American in Europe: can I avoid import fees?

I’m travelling across Europe, and my phone was stolen in Berlin. I’d like to buy a used replacement on ebay, but I see that I appear to be liable for a hefty import fee. Is that right? I’m only buying a phone for personal use, and will take it home with me.

Or, if the import fee can’t be avoided, is there some other way for me to get a good used smartphone in Europe that I’m not thinking of?

EDIT for clarification: I’m talking about a smartphone; I’m primarily interested in data and apps. The phone I hope to get is a 2nd-gen Moto X.

Answer

You have basically three options:

  1. Buy a phone in Europe. If you can’t find the one you want, buy a cheap one that will suit you until you return home, then buy the phone you really want. Consider re-selling the European phone on eBay back home to recuperate some of your cost.

  2. Buy the phone from the US, and pay import duties. If you’re particular about the phone, and you can’t wait, this is your best bet. There’s a chance you may be able to re-claim the import duty when you leave. It is common to reclaim VAT taxes when leaving as a tourist. In principle import duties are the same, but that doesn’t mean it’s possible, and it’s certainly not routine, so it may be more hassle than it’s worth.

  3. Find someone traveling from the US to Europe, and have them bring it with them. Technically, they are likely subject to the same import duties (since they’re importing a phone, and it’s not for their personal use), but in practice, it’s easy to fly under the radar in this case, and since you’re taking the phone out of the region again, it seems (to me, IANAL) within the intent of the law.

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