-mail to (with the shipment number included in the e-mail) or as a reply on one of our templates.

Medicines to which the German Medicines Act applies cannot be imported by private individuals. Should the medicines be purchased previously within the EU and for which a receipt or prescription be available, they can be submitted for customs clearance. 

The Master Reference Number (MRN) is a customs registration number that makes it possible for the customs authority to identify and process a file in ATLAS. MRNs are assigned in the areas of export, shipping, and entry and exit summary declarations. Previously called the "Movement Reference Number".

So-called third countries, i.e., all countries that are not a Member State of the European Union.

Previously called "non-Community goods" or "customs good". Goods that are not in free circulation in the EU and thus are subject to customs supervision.

Import duty is set by customs and entered into the accounts by customs authorities. The notification is issued as a document requesting payment.

A free service of DHL. Paperless Trade allows you to send your supporting customs documents for international merchandise items electronically online. You no longer have to print out proforma or commercial invoices or the export accompanying documents and physically attach them to consignments. You can activate Paperless Trade immediately in the online shipping application MyDHL+. Find out here how it works and how you can use Paperless Trade with another dispatch system.

A natural (domicile) or legal person or partnership (headquarters or permanent establishment) residing in the European Union.

If the content of your consignment consists of personal property/removal goods and you have stayed abroad for at least 12 months, we need the following information/documents from you:

  • Copy of your passport
  • Confirmation of your registration with the residents’ registration office (“Anmeldebestätigung”) in Germany
  • Confirmation of departure (“Abmeldebestätigung” – in German or English) from the country of the previous place of residence
  • Written declaration that the contents of the consignment consist of personal and used goods
  • Description of contents
  • Proof of the duration of the stay (e.g., a work contract)

These documents can be sent digitally by e-mail to (with the shipment number included in the e-mail) or as a reply on one of our templates.

A certificate issued by a government agency (usually the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture) to meet import requirements for plants, plant products/material, etc. The certificate confirms that the consignment has been inspected and contains no pests or plant diseases.

Preferences are a type of preferential customs treatment for goods from specific countries or areas. There are numerous preference regulations with different countries. Most are bilateral. An overview of proof of preferences can be found here.

For free consignments containing commercial samples for tradespersons (e.g., catalogs or utility models) or goods that require no payment to the consignor and thus are not intended for re-sale, a proforma invoice is presented to customs instead of a commercial invoice.

Since both domestic and foreign customs offices may be skeptical about the proforma invoice in some cases, it is recommended that a commercial invoice with the wording “value for customs purposes only” be attached.

Create a proforma invoice online

Order confirmations, Paypal statements, bank statements and credit card statements can be used as proof of payment. A proof of payment or value should always contain the following legible information:

Payee, billing address, amount and currency, description of goods and date of purchase, and ideally freight charges, delivery address and type of transaction. When ordering different goods, a list of the items including individual goods values is necessary (order confirmation).

An invoice is not proof of payment.

With some countries, the EU has entered into preferential trade agreements that regulate preferential treatment in customs matters. This preferential treatment consists of reduced or free duty on imports into the destination country if the relevant proof of preference has been submitted. If a customer operates an export business in these countries and would like to enjoy preferential treatment at customs, proof of preference is required. It’s also needed for imports into the EU.

The following can serve as proof of preference:

  • The EUR.1 movement certificate or EUR-MED for goods valued at EUR 6,000 and up, and the ATR certificate
  • Certificate of Origin form A
  • Declaration of origin on the invoice for goods valued at less than EUR 6,000, or unlimited as an approved or registered exporter

The type of evidentiary document depends upon the destination country and the value of the goods Supplier’s declarations serve as the basis for issuing proofs of preference but cannot themselves be used to receive preferential treatment. Information on preferences can be found here.

DHL Paket

Yes, because the consignment is forwarded by sea or road, a redirection to the local customs office is possible. To register as a Declarant, please email

DHL Express

No, because the consignment is generally* forwarded by air, a redirection to the local customs office is not possible. The customs clearance is conducted in direct representation for the receiving party. It cannot be ensured, that the consignment is accepted by the local customs office. For further information, refer to Customs Information.

We gladly take care of customs consignment. For further questions, please contact your customs experts: 

*In the customs office Kassel/Göttingen exclusively shipments from GB are being processed which have been received via truck and road ways.  Although they are not considered air freight, customs clearance in all Express-Gateways is conducted in direct representation. Hence, the redirection to other local customs offices for such consignments is not possible either.

As of January 1, 2017, exporters can use the REX system to apply for and manage their status as a registered exporter. This status was available initially in the Generalized System of Preferences (participating countries are being gradually transitioned to the new REX system) and will be available in the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as soon as the relevant areas of the agreement have entered into force.

