Consumers shopping online for Christmas presents are running the risk that gifts from overseas might not make it to the tree unless import duty and GST are paid.
Customs can keep your stilettos and jewellery at the border. It will not release items to buyers who have not paid the appropriate charges.
Customs trade and marine group manager Paul Campbell said that although most people were aware GST had to be paid on items worth more than $400 coming from overseas, apparel and accessories worth more than NZ$225 were liable for duty.
"Online shopping continues to grow in popularity. Many people, however, don't realise that they may have to pay duty and GST when their purchases arrive in New Zealand," Campbell said.
"There is a common misconception that all goods purchased online from overseas websites for less than NZ$400 can come into New Zealand without incurring any duty, GST, or charges.
"This is incorrect, as some of the most frequently imported items such as clothing, shoes, and accessories will have duty charged from approximately NZ$225 in value."
Retailers' Association chief executive John Albertson says buyers often undervalued goods on Customs declarations to avoid duty and GST charges. The industry's biggest gripe with items bought online, he said, was the tax exemption.
"In our view, if GST is a tax on consumption, it should be all consumption. Retailers in New Zealand are happy to compete but it has to be a fair playing field."
Across the Tasman, the GST Distribution Review released in November recommended that Australia charge GST on all items bought from overseas websites.
Kiwis spend about $1 billion a year in online purchases from overseas sources, compared with $2b spent on local websites.
The internet can offer access to goods unavailable in local stores, but items bought from overseas websites were not covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act for any faults.
PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Eugen Trombitas said the issue of avoiding GST by buying online raised interesting points.
"Do you feel bad about taking an overseas holiday, because there is no GST on that spending? It is an interesting comparison.
"There are some things you just can't buy here - we've got a girl in the office who does rhythmic gymnastics and her leotards can only come from overseas, so you either buy them online or when you're overseas.
"For a lot of people it's just convenient to order online because even if it is from offshore, it can be delivered straight to your door."
- © Fairfax NZ News