For as long as I can remember, Norway has not collected value-added tax (VAT) and customs fees on anything valued at less than NOK 200 (~USD 20) that crossed the border. A couple of years ago, the limit was increased to NOK 350, which was nice, even if P&P was now included in the limit.

At NOK 350, I could get my hands on a lot of items that was hard to find in Norway. And I was not the only one using the exempt for, literary, what it was worth. A lot of people used it to purchase stuff, much of it items they could also get in Norway, but at a considerable discount, from foreign online shops. This was good for consumers, but bad for the domestic stores, which missed out on precious sales.

The Stupidity

So the VAT and customs fees exempt was always hanging by a thread, and the increase to NOK 350 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Merchant interest groups started complaining en masse, and in 2020, the NOK 350 limit was removed. Instead, foreign online shops and marketplaces that whish to sell to Norwegian customers now have to register with the Norwegian tax administration.

Instead of VAT being collected when a package goes through customs, it has to be collected by the online store on behalf of the Norwegian tax administration. And that goes for all items, regardless of value.

For everyday items that is easy to find in Norway, I don’t mind this. Since the price is now pretty much the same as in Norwegian stores, it’s often more hassle than it’s worth to purchase it from a foreign store. This means that Norwegian merchants lose fewer sales.

But for items that are hard or impossible to purchase in Norway, the removal of the fee exempt is a damn pain. These items could be stuff like custom merchandise, limited editions, certain DVDs and Blu-Rays, t-shirts, second-hand goods, and merchandise sold by individual creators.

These are items that you simply can’t purchase in Norway, so Norwegian retailers wouldn’t miss out on any sales.

The Genius

I while ago, wanted to purchase a copy of Bob’s Burgers Season 9 on DVD1, but realized it would set me back a whooping NOK 665 (~USD 70) with VAT and all custom and clearance fees. Since the DVD is made on-demand, it’s impossible to purchase in Norway. If the exempt was still applicable, I’d paid under about 330 NOK, which is expensive, but acceptable.

So I got a little worked up.

But then I started thinking.

Do I really need the Bob’s Burgers DVD? It’s a great show, but is it a show I will sit down and watch over and over again? Probably not. I own a shelve full of other series on DVD and Blu-Ray, but I have very rarely watched them more than once.

In terms of saving the planet2, removing the exempt is a stroke of genius. Buying less junk we don’t really need is one of the many sacrifices we have to make if we’re going to soldier through the shitstorm we’re currently heading towards.

And we’re actually saving money doing it. Win-win all around.

  1. Yes, I know that purchasing DVDs is old fashioned, but please don’t get me started on why owning anything made of moving pictures on a physical medium is better than using streaming services. ↩︎

  2. I managed to surprise you with an environmental spin, didn’t I? ↩︎