Importing explained

Importing involves bringing goods or services into Australia from overseas.

There is no minimum amount for a good to be defined as imported. Examples of imported items include:

  • a book ordered from a UK publisher and shipped to your home address in Australia
  • 1000 computer chips made in China and delivered to your business warehouse in Australia
  • macadamia nuts from Hawaii for you to use in cooking
  • 10,000 bottles of Swedish cider for your chain of bottle shops

Regardless of size, weight, quantity or cost, anything that comes into Australia from an overseas location is an imported item.

Goods must clear customs

You must declare all goods you import into Australia. All goods are cleared through customs by the Australian Border Force (ABF).

Although you aren’t required to have a licence to import goods, depending on the goods you’re importing you may need a permit to have your imports cleared from customs control. You also can’t bring some goods into Australia at all. You’re responsible for ensuring the goods you import meet Australian law and regulations.

Find out which goods are prohibited.

You may need to know:

  • what import permits, biosecurity permits and treatments apply to your specific imported goods
  • if your goods are subject to mandatory safety or information standards

Costs to import items

Depending on the type and value of the goods or products you import, there may be costs involved. Additional costs such as clearance fees, customs duty, goods and services tax (GST) or other taxes may apply. These duties, taxes and charges are paid at the border. ABF manages this process, and provides information on how to calculate your importation costs.

ABF also provides information on refunds of customs duty and concession schemes that may reduce or defer the duty payments on your imported goods.

It's your responsibility to ensure you pay all duties, taxes and/or charges.

What you can import

The Australian Government controls what you can and can’t import into Australia. The ABF administers the import regulations.

The leading Australian import industries include:

  • personal travel and tourism
  • automobiles and petrol
  • telco equipment
  • freight transport

Importing chemicals

If you import industrial chemicals or products containing industrial chemicals (e.g. soap, cosmetics, paint, glue, printing ink and cleaning products) for commercial purposes, you must register your business with the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). Registration involves an annual registration fee. 

Labelling imported goods

If you intend on reselling the goods you import, you must abide by the country of origin labelling regulations. These regulations are detailed in the:

  • Competition and Consumer Act 2010
  • Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905

There are 2 specific requirements for imported goods that you should consider:

  • Trade descriptions
  • Country of origin labelling

Trade descriptions

The Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act 1905 states that some goods can't be imported unless they’re correctly labelled with the required trade description (a true description of the goods in English).

To find out whether the goods you're importing need a trade description and the guidelines around them, see the ABF information on labelling.

Country of origin labelling

The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 prohibits you from making false or misleading claims about the place of origin of goods. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) country of origin page tells you how to use country of origin labelling and the regulations governing the 'Australian Made' logo.

Who can help?

Australian Border Force (ABF) – Australia’s border law enforcement agency and customs service works to protect Australia's border and enable legitimate travel and trade.

National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) – regulates importers and manufacturers of industrial chemicals. For importing chemicals, see the getting started checklist on the NICNAS website.

Department of Agriculture – aims to prevent and protect Australia against harmful pests and diseases. Check their website for biosecurity requirements for your imports.

Australian Business Licence and Information Service – allows you to search for the forms, services or permits your business requires to conduct day-to-day operations. If you intend to import anything for your business, this service can provide a starting point to understand which licences and permits you require.