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Coronavirus: Singapore Customs reminds travellers to pay GST for surgical masks, sanitisers brought back in bulk

SINGAPORE – There are no extra restrictions on masks and hand sanitisers, but the usual customs duty apply to the import of these items, Singapore Customs said yesterday.

It issued the clarification after a picture of a sign recently put up at the Singapore Cruise Centre instructing travellers to declare their purchase of face masks was shared on social media. The new sign had been placed below another one telling travellers to declare dutiable goods like cigarettes, alcohol and new items.

The post had prompted some concern whether the import of face masks and hand sanitisers was being clamped down on.

Singapore Customs said it had put up the sign at the cruise centre in response to a surge in the number of ferry passengers hand-carrying the items in large quantities.

These passengers had carried the items with values in excess of their GST import relief thresholds or had bought the items in for commercial purposes, and thus had to pay customs duty for these items according to existing rules that would also apply to other dutiable goods, it added.

Face masks and hand sanitisers have been highly sought after since the coronavirus outbreak last month, with many shops and online sites running out of stock. 

A Singapore Customs spokesman said: “As a number of travellers had quantities of masks and sanitisers with values in excess of their GST import relief thresholds or which were for commercial purposes, they were stopped at the baggage screening area and turned back to the Customs service counters for GST payment.

“The sign was therefore put up with good intentions by our frontline staff to remind travellers to make their GST payments first before proceeding for customs clearance, so as to minimise inconvenience and help expedite their clearance at the Singapore Cruise Centre.”

The customs spokesman clarified that the sign was only put up at the cruise centre in response to a localised problem there, and that it has since been taken down.

Under the law, all goods brought into Singapore are subject to 7 per cent GST.

Travellers are granted a GST import relief on new goods that are purchased overseas and brought into Singapore for their personal use.

Those who have spent 48 hours or more away from Singapore only have to pay GST on the value of their purchased goods above $500, while travellers who spend less than 48 hours away get a GST relief capped at $100.

Goods brought through customs for resale do not qualify for the GST relief.

Regarding an online post which showed a receipt from a traveller who had to pay $25.20 for seven boxes of masks, Singapore Customs said the traveller had arrived via Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal with $360 worth of N95 and surgical masks.

“As the goods were for commercial purposes, no import GST relief was accorded to him,” said the customs spokesman.

He thus had to pay a duty equal to the 7 per cent of the total sum.

Anyone convicted of failing to declare or making an incorrect declaration of dutiable goods other than cigarettes can be asked to pay a fine of up to 10 times the duty amount for the first offence, and more for subsequent offences.

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