The statement on origin by a registered exporter replaces formal proof of preference and/or the previous declaration of origin on the invoice. In addition, the statement must use the wording prescribed by EU regulations and be entered, together with the REX number, on the invoice. A declaration of origin, including a separate TARIC code and the REX number, is included in the customs declaration.

If your suppliers already are registered exporters, remind them to always enter the complete REX number. 

You can find more information on this topic by entering the search term "REX" at

Customs law provides for relief from customs duty, allowing goods to be imported duty free (but not exempt from import value added tax). There is also tariff-related relief from customs duty that applies without additional conditions to specific goods (can be found in the electronic customs tariff system - EZT online) and non-tariff relief that can be found in Council Regulation (EC) No. 1186/2009 and must meet certain requirements. The latter include consignments of negligible value, consignments containing gifts, commercial samples and goods for testing, analysis or examination.

To have your consignment processed as returned goods, we need the following information/documents:

  • Export waybill
  • Export invoice
  • Export declaration - MRN (Master Reference Number, if value over EUR 1,000)
  • Reason for the return
  • Please note that, for clearance purposes, goods can be returned only up to three years after export.

These documents can be sent digitally by e-mail to (with the shipment number included in the e-mail) or as a reply on one of our templates.

Samples can be exempt from customs duties if the contents the following conditions are met for customs clearance:

  • Does not contain more than 5 articles per content group (e.g. 5 t-shirts and 4 jeans)
  • The value of the each group does not exceed EUR 50

Commercial policy measures in the form of embargoes have been imposed on certain countries and people. DHL Express is legally required to check its transport services for sanctions-relevant issues. This must be performed even if the consignor has already conducted an internal audit of their business.

Inspections due to insufficient information or missing proof can lead to a transit time delay. These delays can be avoided by providing complete information on the consignee and the consignor/exporter. That includes providing complete first and last names of the parties involved.

The Single Administrative Document (SAD) was the main customs form used before the advent of the electronic ATLAS system. This printed form is now used for clearance in the event of a technical failure during utilization of the ATLAS system.

Certain goods are subject to special monitoring by customs and other specialized government authorities based on legal requirements from the areas of "prohibitions and restrictions", German foreign trade law (Außenwirtschaftsgesetz) and export control (e.g., embargoes).

A fee of EUR 10.00/day and EUR 0.20 per kilogram/day (plus VAT) per item will be charged starting from the fourth day if an item has to be stored owing to customer-caused delays.

This is a fee-based service (EUR 45/consignment plus VAT per item). DHL Express opens an external Union transit procedure and delivers the item duty unpaid.

The customer or the carrier specified by the customer are required, as the goods consignee (as per Art. 233 (4) of the Union Customs Code), to present the goods "intact at the customs office of destination within the prescribed time limit and in compliance with the measures taken by the customs authorities to ensure their identification."

If you are the authorized consignee or use a carrier, please send us the following:

  • The Registered Exporter (REX) number of the authorized consignee
  • The customs office of destination


  • The name and address of your carrier

The information can be e-mailed to (with the shipment number included in the e-mail) or as a reply on one of our templates.

The T2L and T2LF documents are used as proof that the goods in question are Union goods in the trade in goods with EU special territories.

Taxes are imposed on goods that are transported across political borders. However, there are a number of free trade zones around the world. Taxes are part of a country’s national economic policy. They limit international trade in specific goods to protect domestic markets or manufacturers.

The transaction value is the price actually paid or payable for the goods.

In Germany, goods for export must be declared at the place of packaging/loading of the goods to the competent customs office of export. In the second stage of the export procedure, the goods are presented to the customs office of exit (border) and released for exit.

Previously "Community goods" or "goods in free circulation". Goods that were either produced in the EU or have been released for free circulation in the EU after customs clearance and thus are no longer under customs supervision.

Council Directive 2006/112/EC of November 28, 2006 on the common system of value added tax in the EU. The Directive does not apply to some areas within the EU, meaning that different regulations are in force.

VUB stands for "prohibitions and restrictions" (in German "Verbote und Beschränkungen") and includes all goods whose import, export or transit through the EU or Germany is prohibited or restricted. These prohibitions and restrictions serve numerous purposes such as protecting health, flora and fauna, and the public order. Products that fall under this category include endangered species of animals and plants, medications and medical products, toys, unconstitutional literature and films, and weapons.

The Washington Convention was signed in 1973 and governs the international trade in endangered species of flora and fauna for 175 countries (as of 2011). The convention covers a wide range of things, including cacti, orchids, corals, parrots as well as caviar and ivory. The aim of the convention is to ensure the survival of protected animals and plants with the help of import and export controls.