The clarifications will make it easier to bring in larger amounts of personal imports while avoiding the bureaucracy required for commercial imports.
Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen has publicized a revised personal import order (which will take effect in 21 days) whose purpose is to establish new directives to simplify and reduce the regulation affecting personal imports.
Until now, the language of the order permitting the personal import vaguely stipulated a "reasonable amount." The absence of precise terms meant that the consumer was always uncertain of which quantity he could bring in when ordering personal imports. This affected when the goods would be released because the relevant departments frequently were called upon to decide if the amount was “reasonable”. This also caused additional costs to the consumer.
The new order specifies that personal imports of up to 30 identical items in one package valued at up to $1,000 is permitted without having to undergo the necessary procedures for commercial imports. Five units of the same product in one package is permitted even if worth more than $1,000. (However, anyone who thinks that he can personally import 5 refrigerators on the grounds that they are for his personal consumption will discover he is mistaken. The tax authorities will not permit this).
The products included in the personal import order include ovens, air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, irons, dishwashers, computers, televisions, tablets, printers, car parts, baby products such as car safety chairs, helmets, toiletries, cosmetics and food supplements.
It should be noted that the VAT and customs exemption on purchases from abroad remains at only $75, and this reform does not affect the payment of customs duties, purchase tax, or VAT on the importation of goods from $75 and above that have existed until now and are still in force.
Other advantages of the updated personal import order is that it greatly curtails the bureaucracy involved in obtaining a regulator's approval for a personal import, which many found intimidating, and it restricts the response time to two days. For example, the importation of discs for a vehicle's braking system - an import that requires the approval of the Ministry of Transport - must be approved or disapproved within two business days.
The Ministry of Economy’s reform includes a special easy track for products personally imported for construction or renovation. Although people have been personally importing flooring, sanitation products, tiled doors, faucets and other items for the renovation or construction of a house for a number of years, sometimes the items are delayed at customs because they are suspected of being commercial imports, or they require authorization. Now, for the first time, the personal import of all components of an apartment, including raw materials and a large number of items, will be recognized. Here too that there is no change in the VAT and customs exemption. VAT must still be paid for imports over $75 and customs duties above $500.
The Ministry of Economy sees personal imports as a tool to reduce the cost of living, based on the Bank of Israel's 2017 finding that the items that were traded online and personally imported, saw significant declines in prices between 2011-2017. Personal products and cosmetics dropped by 20%, video and audio systems by more than 50%, clothing and footwear by 10%, furniture and household equipment by 15%.
The Ministry of Economics also said that the Israeli market is exposed to a low level of imports compared to the OECD average. According to the data, 10% of an Israeli household’s consumption comes from imports, compared with 19% in the OECD countries.
The new guidelines regarding the regulation of personal import procedures was not the first step taken to create a uniform and common regulation framework.
In September 2017, a new procedure came into force regulating the personal import of food by the National Food Service of the Ministry of Health. Until then, the difference between personal import was unclear to both the shipping companies and the consumers. Packages were held up in customs while waiting for the Ministry of Health’s approval. The long wait cost consumers much money.
Now, however, an individual who personally imports food (ordered through the shipping companies) is exempt from getting the Ministry of Health’s approval and providing accompanying documents from an importer. All he has to do is fill out and sign a personal declaration form from the Ministry of Health that he is importing food that abides by the requirements of personal import, is for personal consumption only, and is only in the permitted quantities. In addition, the importing consumer must declare that any damage caused by the import is at his own risk. However, this procedure does not regulate the process by which the individual releases the food from the Customs Authority for consumption in Israel, including the payment of the taxes prescribed by law.
To prevent commercial importers from taking advantage of this easy import route, the personal import of food is permitted only six times a year.
The new procedure applies to the import of packaged food. According to the order, up to 15 kg of packaged food can be imported in a shipment, with not more than 5 kg per product. The order allows up to 5 kg of spices per shipment, but not more than 500 grams per kind of spice. Packaged food supplements can include up to 15 items, but not more than 5 items of one type. The amount of saffron is limited to 20 grams per shipment.
However, the easy imports will still have restrictions. Imported food has to be packaged in advance and marked in the original language only, and can not contain any animal ingredients (except canned fish and hard cheeses). Baby food formulas may not be imported.
It is forbidden to import animal products such as fish, meat and milk, as well as food formulas for babies and toddlers, but it is permissible to import canned fish, milk powders in cans, preserved dairy products, candies and drinks. Yes, you can import hard cheeses for up to a total quantity of 5 kg.
The chairman of "Israeli Shortcut" Zeev Zer hails the reduction in bureaucracy which will allow foreign citizens living in Israel to easily import the food products and foreign goods that they used prior to their arrival in Israel, which he believes will facilitate their acclimatization to Israel.