All goods brought into Singapore are subject to Goods and Services Tax (GST) at the prevailing rate, levied on the value of goods, which may include the cost, insurance and freight (CIF) plus other chargeable costs and the duty payable (if applicable).
But why do I have to pay GST for things I bought while on overseas trips?
That's because GST is a tax on the taxable supply of goods and services in Singapore and on the importation of goods into Singapore (other than an exempt import). Hence, GST is levied on goods brought into Singapore or purchased locally.
The imposition of GST on goods imported into Singapore has been in force since 1 April 1994 when GST was implemented in Singapore. The practice is consistent with countries that levy GST (also known as Value-Added Tax in some countries) on imported goods. There is no GST import relief for goods imported by travellers for commercial purposes. However, travellers are granted GST import relief on goods imported for their own personal use and the amount is based on the value of goods they bring in and the period that they are away from Singapore. Travellers are required to pay GST on the value of the goods which is in excess of the GST import relief granted to them.
Time Spent Away from Singapore
Value of Goods Granted GST Relief
48 hours or more
Up to S$500
Less than 48 hours
Up to S$100
There is no duty-free concession and GST import relief for cigarettes and tobacco products and motor fuel including motor spirits, diesel products and compressed natural gas (CNG) in containers. Duty-free concession may be granted for liquor meant for traveller’s personal consumption only upon satisfaction of set conditions. Please refer to Singapore Customs website here for more information on duty-free concession and GST relief.All imported goods, whether via commercial shipments (i.e. shipping of goods) or hand-carried by travellers, are subject to GST at the prevailing rate. As such, as a traveller, if you have been away from Singapore for a week and purchased S$500 worth of goods meant for personal consumption, you would not need to pay GST since you are eligible for GST import relief of up to S$500 in purchase value. However, if you purchased S$800 worth of goods meant for personal consumption on that week-long trip, you would be required to pay GST on the excess S$300 (i.e. S$800 minus the S$500 for which you are eligible for GST import relief).
Who does not qualify for GST relief?
Please note that holders of a work pass, student pass, dependent pass or long-term pass issued by the Singapore Government and crew members are not eligible for GST import relief.
What about goods I import by post or air (e.g. goods ordered via online shopping)?
GST import relief is granted on goods imported by post or air, excluding intoxicating liquors and tobacco, with a total CIF value not exceeding S$400. If the value exceeds S$400, GST is payable on the total value of the shipment. Please refer to the Customs website here for more information on importing by postal or courier service.
In addition, from 1 Jan 2023, GST was also extended to goods imported via air or post that are valued up to and including the current GST import relief threshold of S$400, through the Overseas Vendor Registration regime. The change will ensure a level playing field for our local businesses to compete effectively. The change also ensures that our GST system remains fair and resilient as the digital economy grows. Please see Overseas Vendor Registration Regime for more information.
If I were to buy a branded bag for S$2,000 while holidaying overseas, and were to start using it during the trip, do I have to pay GST when I bring the bag home? If so, how is the GST computed?
Yes, the bag is subject to the prevailing GST rate. If you have been away from Singapore for more than 48 hours, you will be entitled to a GST import relief amount of S$500. Therefore, the amount of GST that you will have to pay is [S$(2,000 – 500) x prevailing GST rate]. If you have been away from Singapore for less than 48 hours, you will be entitled to a GST import relief amount of S$100. Therefore, the amount of GST that you will have to pay is [S$(2,000 – 100) x prevailing GST rate].
GST is a tax on the taxable supply of goods and services in Singapore and on the importation of goods into Singapore (other than an exempt import). You will be taxed on the newly purchased bag as it exceeds the GST relief amount. GST is levied on the value of the goods, which may include the CIF plus other chargeable costs and the duty payable (if applicable).
And if I pay sales tax while shopping overseas but forget to claim my tax rebate, do I still pay GST?
GST is payable whether or not foreign sales taxes were paid.
What if there is no price tag or receipt? What if I say that my overseas friend gave me the item?
All new items, including gifts and items that have been purchased overseas, are subject to GST. If receipts for the items are unavailable, their value will be based on the transaction value of identical or similar goods from the same country of origin or the original price payable for the goods as if they are sold for export to Singapore, inclusive of freight and insurance charges that are incurred for the shipment.
Do I have to pay GST for items which I bought from a second-hand shop when I was overseas?
How are purchases in foreign currencies converted into SGD for tax purposes?
The foreign currencies are converted into Singapore dollars based on the exchange rates listed on the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) website here. For more information on the exchange rates, please refer to the Customs website here.
When do I have to declare and pay GST?
You may make an advance declaration and payment of duties and GST not more than three days before your arrival in Singapore through our Customs@SG web application. An e-receipt will be generated for reference and verification purposes if you are stopped for checks. Upon successful payment, and on arrival in Singapore, you may exit the checkpoints and show the e-receipts as proof of payment to the officers if you are stopped for checks. Please visit our Customs website here for more information on the Customs@SG web application.
Alternatively, you may proceed directly to the Singapore Customs Tax Payment Office or the Red Channel upon arrival to declare your items. Officers on duty will advise you accordingly before you exit the Red/Green Channels. Please present supporting documents such as invoices or receipts indicating the value of your items. If the invoice or receipt value is in foreign currency, our officers will convert the value into Singapore dollars (based on the exchange rates listed on MAS’ website here) prior to computation of tax payable. Payment can be made via NETS, CashCard, or credit card.
You may wish to note that failure to make a declaration is an offence under the Customs Act and the GST Act, and offenders be compounded up to S$5,000 or face prosecution in court, depending on the severity of the offence.
This article is accurate as of Nov 2023.