Intellectual Property · International Delivery · Online Shopping

Customs Delays on “Knockoffs” from Hong Kong

Have you noticed that some items take for-ev-er to arrive when you order them online? Have you noticed that this happens with cell phone accessories, camera accessories, and branded items (like Salvatore Ferragamo sunglasses) that come to you via international delivery?

I might know why.

It’s likely because customs wanted to be certain that your online shopping spree did not include any counterfeit, trademarked goods.

Customs offices look for commonly stolen / counterfeit items. If they find a suspicious package, they will initiate a process that lasts between ten days and “destruction of the goods in the simplified process“.

Let’s pretend that you just bought a new iPhone. If you are clumsy like me, you probably want to protect the most breakable item in your “productive adult” arsenal with a phone case.

If you shop online, you will find an enormous variety of cell phone cases – many of which are sold from Asia because they have better cell phones than we do in the west. Unfortunately, they also have a lot of problems with counterfeit goods and this means your international delivery may be experience delays.

So, you order your case online and it says it will take 10 business days for delivery but for some reason it takes about a month to arrive… this is not necessarily because the phone store in China is unreliable (nor are custom officials’ evaluation of goods crossing the border restricted to Asian products).

If you ordered a product from another country to be shipped to an EU member state, it is very likely that what happened was this:

Your online shopping spree includes a phone case from a company abroad.

The company in Hong Kong packages your product, affixes a label, and drops it in the mail where it catches an airplane to Germany.

A customs official sorting through international deliveries at the airport notices that this package could be a product from a trademarked brand so they open the package to investigate. (This is only the first delay)

Inside, they find your phone case and a receipt with the price of the product, intended recipient, and the sender.

The customs officer makes a note of this information and sends an URGENT letter to the trademark owner / the trademark owner’s legal representative. The trademark owner then has three business days to determine whether the goods in your package are legitimate or knockoffs and if they object to it or not. (This Regulation applies from 1 July 2004 and repeals Regulation (EC) No 3295/94 from that date – and it may vary slightly depending on which country the customs office is representing.)

In most cases, products that are purchased legitimately are approved by the trademark owner and sent to the intended recipient with only a slight delay.

If, however, the company determines that your product is counterfeit they can request “the destruction of the goods in the simplified process”. You will, of course be notified and have another (very short) deadline to find a lawyer and prepare a strongly worded letter outlining your case for why the goods are, in fact, legitimate. In my experience, when it comes to this point most people consent to the destruction of their package and go to another retailer to buy their phone case / designer shoes / whatever.

This does not mean that you should avoid buying products from abroad through Amazon! If you make a legitimate purchase, the trademark owner would like to make a legitimate sale. In my experience, the items that are “destroyed in the simplified process” are clearly counterfeit. The vast majority products are approved by the trademark owner and delivered to the end customer without any fuss.

So, happy shopping – and remember that branded products, or easily counterfeit-able products may be delayed if they pass through customs on their way to you.

If you are interested in conducting further research, please follow the links below:

  1. EUR-Lex
  2. European Customs
  3. REGULATION (EC) No 450/2008
  4. German Customs Office Website


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