Fotocrônica: Import Taxes

I nearly cried in the post office.

My mother sent us a box of used Legos, used baby clothes and other assorted items (none worth more than USD$10 each). The Brazilian Customs upon x-raying our box re-valued the items, deciding that in total they were worth R$350. They issued a tax based upon that worth. The state of Minas Gerais issued a second tax based upon that worth. So, if you examine the two receipts on the left, you’ll see that we were charged a total of R$349 in taxes. 100% of the estimated value of our box.

A minimum salary in 2014–what most around here earn unless you have a government job–was R$620. R$350 is approximately half my month’s salary. I was faced the with tough decision to pay, or send back the toys and books–some of them from my own childhood–and risk them getting lost. Feeling as though I was crumbling under the weight of emotional blackmail, I paid.

re-valued at R$350, this received R$340 in taxes
re-valued at R$350, this received R$340 in taxes

This is the story of taxes in Brazil. In some ways it’s very smart–tax imports so that the national producers can thrive. In other ways it’s very, very dumb because many items essential to growing the country become inaccessible to the ordinary consumer. Cars are outrageously priced, and everyone dreams of someday if they really save maybe, just maybe they’ll own a Nissan Corrola. Many items simply don’t exist in Brazil (I’m looking at you window screens and industrial dishwashers) because there are few national producers and the imported versions are prohibitively expensive. It’s often even hard to produce items because–guess what?–the parts to start the factory are imported.

It does explain why Brazil has a thriving black market. Until the import tax structure becomes more flexible and reasonable people will continue to work to thwart the system to get the items they crave.

As for our box? Well, our daughter and the other kids at the farm are loving the Legos. So maybe it was worth it.



  1. This happened to me in Turkey as well. For Christmas I purchased “stocking stuffers” including a whoopee cushion and similarly ridiculous little gifts from a UK site. The total purchase price was $50US and it cost me $110 to get it out of customs! Most expensive whoopee cushion ever!

    • I know, right? We did the math recently and realized over the past year we’ve almost paid a whole plane ticket’s value in import taxes! No more boxes for us–we’re going to go collect our items personally!

  2. This post terrified me. Have you been charged the tax every single time? Was the box over sized? I was under the impression that we wouldn’t be charged import taxes on a parcel that is clearly a “gift”. I have received many packages from family and online orders, some were charged the import taxes, some others not. The pattern I noticed was that the gifts from family (books, toys and clothes for the kids) were not charged. I had to pay an astronomical fee when we received an order of CDs from the UK (classical music is hard to find here) and some vintage sewing pattern from the States (argh — I cringe to remember). I will have to make a research to find out what are the officials rules…

    • No, we haven’t been charged every time. In fact–eternal optimists that we are–that’s why we were brave enough to receive various packages and get whacked several times in a row! Haha. We learned our lesson the hard way. I think the laws/rules changed within the past year. Best I can tell these days the pattern is: small box, weighs less than 5lbs and has a value of <USD $40, no taxes. Everything else, be prepared to pay through the nose

      • Well, I think they allow themselves some discretion for what they think might have resale value in Brazil. Our Legos certainly didn’t have much street value in the USA, but I suppose that here they’re worth a good chunk of change so they taxed us accordingly. And you’re right, that “official” page is as clear as mud. 😛

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