European Commission waives customs duties and VAT on the import of medical equipment from non-EU countries

Temporary relief prolonged until 31 October 2020

On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. On 11 March 2020 the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. As the number of infection cases increased alarmingly, numerous Member States declared a national state of emergency.

In order to combat the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, requests were made by different Member States for relief from import duties and exemption from VAT on imported goods.

Begin April 2020, the European Commission decided to approve those requests and published a decision helping Member States affected by pandemic to temporarily suspend customs duties and VAT on protective equipment, testing kits or medical devices such as ventilators. This would make it easier financially to get the medical equipment that doctors, nurses and patients desperately needed. The measure would apply for a period of six months, with a possibility for further extension.

On 20 March 2020, the European Commission invited all Member States, as well as the UK, to formally request lifting customs duties and VAT on imports of necessary medical equipment during the crisis. All Member States and the UK have done so. The need to fight COVID-19 and protect the health of Europeans justified swift action.

An indicative list was published, based on the existing WCO list for COVID-19 medical supplies and on the most referred products in the import duty/VAT relief requests submitted by MemberStates. This list serves as guidance to Member States but it is not exhaustive and leaves discretion for Member States to act according to their particular national needs.

Background information

Current EU legislation has exceptional tools available in order to help victims of disasters, which can be used to face the unprecedented health crisis caused by the coronavirus.

EU customs legislation (Council Regulation (EC) No 1186/2009) provides for the possibility to grant duty relief for the “benefit of disaster victims”. It can be applied to imports by State organisations or approved charitable or philanthropic organisations. To grant relief, a decision from the Commission is required, acting at the request of the Member States concerned.

Similarly, EU VAT law (Council Directive 2009/132/EC) has mirroring provisions as regards exemption from VAT on the final importation of certain goods.

The Commission decision will be applicable from 30 January 2020 until 31 July 2020. On 23 July 2020, the European Commission decided to prolong the temporary relief for customs duties and VAT on the import of medical devices and protective equipment from third countries until 31 October 2020. This allows imports carried out during the incipient phase of the outbreak to also benefit from the exemption.

The duty and VAT free importation applies to:

  • state organisations (state bodies, public bodies and other bodies governed by public law including hospitals, governmental organisations, communes/towns, regional governments, etc.)
  • charitable or philanthropic organisations approved by the competent authorities of the Member States.


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