All goods brought into Singapore are subject to Goods and Services Tax (GST) at the prevailing rate of 7% 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). That means that 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). Please note that there is no GST relief for goods imported for commercial purposes. However, travellers are granted GST 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 relief granted to them.
Time Spent Away from Singapore
Value of Goods Granted GST Relief
48 hours or more
Less than 48 hours
There is no duty-free concession and GST 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.Hence, all goods, whether from commercial shipments (i.e. shipping of goods) or hand-carried by travellers, are subject to 7% GST. 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 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 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 relief.
What about goods I import by post or air (e.g. goods ordered via online shopping)?
GST relief is granted on goods imported by post or air, excluding intoxicating liquors and tobacco, with a total CIF value not exceeding S$400. However, unlike goods purchased while you are overseas, if the value exceeds S$400, there is no GST relief, and 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.
If I buy a $2,000 bag in Changi Airport’s duty free while leaving for my holiday, will I have to pay tax on that bag when I return to Singapore?
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.
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 mobile application or 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 stored in your mobile device 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 app.
Alternatively, you may proceed directly to the 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, credit card or cash in Singapore dollars.
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 Jan 2021.