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Does it pay to shop and ship to Israel?
I'm a pretty serious online shopper. I’ve become accustomed to hounding sites for sales, filling up virtual shopping carts at The Gap and Old Navy, searching Delia’s for teenage-friendly bargains, and looking through Land’s End Overstocks for deals on men's no-iron shirts. I consistently renew my Amazon Prime two-day free shipping deal, wait for the February white sales to order whimsical bedsheets from Garnet Hill and scour the Internet for coupon codes to save on shipping costs.
As an American living in Israel, I’ve found ways of getting merchandise I’ve purchased online in dollars — and had sent to various addresses in the US — delivered to me in Israel by friendly “mules” who tuck my treats inside their luggage.
But one doesn’t always want to ask favors of friends, particularly with the recently imposed limit of one free suitcase per traveler to and from North America instead of two, which makes it much more difficult to request schlepping services. On the other hand, prohibitive customs taxes charged for shipping directly to Israel had made it less than cost effective to shop US retailers online.
That seems to be changing now. As of January 31, the Finance Ministry canceled customs taxes on all toys, electronics, clothing, luggage, medicine, tires and appliances. Instead of paying 12% in customs taxes as in the past — if one were enough of a fraier (the local colloquialism for a pushover) to have something sent directly from the US — one now can shop like other global customers. Almost.
The three forms of taxes that have always applied to imported goods are customs, purchase and VAT, or value added tax. Customs duties are levied on all imported or exported goods; purchase taxes are charged on certain goods; and value added tax is calculated on any good or service in Israel, as well as imported goods.
Now, customs taxes have been eliminated as of January 31 on purchases up to $325 or NIS 1,200, and all purchase taxes on purchases up to a $75 total. It’s important to note that the purchase tax is still levied on many items, including DVDs, CDs, answering machines and cellphones, while the customs tax is now eliminated from all those orders up to $325 — as long as the purchase is for personal use, and the cost of the entire transaction, NIS 1,200, includes shipping.
By Jessica Steinberg