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‘It’s unfair’ - Online shoppers want increase in US$50 duty-free limit

Published:Sunday | December 27, 2020 | 12:13 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter

Mark Gonzales, president of the E-Commerce Couriers Association.
Mark Gonzales, president of the E-Commerce Couriers Association.

Grounded by COVID-19 flight restrictions, at least 800,000 Jamaicans have turned to online shopping since September to purchase and import personal items into the island.

That’s a rough estimate by three of the more noted e-courier services, said president of the E-Commerce Couriers Association, Mark Gonzales, who explained that many shoppers have been walking a tightrope to ensure goods do not exceed the US$50 free on board (FOB) value online.

For that reason, he said, the association supports Jamaicans who have been calling for an increase in the FOB value to US$100, especially in light of the pandemic.

According to the Jamaica Customs Agency, personal items are those intended for private, household use or consumption and have no commercial intent.

“Packages with a FOB value of US$50 or less will not attract Customs charges. However, if the value is greater, Customs charges will be calculated on the full value,” the Jamaica Customs Agency said on its website. “It is therefore important that the invoice be included in the package, or presented to Customs, to assist with the assessment of the items.”

According to Gonzalez, shoppers have been skilfully trying to avoid the limit, stopping their orders at US$49.99.


“Since COVID-19, travel would have decreased significantly so most people are now shopping online. Those persons who travel overseas are used to getting up to US$500 allowance on personal effects when they travel,” explained Gonzales.

“Now that they are shopping online, that allowance is not applicable. Online US$50 is the allowance and you can see the disparity there. So what persons are saying is that they want the limit to be increased to at least US$100,” he said, noting that there has been an 80 per cent increase in business this season.

“There was a petition that was signed earlier this year and I know that the Government has been discussing the matter, but I’m not quite sure where they are in the discussion right now,” continued Gonzales.

The Sunday Gleaner was not able to secure responses on the matter from the Jamaica Customs Agency as several frustrated customers, deflated by the restriction during Christmas shopping last week, demanded answers.

“I think it is unfair. The prices of things are increasing and yet Customs are not changing the duty-free limit,” remarked Ann Robinson, who shops online at least once per month.

“I ordered two shoes at the price of US$40 on separate days and because the shipper placed them in the same box, I was charged duty as the items now valued US$80. I ended up paying twice the value of the shoes,” she fumed.

Nicole Kentish was equally upset last Thursday, as staying home is proving more and more expensive.

“With COVID-19, I don’t like buying things in the store. I prefer to go online, where it is easier. However, you can’t get to do that because the cost of some things are just over the threshold and that makes it difficult, especially when you think of household items for Christmas,” said Kentish.