When engaging in international trade, it’s essential to understand the various taxes and fees involved. Value Added Tax (VAT), Customs Duty, and Shipping Tax are among the most common charges imposed on goods crossing borders. This article aims to shed light on what these terms mean, their differences, purposes, how they work, and their advantages and potential downsides.

Value Added Tax (VAT):

Value Added Tax, commonly known as VAT, is a consumption tax levied on the value added to a product at each stage of the supply chain. It is applicable to most goods and services sold within a country or imported from abroad. VAT is calculated based on the difference between the sale price of a product and the cost of inputs used to produce it.

Customs Duty:

Customs Duty, also referred to as import duty, is a tax imposed on goods imported into a country. It is levied by the government and is generally a percentage of the product’s declared value. Customs Duty aims to protect domestic industries, regulate trade, and generate revenue for the government. The duty rates vary depending on the type of goods and the country of import.

Shipping Tax:

Shipping Tax, also known as freight tax or shipping surcharge, is a fee imposed on the transportation of goods across international borders. This tax is often levied on shipping services or carriers and can be included in the overall cost of shipping or shown as a separate charge. The purpose of shipping tax can vary; it may be used to fund infrastructure development or to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly transportation options.

What the Differences:

While VAT is a consumption tax imposed on the value added to a product, Customs Duty is a tax levied on imported goods.

VAT is generally applicable to both domestically produced and imported goods, while Customs Duty is specifically imposed on imports.

Shipping Tax, on the other hand, is a charge imposed on transportation services rather than the goods themselves.

What the Purpose:

The primary purpose of VAT is to generate revenue for the government and promote domestic economic growth. It is also used to ensure that businesses contribute to the tax base in proportion to the value they add.

Customs Duty, on the other hand, serves multiple purposes, including protecting domestic industries from foreign competition, regulating trade, and generating revenue.

Shipping Tax can have various purposes, ranging from infrastructure development to environmental sustainability.

How They Work:

VAT is typically collected by businesses at each stage of the supply chain and remitted to the government. Importers may also be required to pay VAT on imported goods. Customs Duty is assessed by customs authorities when goods enter a country, and it is usually collected by customs officials before the goods are released. Shipping Tax is typically included in the overall cost of shipping or shown as a separate charge on the shipping invoice.

Advantages and Potential Downsides:

VAT provides a stable source of revenue for governments and allows for the equitable distribution of tax burdens across the supply chain. It may encourage businesses to be more efficient and improve compliance. Customs Duty protects domestic industries from unfair competition, fosters local production, and supports the economy. However, high duty rates can increase the cost of imported goods for consumers. Shipping Tax, while serving specific purposes, may increase the overall cost of shipping and potentially impact international trade.


Understanding VAT, Customs Duty, and Shipping Tax is crucial for businesses involved in international trade. These taxes and fees play a vital role in generating revenue for governments, regulating trade, and protecting domestic industries. While they have their advantages, such as revenue generation and industry protection, it’s important to strike a balance to ensure these taxes do not become barriers to economic growth and international cooperation.

IDP Cargo Suksma