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7 Things To Remember Before You Go All Out In Your Overseas Trip Shopping Spree

How to avoid paying extra on your shopping overseas.

Shopaholics, you’ld probably have checked out the air ticket prices to travel to top shopping destinations like France, Hong Kong, and Japan. Maybe you might even have already booked tickets and are planning to jet away for the holidays.

Before you get all too carried away in nabbing the latest Hermes or Chanel bag or the new season’s Onisuka Tiger sneakers while enjoying the tax-free rebate offered by most countries to tourists, do note that there are additional costs you might have to fork out when bringing the items back into Singapore.

Here are 7 financial reminders to prevent incurring additional costs and to prepare you when shopping overseas.

Read Also: Shopping Across the Causeway: 12 Things You Can And Cannot Buy

#1 Credit Card Or Debit Card Exchange Rate Conversion Charges

Many credit and debit card issuers charge foreign transaction fees for purchases made overseas and the fees are usually per transaction and range between 2% and 3% of the amount of the purchase.

A foreign transaction fee is imposed by a credit card or debit card issuer when buying an item overseas while a currency conversion fee is imposed by card payment processors to convert one currency to another.

The fees are often both combined and referred to as a foreign transaction fee on credit cards.

For example, if you buy a bag for $500 in shop and charge the purchase to your credit card you will notice a foreign transaction fee of around $15 when you receive your bill statement. This is the foreign transaction fee imposed by the card issuer.

Some merchants may also offer a dynamic currency conversion (DCC) where you get to see the currency conversion fee imposed immediately on your receipt at the point of sale. This actually costs more and can go up to 12% of the amount of the purchase.

To avoid this, you should opt to pay in foreign currency at the point of sale. However, the drawback is you can only find out the true cost of your purchase until your statement arrives. If the merchant offers a DCC, you have the right to reject paying in DCC format and opt for paying in the foreign currency at the point of sale.

Another way to avoid additional fees is to look for a card that does not charge fees or charges lower fees before you travel. Some credit cards offer lower foreign transaction fees of 2% to 2.5% such as CIMB Visa Signature, Maybank Horizon Visa Signature, and the DBS Altitude Visa Signature card.

Read Also: Why Credit Cards That Only Reward You With Air Miles Are A Bad Idea In 2020

#2 Keep Your Shopping Receipts

Do check out the tax rules of the country you are travelling to as some offer domestic consumption tax exemption to travellers. To be able to shop for items without paying for domestic consumption tax, your shopping receipts are important to process the tax refunds so don’t throw them away.

For example, in Japan, foreign visitors are eligible for tax exemption at many stores upon showing their passport when making the purchase and they can avoid paying for the domestic consumption tax of 8% to 10%, depending on the items. Consumables, such as food, beverages, medicine, tobacco, and cosmetics are eligible for tax exemption when purchased at over ¥5,001.

For some countries such as Thailand and Taiwan, the tax exemption is only processed at the airport, and travellers have to factor in more time at the airport to queue up to get the tax refund. This means you have to pay for the items inclusive of domestic consumption tax first and can only get the tax refund on your departure day.

For example in Taiwan, you need to claim your tax refund before your luggage check-in. You have to take your passport and tax refund claim form to the E-VAT Refund machine or Tax Refund Service Counter to prove your foreign identity and check the tax refundable receipts. The tax refund system will instruct you if the goods need to be examined by the customs or not.

If your goods need to go through the customs, the machine will print out a checklist. You will have to have ready your personal document, the shopping receipts and the goods you purchased. The last step will be to obtain the receipt “Tax Refund Assessment Certificate for Eligible Goods Purchased by Foreign Travelers” printed out by the machine or given by the service counter and to go to the designated banks or cash counters located at departure airports for your tax refund.

#3 Pack Your Shopping Items In The Same Bag

When returning to Singapore, it is better to pack your overseas shopping items in the same bag as you may have to open your luggage for a bag check when exiting customs. You may have to present your shopping receipts too at the examination counters at the arrival hall so keep them handy.

If you are carrying any taxable items, you have to declare them to the checking officer at the Red Channel or at the Customs Examination Area in Singapore. All goods brought into the country are subject to an 8% Goods & Services Tax (GST).

At the Red Channel that is found at the arrival hall, you will have to inform the checking officer any declarable goods you are carrying and produce the items. You can also make an advance declaration and payment of GST using the Customs@SG web application.

The web application is accessible via all browsers and the payment modes accepted are Visa and Mastercard. A declaration number will be emailed to you if a payment submission is successful and you can retrieve your e-receipt by entering the declaration number and your email address in the Customs@SG web application.

