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In this page: Market Access Procedures | Distributing a Product


Market Access Procedures


Customs Procedures

Import Procedures
Import procedures are subject to a declaration on-line or on paper. You will find further information on the German Customs Authority website.

The official model for written declarations to customs is the Single Administrative Document (SAD). The SAD serves as the EU importer's declaration.  It encompasses both customs duties and VAT and is valid in all EU Member States.

As part of the "SAFE" standards advocated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the European Union has set up a new system of import controls- the "Import Control System" (ICS)- which aim to secure the flow of goods at the time of their entry into the customs territory of the EU. This control system, part of the Community Programme eCustoms, has been in effect since 1 January 2011. Since then, operators are required to fill out an Entry Summary Declaration (ENS) to the customs of the country of entry, prior to the introduction of goods into the customs territory of the European Union. The EU recently introduced a new import control system called ICS2 to implement the EU customs pre-arrival security and safety programme.

Non-agricultural goods entering EU territory must adhere to customs formalities (ENS). This declaration must be carried out by the person bringing the goods to the territory. The Summary Declaration can be made electronically or on a form provided by the customs authorities. The deadline for lodging the ENS depends on the mode of transport carrying the goods.

Since July 1, 2009, all companies established outside of the EU are required to have an EORI number if they wish to lodge a customs declaration or an Entry/Exit Summary declaration. Once a company has received an EORI number, it can use it for exports to any of the 27 EU Member States.

Goods in transit only need a single EU transit document.

Inward processing is free of customs treatment. This procedure allows raw material (non-Union good) to enter temporarily without customs fees if it will be processed (or repaired) and re-export the finished products out of the EU territory. In this case, the importer gives a guarantee (from an insurance company or bank) equal to the amount of customs duties that would have been due on the imported raw material. This guarantee will be reimbursed when the final product is exported. This process also applies to goods planned to be re-exported. Only goods sold in the EU market are eligible to import duty and taxes.

For outward processing, duties and taxes apply only to the value added during the process. Only firms located in Germany or in the EU may take advantage of this measure.
Check the website of the EU Customs Union periodically for updates.
Specific Import Procedures

The Union Custom Code - adopted on 9 October 2013 as Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 - Title V provides for the following customs simplifications:

  • Simplified declaration (Article 166 UCC)
  • Centralised clearance (Article 179 UCC)
  • Entry in the declarant's records (Article 182 UCC). This type of customs declaration is not allowed for all customs procedures (e.g. exclusion of transit).
  • Drawing-up of customs declarations for goods falling under different tariff subheadings ( Article 177 UCC)
  • Self-assessment (Article 185 UCC)
Importing Samples
For the import, export and re-export of commercial samples the ATA (Temporary Admission) carnet can be used. It must be written on the product that it is a free sample and that it may not be sold.

To go further, check out our service Import controls and Export Controls.


Customs Duties and Taxes on Imports

Customs threshold (from which tariffs are required)
EUR 150
Average Customs Duty (Excluding Agricultural Products)
Import duty and taxes are due for goods imported to Germany from outside of the European Union- whether by a private individual or a corporate entity. Germany is party to the European Union’s Common Customs Tariff, therefore preferential rates apply to imports from countries which the EU has signed agreements with. Duties range from 0-17%, with the general tariff averaging 4.2%. However, foodstuffs, textiles and clothing still experience some protection measures (quotas, higher tariffs, etc.). Some imports are subject to anti-dumping duties.
Products Having a Higher Customs Tariff
The sectors of fabrics and items of clothing (high duties and quotas) and foodstuffs (preferential treatment and many tariff quotas, CAP) still experience protection measures. According to the recently published 2019 EU Trade Policy Review (WTO), the sector with the highest average tariffs is the dairy sector (32.3%), followed by sugar and confectionery (27.0%), meat (19.0%), cereals and preparations (17.2%) and fruit and vegetables (13.0%). Concerning non-agricultural products, fish and fishery products (11.8% on simple average) and clothing (11.6%) are the sectors with the highest tariff protection.

More information can be found in the WTO Tariff profile of the EU.

Preferential Rates
For countries with whom a bilateral or a multilateral agreement have been signed by the European Union.

To get further information consult the website of the European Union.

