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Further Reading:

Importing of Household Goods

I currently live in Kuala Lumpur, but work throughout South East Asia and have recently considered making Phuket my residential base. My wife and children would live in Phuket and I would travel in and out on a regular basis. I have however been advised that the cost (specifically the import duties) of moving all my furniture and household goods (for what may just be a two year stay) may be prohibitive. Could you advise what duty rates should apply and how best to handle such a move.

Unless you and your wife will actually be working in Phuket and have a Work Permit for that employment, I regret that there, is no way, that I could discover, to avoid paying duties on the importation of your household furniture (even if it is all to be exported again within a few years)

Thais (who have lived abroad for more than one year) or foreign nationals who already have a valid work permit issued less than 6 months previously, (sorry all you guys who have been here for years!!) may import reasonable quantities of used household goods Duty Free. There is a catch here of course - a work permit can take several months to issue after you arrive - but if your furniture arrives in port before the work permit is issued you can’t clam tax free status - meaning you will probably have to stay in either a hotel or an unfurnished house in the interim.

A reasonable quantity, typically means a 20 foot container and not more than one of any type of household electrical appliance (T.V, Fridge, Microwave, CD Player etc.) Used typically means that it is not shipped in its original packaging.

Others (local Thais and foreigners like yourself without a work permit) may only import personal effects duty free (this means clothes and say one camera or video camera and possibly a laptop computer - e.g. what you can normally bring on the airplane with you)

Duty rates, assessments and calculations are very complex and while tariffs are in general falling, are still very high.

I spoke at some length to the three companies in Phuket who can provide this custom clearance service - and they all differed somewhat in their comments and were reluctant to be pinned to specific a duty rate without very detailed product descriptions. Household goods should however generally be assessed at around 40% duty.

Electrical goods generally have higher rates (as much as 80%) and if you have more than one of any of the normal household electrical goods they will probably all be assessed at the higher rates.

Valuation is not surprisingly very discretionary and in general a lower assessment will result from developing a good relationship with the concerned officers. It is also very important that a bill of lading lists every item in the container, right down to the exact number of CD disks with your stereo - to avoid either a penalty for false declaration of giving them an excuse to push your cargo into a higher tax band.

Another recommendation I received was that anyone arriving with a 40 foot container would be perceived as "rich" (read - can afford to pay more) and it would in general be much better if possible to limit your cargo to use only a 20 foot container.

There are not many international freight services running direct into Phuket on a regular basis, but some agents advised that clearance through Phuket was in general easier and more reasonable than Bangkok.

All said, the one point every one I spoke to agreed upon regarding import of household goods, or particularly the electrical items was (that if you don’t fall into one of the tax exempt categories) "Don’t bring them". It will in almost all cases be cheaper for most items to sell them where you are and buy new ones locally.