Proceed to the Green Channel when exiting immigrations if you are not carrying any declarable goods. Sometimes when exiting the immigrations area, you may be singled out to open your luggage as Immigrations and Checkpoint Authority officers will conduct selective checks at the Green Channel.

#4 Note The GST Import Relief Limits

The imposition of GST on goods imported into Singapore has been in force since 1 April 1994 when GST was implemented in Singapore. The practice is consistent with countries that levy GST (also known as Value-Added Tax in some countries).

However, GST import relief on new goods that are brought into Singapore for personal use is granted to travellers depending on the duration that he or she has spent outside Singapore, according to Singapore Customs.

Time Spent Away from Singapore Value of Goods Granted GST Relief
48 hours or more S$500
Less than 48 hours S$100

Source: Singapore Customs

For example, if you have gone overseas for a holiday longer than 48 hours and purchased items totalling $500 for personal use, you will not need to pay GST as it is still under the relief cap. However, if you bought $1,000 worth of goods for personal consumption, you will have to pay GST on the excess ($1,000 – $500 = $500 is the amount you are liable for GST payment).

Read Also: 9 Big-Ticket Items To Buy In 2022 Before The GST Increase Next Year

#5 Tobacco And Alcohol Are Dutiable Goods

Beverages and liquors consumed for health reasons and used for cooking are dutiable if the alcoholic strength by volume exceeds 0.5%. These liquors include spirits, wine, beer and ale.

You need to present a valid customs import permit for clearance if you are carrying (but not limited to):

  • More than 0.4 kilogrammes of cigarettes or other tobacco products;
  • More than 10 litres of liquor products;
  • More than 10 litres of motor fuel in a spare container of a motor vehicle; and
  • More than 0.5 kilogrammes of investment precious metals for personal use.

However, travellers are entitled to duty-free concession for liquors if all the following conditions are met:

  • You are 18 years old or above;
  • You have spent 48 hours or more outside Singapore immediately before arrival;
  • You are not arriving from Malaysia;
  • The liquor is for your own consumption; and
  • The liquor is not prohibited from import into Singapore.

Duty-free concessions are granted on liquor products purchased outside Singapore as well as those purchased at Duty-Free Shops in Singapore. The concessions are granted on liquor products for your personal consumption only. It is an offence to sell or give them away. Travellers are required to pay the taxes on liquor products exceeding their duty-free concession and on goods carried for or on behalf of other persons.

Travellers are given duty-free concession for liquors on one of the following options:

Option Spirits Wine Beer
A 1 Litre 1 Litre
B 1 Litre 1 Litre
C 1 Litre 1 Litre
D 2 Litres
E 2 Litres

Source: Singapore Customs

These options are also applicable for the following liquors:

  • Liquors consumed for health reasons such as Yomeishu (wine), D.O.M (spirits), samsu (spirits)
  • Liquors used in cooking such as rice wine and cooking wine (wine)
  • Sake (wine)
  • Soju (spirits)

Tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars are also dutiable goods. There is no duty-free concession and GST relief for cigarettes and tobacco products in Singapore. You must also take note that importation of cigarettes and/or tobacco products that do not comply with the standardised packaging requirements is not allowed, and these products will be disposed of at the checkpoints.

These duties and GST can be made via all major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa and American Express), mobile wallets, NETS and Cashcard at the Singapore Customs Tax Payment Office. Travellers can also pay via Visa or Master credit cards on the Customs@SG Web Application.

#6 Know What Are The Prohibited Goods In Singapore

Singapore prohibits certain goods and they are not allowed to be brought into Singapore. These include chewing gum, fire crackers, and endangered species of wildlife and products derived from the body of such animals. Chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes, smokeless cigars are also prohibited.

Other prohibited goods include telecommunication equipment like military communication equipment, telephone voice changing equipment, and scanning receivers.

You can check on the entire list of prohibited goods not allowed to bring into Singapore here.

#7 Take Note Of GST Changes

The GST rate will be increased from 8% to 9% with effect from 1 Jan 2024.

This means that the items that you are bringing into Singapore will be charged at the prevailing GST rate, which will be 1% more from next year.

For example, if you travel overseas on 25 Dec 2023 and shopped and bought an item of $800 before 2024 and returned on 03 Jan 2024, you will have to pay 9% GST for the balance of $300 after deducting the GST relief of $500. Even though you bought the item in 2023, as the item was imported into the country for personal use in 2024, the GST rate will follow the (new) prevailing GST of 9%.

Read Also: From Wedding Banquets To Renovation Works: Why You Would Be Still Paying 8% GST Even If You Book Now?

This article was first written on 13 December 2022 and has been updated with the latest information.

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