The internet has forever changed the way Americans shop. Instead of the local mart, we are able to purchase from anywhere in the world. Massive marketplaces such as eBay, Wish, AliExpress, and Amazon have made importing inexpensive goods from places such as China as easy as ordering from the local department store. Shopping will never be the same and this includes luxury timepieces.
One question I receive from friends on a regular basis is how easy it is to import watches from a foreign country. The answer is simple. It’s not as straightforward as that $50 toy, but it’s not complicated either. The reason inexpensive purchases are so simple is because the U.S. doesn’t charge customs fees for the majority of goods worth less than $800. Watches, however, can be thousands of dollars. Simply knowing what to expect will make the deal that much easier. By taking the correct steps, you won’t be surprised by extra costs, extra paperwork, or getting something wrong and having to return the watch.
The absolute best way to import a watch is to travel to the country of purchase. Local pickup and bringing the watch home with you is the easiest way. There are still customs fees, however you will be able to take care of everything during your trip. It will be a nice vacation in addition to a new watch for your collection.
For many of us, our time is limited, so I developed a system to follow so there will be no surprises. I use this system everytime I import a watch to Hawaii, yes I live in paradise and if you ever visit, we can get together and talk watches.
How to import Watches to the USA
Know the custom fees
Customs fees can be very expensive, especially on higher end watches worth over $10,000. If you are lucky enough to have a seller send through EMS, there is a slight chance the import fees may be waived. This has happened to me maybe four times, however recently I have not been that lucky. It is also the least secure and most difficult process since it goes through USPS. Something to check into is whether the seller pays customs. This is rare, but it has happened. It’s another piece of information that may help you in your purchasing decision.
There are many variables linked to what you pay for customs. This will include, but are not limited to, watch value, watch details, and the type of paperwork submitted. There are some personal exemptions to be aware of. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, there is a Merchandise Processing Fee of 0.21%, generally on watches over $2000. The exemptions depend on where and what, but watches may be duty free if they range anywhere from $100-$1600. This doesn’t always work as I’ve had to pay customs to import a vintage Omega that cost $1157.
Customs fees are intricate calculations. Each part of the watch, the movement, the case, and the band, each have their own calculation. Chapter 91 of the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule covers watches and accessories. Importing requires distinction between quartz watches and mechanical. Case and strap material are also important for these calculations. I added the most important parts of the schedule below.
Here are the HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule)Codes and the Percentage they charge.
HTS Code 9102.21.70
This part of the code relates to the most common watches, specifically your everyday automatic watch movement.
Wrist watches, not battery powered, base metal case, with automatic winding, having over 17 jewels, with band of textile or base metal
- Movement – Flat fee of $1.53
- Case – 4.2%
- Bracelet/Band – 9.8% for textile/metal, 2% for others (9102.21.90)
As you can see, the cost can vary, generally it ranges from 5%-8%. This is what I have paid to have a watch imported to me. It also depends on the value of the watch that is declared for each independent part. If the seller declares the majority of the value in the case and bracelet, you will be paying a higher percentage than if the value is declared mostly in the movement.
- Rolex valued at $15,000.
- Movement Declared: $13000 – $1.53
- Case Declared: $3000 – $126.00
- Bracelet Declared: $2000 – $196.00
- Total – $353.23 – 2.15%
- Rolex valued at $15,000
- Movement Declared: $5000 – $1.53
- Case Declared: $5000 – $210
- Bracelet Declared: $5000 – $490
- Total – $701.53 – 4.68%
You can see how different watches have different values depending on how the import paperwork was filed. It also depends on the schedule Customs uses to calculate the import fees. Beware, when dealing with leather, there is a whole lot more involved. If possible we recommend avoiding leather band watches, and recommend sticking with the U.S. when buying a watch so equipped.
Help, My Package is Stuck in Customs!
This happens, and usually it’s a quick solution. Do not panic, but if your package is stuck in customs more than a couple days, call the shipping company. Make sure you have the tracking number handy as this will be part of the conversation.
Information Needed for Shipping Company
- Last four digits of the tracking number
- Social Security Number (rarely requested)
The last time I imported a watch, it was held up in customs for a while. I called DHL and it turns out, the person that shipped the watch to me did a poor job with the paperwork. DHL required I send them the customs paperwork. This can and will happen, however knowing the process will allow you to fix the issues quickly.
I Need to Hire a Customs Broker
Not only is the USPS through EMS not very secure, it may also come with a secondary issue, requiring a customs broker. This has happened to me multiple times. If the total value of watches imported into the U.S. is over $2500, you will need a formal entry. You can see the document below from the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
If you receive this notice, you will get several options with regard to the Customs Brokers in your local area. This is exactly what I did, and they took care of everything once I supplied them with the necessary information.
The Information My Customs Broker Required
- Power of attorney packet for a corporate officer
- Copy of the company’s IRS SS-4 letter
- Copy of the Articles of Organization for proof of identification
Information Required for Customs’ Power of Attorney
Depending on how your business is organized may change the information required. If you are not a business owner, you will be giving them your personal information. You will then be given a form to fill out with the information of the watch you are importing.
Watch Information Form
- Movement: Type and Jewel Count
- Case: Material
- Bracelet: Material
In my case, since I was prepared, the timeframe from contacting the broker to collecting my watch was 7 days. The cost for their service was reasonable and I had the option of paying by credit card, check, or wire transfer.
One of the advantages to avoiding EMS/USPS is the ability to avoid customs brokers. DHL, FedEx, and UPS all have the ability to act as brokers, and perform all the tasks necessary to make sure you are delivered your watch in the quickest manner possible, while combining any fees into a single payment.
Paying any Fees Incurred During the Import Process
The method for collection varies from company to company. This is another disadvantage to using EMS/USPS. It is generally extremely simple, you just have to know who has your watch.
When the watch enters the U.S., it goes into the hands of the USPS. Once everything is set and the watch is set for delivery, USPS will arrive at the door and you will hand the driver a check. This is the only method to pay and may cause issue as people are quickly moving away from checkbooks.
This is my preferred method. FedEx has my information on file and they will bill my card in a week or so once I receive the watch. Without this, you just go to their online payment services site.
DHL is equally impressive. I prefer FedEx due to slightly better rates for me. The DHL online payment service is quite easy to use and I can pay with a credit or debit card.
This was my former preference, and is exactly the same as FedEx. They had my information on file and just billed me for it. Without this, you just use the online portal to pay with a credit or debit card.
Now I Need to Return the Watch
I’ve been there before, this is a pain to deal with and financially, not very nice. This is the single biggest problem with importing watches. If something happens and you need to return the watch, you will not be able to recoup the fees paid to import. The good part is the steps required are fairly simple. The first thing you will need is an export form. It’s a simple form with one very important box on it. You will be asked the reason for shipping, Commercial, Gift, Repair/Warranty, and Return. Obviously in this case you want return, that way there will be no more fees involved. Paying for shipping will be between you and those you imported the watch from.
I want to sell the watch I imported
Selling an imported watch follows the same process as selling any other watch. As the new owner, you need to ensure you list the watch on suitable platforms that meet your requirements. Consider options such as consignment or auction listings, as there are numerous excellent platforms available to sell your watch.
Remember, if you do wish to sell your watch, feel free to list it on Value Your Watch. You will not pay selling fees*, and buyers will not pay buying fees.
*Stripe has their own fees of 3.4% plus $0.30 per transaction
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