To get further information on customs policies in the European Union, please check the exhaustive report by the European Commission.

Customs Classification
Germany uses the harmonised system.
Method of Calculation of Duties
Customs duty is calculated Ad Valorem on the CIF value of the goods, in accordance with the Common Customs Tariff (CCT) for all the countries of the Union. TARIC, the integrated Tariff of the European Union, is a multilingual database integrating all measures relating to EU customs tariff, commercial and agricultural legislation.
Method of Payment of Customs Duties
Duty is payable in cash (in Euros, by cheque, by cash money order, by bank transfer); an extension of the time limit for payment may be granted through systems of collection credit or duty credit.
Import Taxes (Excluding Consumer Taxes)

List of tariffs and local taxes that apply to your product on our service Customs duties and local taxes.


Labeling and Packaging Rules

Packaging must conform to the European legislation on the prevention of health risks to consumers and the protection of the environment, especially with regards to waste treatment. Packaging in wood or vegetable matter may be subject to a phytosanitary inspection.
The CE mark is mandatory in the EU countries for any electrical apparatus. Council Directive 2007/45/EC harmonizes packaging of wine and spirits throughout the EU.
For further information, consult the summary of the European legislation concerning product labelling and packaging.
On 1st January 2019, the new legislation on packaging entered into force : German Packaging Act 2019 (VerpackG), replacing the Packaging Ordinance. All actors, including online retailers, who bring packaged products (including padding material) onto the German market and which end up as waste with the consumers, are subject to the VerpackG. This German Recycling law covers distributors who put packaging into commercial circulation on the German market for the first time and applies both to national producers and for importers, online dealers, etc. It is not aimed at raising import taxes however and would not impact the total landed costs calculations as such. For more detailed information on the new Packaging Law (VerpackG), you may wish to consult:
Packaging Law Overview - VERPACKG
German Packaging Act - DerGrünePunkt
Packaging Europe.
Languages Permitted on Packaging and Labeling
German. However, English is used to give an international image to a brand. Be careful of confusion! Several studies have shown the difficulties German consumers have in correctly understanding a slogan in English.
Unit of Measurement
Metric system.
Mark of Origin "Made In"
No obligation except for foodstuffs and alcoholic beverages. In practice, the "made in" is a commercial argument and it is present on most products. The Madrid agreement provides for penalties if the information on the country of origin is false.
Labeling Requirements
For more information on Labelling, Packaging and Marking Requirements, please refer to the Hong Kong export promotion's Guide to doing business with the EU.
Although non-mandatory, the 'Green Dot' recycling symbol is found on all products sold in Germany.
Specific Regulations
European legislation provides for specific labeling rules for certain products such as foodstuffs, household equipment, sportswear, textiles, medicines, chemicals, etc.

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Distributing a Product


Distribution Network

Types of Outlet

Non specialized department stores, located in the city center.
Kaufhof, Karstadt, Kadewe
Shopping malls, located in the city center, bringing stores together on areas of 10 000m2 to 50 000m2.
Arcaden, Passagen, Carré, center
Large stores specialized in textiles.
Peek&Cloppenburg, H&M, C&A
Specialized department stores: for example electronics, DIY (Baumarkt)
Saturn, Media-Markt, Conrad Electronic, Bauhaus, Obi, Hellweg
Supermarkets, located in the city center, specialized in foodstuffs.
Kaiser,  Edeka, Rewe
Supermarkets specialized in beverages, located in the city center.
Fristo, Hol'ab
Organic supermarkets, located in the city center
LPG-Biomarkt, Bio-Company, Naturkostladen
Fruit and vegetable markets, in the city center, open air or covered markets.
Markthalle, frische Märkte
Small local shops, grocery stores, located in the city center, often selling regional specialties (Turkish, Italian, Greek).
Hard discount stores located in the city center and on the outskirts.
Lidl, Aldi, Netto
Cash & Carry
Hypermarkets and fresh produce markets reserved for professionals.
Métro, Frische Paradies, Beussel Markt

Evolution of the Retail Sector

Growth and Regulation
With more than 84 million inhabitants, the German market is the largest in European Union with one of the highest income in the world. The measures put in place in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic strongly impacted German consumers. Price adjusted household final consumption expenditure was 0.2% lower in 2021 than in 2020, and down 5% from the pre-crisis level of 2019 (Destatis).

