Guide to the correct procedure for the tariff classification of goods

Overview of the procedure for the tariff classification of goods:


Definition – What does tariffing mean?

Determining the customs tariff number is essential for every customs declaration. The customs tariff number (or commodity code) is used for the following purposes:

  • by the Federal Statistical Office to determine foreign trade statistics
  • to determine import and export duties
  • Excise duties
  • Export refunds
  • Coding
  • Authorization requirements
  • Additional Duties

Also in the context of the law of origin of goods and preferential law, correct customs tariff classification is mandatory.

Possibilities for searching the commodity code: EZT-Online

The official website of the customs authorities for the determination of the customs tariff number can be reached under the following link: EZT Online

ezt-online Zolltarifnummer


Further pages for determining the customs tariff number are:

General regulations on tariffs

It must be possible to “tariffize” every good, i.e. to find it in the (electronic) customs tariff. The rules for tariff classification are as follows:

  • In the structure of the customs tariff, raw moulds always come before the processed products. The principle is “purpose before substance“, i.e. the intended use is to be given priority.
  • A car made of metal is to be tariffed as a vehicle and not as an “other metal product”.
  • Classification under “other goods” is always to be made only after the exclusion of the preceding (sub)headings.
  • A mention by name in the customs tariff is preferred in the classification.


Structure and application of the code number

Zolltarifnummer Kinderbuch

The subheadings of the 6-digit Harmonized System (also called HS code) are valid in all member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The further subdivision is subject to national variations.

In principle, the customs tariff number must have 8 digits for export declarations and 11 digits for import declarations.

In the practical determination of the customs tariff number, a further distinction is made between superficial terms (chapter/item) and product-specific details (subitem). Like the website, the electronic customs tariff offers a search function for keywords. This can be found in the Electronic Customs Tariff under: for import/export -> Classification -> Index

The legal rules governing the classification of goods are set out in the General Rules for the Interpretation of the Combined Nomenclature. These can be found under the path Import/Export -> Classification -> Goods Nomenclature -> General Provisions.

The following explanations should only give an insight into the problems of tariffing and the search for the code number to be used and represent only a small part of the tariffing possibilities. They are intended to raise awareness of the entire topic, which is why some examples have been worked out. For reasons of simplification, we will not deal with special topics such as document coding, tariffs in the food or textile sector here.

Tariff classification of wrappings and packaging

Packaging and containers for the transport of goods shall be tariffed like the goods to be declared, unless the packaging is not the actual goods. The packaging is described in more detail in the package details on export (e.g. CT – carton).

Explanations and notes

Before each chapter, please read the notes to the chapter, from which you can see if certain goods are excluded from this chapter. At the heading level, further information on the HS position can be obtained by clicking on the link “Explanatory notes”, which provide specific information on the products to be classified in this heading.

For example, in Chapter 48, articles of paper are covered (e.g., stationery of paper), but in the Explanatory Notes to Chapter 48, note 2(p), toys of Chapter 95 are excluded, so that playing cards, such as skat cards, must be classified in 9504 4000 (also by name)! Also in the Harmonised System Explanatory Notes to heading 9504, point 11), ‘card games of all kinds […]’ are mentioned by name. This example makes it clear that correct classification of goods in the (electronic) customs tariff is not always easy to carry out and may require some research.

Product combinations

The classification of a combination of goods is based on the item which constitutes the main part of the combination. For example, if a hair dryer is to be sold together with chocolate, the hair dryer is the main component of the set. If, however, the hair dryer (HS heading 8516 3100) is to be sold together with a hair straightener (8516 3200) as a set (e.g. in a promotion), classification is to be determined by General Rule 3(c) in the ‘last mentioned heading’.

Classification of new goods

Another problem can be the tariff classification of new products that have been developed/invented and therefore logically cannot be mentioned by name in the customs tariff. In this case, the notes and explanations will usually only be of limited help.

It is worthwhile to obtain a BTI regularly.

As an example, a hair remover with pulsed light is mentioned here. While electric shavers, hair clippers, clippers and epilators are classified under 8510 by name, hair removers with pulsed light are classified under other machines, appliances and equipment, not elsewhere specified or included, in 8543 7090.

Compare BTI DE24125/13-1 of HZA Hannover valid until 06 July 2020

Practical example: Problem with missing information

Another problem that can arise comes into play when even different chapters come into question. This is for example the case with so-called VR-glasses, which consist of a plastic frame, have 2 displays for both eyes and are used to display three-dimensional games and movies. Possible positions here would be

  • 3926 Other articles of plastics
  • 9504 Video game consoles and video game equipment […]
  • 8528 Monitors and projectors
  • 9004 Eyeglasses […] and similar articles

Chapter 39 can be excluded, because here the intended use is preferable to the material requirements.

Chapter 85 cannot be excluded because the Harmonised System Explanatory Notes to Chapter 85(A), first and second paragraphs, do not provide for exclusion from Chapter 85 of these VR glasses.

Chapter 95 cannot be excluded immediately either, because although it is not a video game console, parts and accessories for it may be classified here by the Harmonised System Explanatory Notes to this chapter, second sentence.

HS heading 9004 covers all spectacles and similar articles! Again, the Harmonized System Explanatory Notes (HS) do not exclude VR systems. In paragraph 4 of the Harmonised System Explanatory Notes, “polarised glasses for viewing three-dimensional films” are classified under this HS heading. However, this should only apply to the classic 3D glasses which have lenses with different colors or contain color-neutral filters which create a 3D effect by means of a corresponding technology (which is not contained in the glasses themselves).

Zolltarifnummer VR

The Harmonised System (AV) Notice on heading 9004 defines a ‘virtual reality (VR) headset’ for connection and use with a specific type of mobile telephone. The notices specify the technical characteristics of the headset and state that a cell phone is essential for its operation.

The Harmonised System (HS) Notice to Applicants concerning subheading 9504 50 No 3 defines a ‘virtual reality headset’ as follows: […] which resembles protective goggles, contains sensors, video display modules […] and two magnifying lenses which enable the user to see a spatial view (3D view) of the screen of the video display module.

This example clearly illustrates the daily problems of many users in practice! Only a description of goods such as “3D headset” or “VR system” does not allow for an exact tariff here because the responsible person must know the exact technical specifications. In the present case, whether the 3D representation takes place via a smartphone (Pos 9004) or whether the headset itself displays the images (Pos 9504).

Non-binding customs tariff information

The customs administration offers the possibility of obtaining non-binding customs tariff information. Non-binding information on customs tariffs can be obtained from the central information office at the General Customs Directorate – Directorate II;

Postal address:

-Direktion II-
Organisation, Haushalt und Informationstechnik
Carusufer 3 – 5
01099 Dresden


Information for private persons:

Phone: +49 351/44834-510
Fax: +49 351/44834-590

Information for companies:

Phone: +49 351/44834-520
Fax: +49 351/44834-590

Binding tariff information

In principle, a written request must be submitted for the issue of binding tariff information.

Further information and the request form can be found on the customs website: Zolltarifauskunft (vZTA-Entscheidung)

We hope that this brief introduction to customs tariff classification will provide you with an important aid for determining the customs tariff number. On the one hand, it is essential to know the exact nature and purpose of the goods in order to be able to work out a correct customs tariff number. In practice, differences of opinion often arise here, which can be avoided by good research in the general regulations and the explanations.

Free templates and samples for long-term supplier’s declaration:

Supplier declaration-Tools:

Automatic request, issue and calculation

Free templates and samples for long-term supplier’s declaration:

Supplier declaration-Tools:

Stefan Kluge

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