A Foreigner's Guide to Dealing with Korean Customs when Shipping
Updated: Feb 10
Wonderful is a personal assistant service helping foreigners living in and travelling to Korea. For years we have helped hundreds of foreigners, both in and outside of South Korea, ship products into and out of the country. Our clients find us especially useful when troubleshooting shipping delays due to customs issues, or when contacting the relevant authorities for help with customs clearance. Based on our experience, we have summarized the main points each expat should know when shipping to/from abroad and when dealing with the Korean customs system.
How to Get a Korean Customs Id Number
If you plan on frequently shipping items from abroad, or on buying from foreign shopping websites, you might want to sign up for a customs ID number, to simplify the customs clearance process. This personal customs clearance number is a 13 digit number starting with a P, that is tied to your identity and home address. As a foreigner you would have to have an Alien Registration Card to be able to make the application.
Wonderful can help with the application, but if you feel confident with navigating Korean websites, then you can follow this link for the customs clearance number application page.
Even without a Korean Customs Id, you can still make purchases and deal with customs for products that are shipped to you from abroad. Many times, the shipping company will send a message to you (usually in Korean) asking for your Passport or ARC number. This may be sufficient for customs.
Paying Customs Tax
Even if you have a Korean customs clearance number or you have submitted the required information, you may still find yourself in a situation where you have to pay customs tax. For customs tax, the tax authority would most likely contact you directly via sms or email. If you are lucky, the company handling your shipment would help with getting the required information to clear your taxes, however in most cases you are on your own. :(
Many times the tax authority or customs broker would send a message in Korean, with no clear description of what steps need to be taken. If you do not know Korean, you might dismiss the message as spam. If a shipment seems to be delayed, it might be a good idea to check your messages for the past few days.
From our experience, getting hold of the particular department responsible for your item, can be a bit tricky. Sometimes you can be redirected 4 times before you get to the final contact point, so this might take some time. Typically if you give your shipment tracking number, and the destination address, then the customs officials would be able to help. In general, items shipped to the country below a threshold value of 150,000 KRW are free of customs tax. Some items are exempt, and the actual tax rate varies, so it is easier to contact the customs authority to confirm the final amount. If you have time on your hands, then you might follow this link, to try and get the exact tax rate per item. However, one thing you should know is that the customs tax threshold is not calculated per purchase, but on the total value of goods that arrive at a port within a certain period. ( Depending on the port, it could be a day or a couple of days ). This means that you could buy many small items over a few days but still have to pay customs tax, for the full amount. You may still have to pay, even when you have already received some items.
Dangers of Not Paying Customs Tax
We have already mentioned that sometimes you might have already received your items, but still be required to pay customs taxes for them afterwards. You should be especially careful about this, because if you miss to pay any customs taxes, you might be denied entry into the country next time you are at an airport. Worse still, they could detain you at any port of entry and require you to make the tax payment before you are allowed into the country. You really do not want to be in such a situation, so you should always pay any taxes you owe.
Choosing your Shipping Company
When purchasing your item, it is always advisable to first check on the services offered by the company with regards to shipping. We have had many requests where clients purchase from a website, but realize that the company they used does not help, nor provide information with regards to customs processing. Worse still, some companies will indicate shipping fees when you make the payment, but it turns out that you would still have to pay extra for shipping the item from the customs port to your home. It is always helpful to send a message asking what kind of support the company would offer, or at least read on their reviews to be better prepared.
If you are skilled at Korean, it might make sense to search for a customs broker to help with a shipment stuck at customs. These companies would contact the various departments and get the necessary paperwork required to process your shipment through customs. They do charge an additional fee for their services though.
In summary, dealing with Korean customs can be a tricky and time consuming process. Wonderful helps reduce the complexity and handles all the issues with regards to checking on the status of an item at customs, processing customs payments, quick shipping from customs and many other issues people regularly face with customs. Save time and hassle when dealing with customs, and use Wonderful.
Regarding our pricing, we charge for the time taken working on your request at 800 KRW/min (There is a 15% discount for first time users), and you can get a refund on the remaining time within 3 months. There are NO processing fees when you pay us via bank wire transfer. (You will pay only the cost of the item(s)). When we charge your bank card, there is an 8.5% processing fee that goes to the payment processor for their services. We do NOT benefit from this fee. For more information regarding our pricing, please follow this link.
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