Living Abroad

Denmark – Shame on You

Posted on / by Alex Berger

The Streets of Copenhagen

There are moments when dealing with bureaucratic nonsense that leave you so stupefied you have trouble believing that what you’re seeing and experiencing is real and not some complex miscommunication.  After all, no person/organization/group or agency could be that daft, right?  You want to believe that some semblance of common sense must, at some point, enter into the equation.  Or so one would think.  Of course, as experience perpetually reminds us – there are a wealth of areas out there where common sense and good taste were banished decades ago.

While I absolutely love Denmark, and the Copenhagen area, there are aspects of the Danish system that not only drive me up a wall, but for which the Danish government should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed.  In the past I’ve discussed issues related to student housing for internationals in Copenhagen, about the general apathy and incompetence of the Visa Department, about the incompetence of the Danish banks when it comes to certified checks, and how half of the stores in Denmark only accept Visa cards from Danish banks.  Today though, let’s talk packages, customs, and fees.

Last week I received a package notification slip which in and of itself was a small miracle.  You see, the Danish Post is generally incompetent. For a country the size of Arizona they seem to have a surprising level of difficulty getting packages delivered on time, or to the right location.  If your package is coming from overseas…well…good luck.  It’s destined to spend more time sitting in warehouses and lost in customs than total time in transit.

I wasn’t completely sure what the slip was for, but assumed it had to do with a product sample a US-based company had sent me to review on VirtualWayfarer. By the time I reached the post office and queued up in a long line, I had a few minutes to puzzle over the package/customs slip I’d received in the mail.  It listed some 199 DKK ($35) in fees and taxes for the package.  Knowing that the complimentary sample I’d been sent was only priced at $28 USD or 150 DKK, I was more than a little puzzled about what it might be.  Had they decided to send additional samples?  Had a mistake been made?  Had someone sent a care package from the US that I didn’t know about?

After reaching the counter, I handed over the slip and proof of identification.  The post office employee then spent the next 5 minutes searching the shelves for the package before finally finding the smushed and partially abused USPS flat rate envelope.  I confirmed that it was, in fact, the product sample which included a very visible customs declaration form  highlighting the $28 value of the item.  The package was also wrapped in the red customs tape which I’ve come to associate with some sort of VAT tax or fee.

To my surprise, I was then informed that I’d need to pay 199DKK in VAT and unavoidable fees if I wanted to pick up the package. While paying a VAT tax on the item might make sense and wouldn’t overly aggravate me – paying a 160 DKK combined fee and VAT on that fee (yup, Denmark charges taxes on fees and taxes) is ridiculous.  Annoyed, I insisted that there must be some sort of mistake.  After all, it would take a profound level of mean-spirited corruption and/or general incompetence to create a fee and tax system that would result in taxes and fees that were 130% of the cost of the actual item being sent, right?

The clerk shrugged. I rephrased my complaint.  He shrugged again. Then he told me if I didn’t want to pay the fees, I could refuse the package and have it returned to the sender. The default answer I’ve gotten from the postal folks every time I’ve mentioned the issue.  I asked him what the point was of having someone send an order or a package if you didn’t intend to actually pick it up. It generally presupposes that if you’re receiving a package that you might, you know, need that package, right? He shrugged again. Then gave me a number to call, but told me they wouldn’t do anything.

He was right.  The lady I reached when calling Post Danmark quickly explained that it was a flat, tiered fee.  I asked what the fee was for? Apparently an unavoidable import tax and VAT.  I asked if paying the VAT when shipping the package would make it possible to avoid the fee, and if the fee was a punishment designed to discourage people from paying at pickup.  Her answer?  Nope.  The fee is unavoidable and VAT etc. can only be paid when the package is received. Flabbergasted, I asked her how they could justify charging a fee that was well in excess of the original price of an item.  She didn’t care – the fee was the fee.

This isn’t just a Post Danmark and Danish Customs issue, it’s a regulatory and governmental issue.  The fact that things like this are allowed and built into the system is not only idiotic, but it ought to be criminal given the profoundly exploitative nature of it.

What possible, viable, or credible justification can there be for charging 130% fee in excess of the original purchase price AND cost of shipping on an item that is not available in any way/shape/or form in Denmark or from a Danish company?

In expressing my frustration and outrage over the incident to friends, they’ve all noted similar experiences. In short, it’s just viewed as part of the system. To me, it looks like a legal alternative to the types of bribery and extortion you’d find in many 3rd-world countries.

So, again I say Denmark, shame on you.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.


  • Beth
    January 21, 2013

    It’s like that all over! In Turkey, they decided to ban all makeup and cosmetic imports. What that effectively meant was that if you ordered makeup (even $10 lotion) online to be shipped to Turkey, you would receive a similar slip, with no indication of the fees you’d need to pay. Then when you arrived at the huge shipping warehouse (of course there is only one and it is far away), you would have to pay a tax in excess of multiple 100s of percents. Same goes for vitamins and supplements. I’ve heard of people paying 100s of dollars in taxes in order to pick up a small bottle of American-made vitamins. The only work-around was to have a parent/friend send it and LIE on the form.

    • Alex Berger
      January 21, 2013

      It really does encourage deceptive customs declarations. Which is bad news for a plethora of reasons. That sounds particularly bad. I can understand some reasonable degree of protectionist tax in some cases, but if the product isn’t available in country? Completely groundless.

  • Jens Rost
    January 21, 2013

    It’s a pity, and I feel sorry for you, but “shaming” DK is a bit harsh imho 🙂
    I’m sure there are much better reasons for shaming Denmark, than this greedy taxation.
    I wonder if there’s the same over -taxation in the US on goods shipped from the EU?

    • Alex Berger
      January 22, 2013

      No doubt there are some. It’s governmental and trade policy. No doubt part of the blame always lies within EU and Schegen trade policies as well. Still, at the end of the day the Government is the group responsible in this instance and that’s where blame lies.

    • Samuel
      November 2, 2017

      the USA do not have import taxes yet… I have friends in America and they never pay import taxes over there… The problem here in Denmark is the danish government and the EU laws.

  • Dan
    January 26, 2013

    Wow, that blows me away. Their should never be any fees at the pickup end! At least in my mind…

  • Marysia @ My Travel Affairs
    November 27, 2013

    Ha ha ha I hear those kind of stories all the time from my friends leaving in Copenhagen! 🙂

  • Jade – in the DR
    December 11, 2013

    Wow, and I thought I had it bad int the DR where to avoid expensive fees we need to send our online purchases to a PO box in miami which is then delivered to Santo Domingo, which is then delivered to Cabarete, where I finally pick it up with a $3 per pound charge, and then only if the item is under $200USD, if it’s more we pay ridiculous tax.


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