We’ve all looked at websites like Aliexpress, eBay, GearBest longingly at the awesome phones, tablets and notebooks being sold there that’s not available in the PH market, and wondered at what it would take to bring them to our country. Overseas e-commerce shopping has long been a mysterious affair for many, especially for people not familiar with it.
It was, until now of course. We’ve done all the necessary legwork necessary and consulted with the office of Atty. Agaton Teodoro Uvero, Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs to find the most pertinent information in LEGALLY importing electronic goods like smartphones, tablets and notebooks into the PH. Of course there’s already services like MyShipping Box and Johnny Air that ships devices from the US to the PH, though we haven’t found equivalent services for vendors located in China and Hong Kong.
First things first – buying the product. You’ll want to use either a credit card or a debit card to buy your phone/tablet/notebook of choice from your website of choice. If you don’t have either of those, you can always go with PayMaya – it’s a great service that gives you a virtual card number that you load with cash, similar to a debit card. Anyway, as for the sites, we’ve heard good things from GearBest – they have a wide selection of products to choose from. Our current favorite site to buy from is Aliexpress – they have very good prices as well as free shipping for many of the items sold in their site.
Once you order your items, you’ll have to select your shipping method. For Aliexpress, their free shipping usually means they’ll use China Post Registered Air Mail for packages, which has tracking all the way to your local post office. You can also use other, more pricier methods like DHL for your order, which automatically computes customs charges for you that you’ll need to pay when your package gets delivered to your door (which you then have to pay to them before they release your package). Packages sent via EMS generally arrive faster in the country of their destination, but items with batteries usually get flagged and you’ll have to go to their branch in Pasay to pick up your stuff if you ship with them.
After you order your phone, tablet or notebook though, you’ll have to file an application with the NTC. Yes – customs will hold your package and ask for an NTC permit if they determine your device can either make or receive signals (either analog or digital) – signals that phones, tablets and notebooks make. We spoke to the licensing department of the NTC, and they say that you’ll need to take the invoice of the product that you bought, along with the specs of the product (all the radio frequencies it utilizes) to their office to apply for manual licensing. This will take around 3 days and will cost around 255 pesos.
Once all of that is done, you’ll need to wait for your package to arrive. The arrival time of your item as well as your ability to track it depends on the shipping method you utilize. Singapore Post for example, only tracked one of our packages (bought from Aliexpress) to its hand-off to an airline in Hong Kong and has still not arrived as of press time.
China Post Registered Air Mail tracked our package straight till its delivery to our local post office 11 days from departure to arrival to our door.
DHL being DHL, was the fastest option – they took just 6 days to get from China to our door and took care of paying for all of the customs fees, though they are by far the most expensive option that we used.
After what seems eons of waiting, you’ll get a notification from your local post man that you’ll need to claim your package from your local post office. A customs officer will now compute the taxes that you’ll need to pay for the item. Here’s where people usually get lost in the computation – items like phones, notebooks and tablets are zero rated, meaning the computation for the taxes you’ll need to pay is simply the total of the dutiable value, bank charge, customs documentary stamp, brokerage fee, import processing fee multiplied by 12% which is our vat.
To get the dutiable value, all you need to add is the value of your phone, along with the freight and insurance cost. The Customs Documentary Stamp is Php 265, while the Import Processing Fee is Php 250. For the Bank Charge, you’ll need to multiply dutiable value by .00125. For the brokerage fee, it depends on the dutiable value of your item – items under Php 10K, it’s around 1,300, items around 10K to 20K its around 2,000, for items around 20K to 30K its 2,700, and items 30K to 40K its around 3,300.
For example, if we bought this 6GB/64GB OnePlus 3 from Aliexpress, our dutiable value would be 438.62. That’s Php 20671.94 in our currency. So the bank charge would be Php 25.83, while the brokerage fee will be 2,700, and the Import Processing fee would be 250 and the Customs Documentary Stamp will be Php 265. Add that all up and you’ll get Php 23,912.77. 12% vat is Php 2,869, so the total amount you’ll be spending for the phone with customs duties and NTC permit is Php 26,781 .
The most important thing is to ask for all of the receipts that you get when you pay for your package. If you feel that the customs personnel is pulling a fast one, get their name, the receipt and file a complaint either with the Bureau of Customs or the upcoming hotline that the government is setting up.
That’s pretty much it. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle to go through all of these things just to get a phone, but if a device is rare enough (or the price is good enough) then buying it online and going through the process may be something that you might be interested in.
[BIG EDIT FOR 2017]
When this article was written last year, the new deminimis rule hadn’t taken effect yet. Basically under the new rule, anything valued 10K below (before shipping charges) bought from overseas are now tax-free. This is a boon for many people looking to score affordable smartphones and other gadgets from the sites we mentioned above. You will still have to provide your NTC permit if they ask you too, and if your local postman still stubbornly asks to tax your goods under 10K in 2017, show them this PDF of the order issued by the government.