After growing by 5.7% in 2020, retail turnover increased by 2.9% in 2021, reaching a new record (Bundesbank). However, parts of shop-based retail trade, such as retail trade in textiles, clothing, footwear and leather products, suffered losses in turnover during the pandemic (Destatis). Traditional department stores were negatively impacted by the pandemic, whilst online shopping increased significantly. E-commerce increased by 14% in 2021, and generated a revenue of USD 109 billion (ecommerceDB). Online grocery shopping, which was still a niche market in 2019, showed the highest growth in e-commerce in 2020, with sales increasing by 60% (USDA). The boom in internet and mail order trade continued after shops reopened. Online trade turnover increased by 36% during May-September 2021 compared with the same period in 2019 (Destatis).
The German retail food market is characterized by consolidation, market saturation, strong competition and low prices, although there has also been a consumer preference towards smaller grocery formats, including convenience stores, small grocery retailers and independents. In this way, all major grocery retailers have been investing in modernizing their existing stores to fit with this new trend. The top four retail groups together (Edeka-Group, Rewe-Group, Schwarz-Group, Aldi-Group) account for around 74.5% of the revenues (USDA). While Germans are very price sensitive in general, many wealthy consumers are looking for premium quality products and are willing to pay a higher price.
The growth of discount stores is slowing down due to market saturation, while sales in supermarkets are increasing. During the pandemic, supermarkets recorded the best performance in terms of revenue growth among all retail channels. This underlines the growing trend towards small, quick but high-quality grocery shopping in the cities, as well as the new shopping behaviours developed by consumers spending more time at home. Thus, the rise of smaller grocery formats has hampered growth of hypermarket sales. Although, hypermarkets are still widespread amongst consumers in rural or suburban areas due to their convenience and attractive prices.
Market share
According to Euromonitor, the German distribution structure is characterised by:

  • the high level of consolidation of the market
  • the large number of small independent shops
  • the sector's low level of concentration (as compared with the main European markets such as France, the United Kingdom and Belgium)
  • the predominance of distribution in city centers and urban areas
  • small number of "hypermarket" style stores, mainly in the suburban and rural areas

According to the German Retail Business Federation, in 2020 specialty stores represented 16.4% of total retail trade market, followed by discount stores (15.4%), specialised chain stores (14%), traditional supermarkets (11%), hypermarkets (11%), department stores (1.7%)

According to USDA, the four leading German distribution groups are Edeka, Rewe, Schwarz Group and Aldi, which together held 74.5% of value sales in 2020 (latest data available). The rise of discounters such as Lidl or Aldi has forced distributors to wage a price war. As a result, narrow profit margins may slow down the modernisation of sales outlets and the development of new distribution concepts. Other online food retailers in Germany are Amazon, getnow and Picnic.

Retail Sector Organisations
German Retail Business Federation (German only)
Foreign Trade Association of German Retailers


Internet access
With a population of 82 million, Germany is the largest country in Europe and benefits from a strong and stable economic environment. In 2017, revenues in B2C ecommerce recorded a 39% growth in Germany. Internet access is widespread in the country with 89% of the population using the internet (World Bank, 2016). The number of smartphone users in Germany was about 55 million in 2017. Google is the leading search engine in Germany, both on mobile and desktop devices, with Bing and Yahoo the other key players.
E-commerce market
E-commerce is developing at a steady pace in Germany. According to German e-commerce association Bevh, the market’s total revenue in 2017 reached US$ 63.5 billion and is expected to be US$ 69.7 billion in 2018. The two biggest online stores in Germany are American giant Amazon and German founded Otto. Berlin based online clothing store Zalando comes in third place. These three actors dominate the e-commerce market in Germany. A few other stores are smaller: Notebooksbilliger, Cyberport, Bonprix, among others. In 2017, consumers bought more frequently and spent more on average than the previous year. 79% of internet users in Germany are considered online shoppers, which is a higher share than ever before. In Germany, 10% of online sales are made with smartphones. The country is the third most active market worldwide in terms of import and export e-commerce, behind the USA and the UK. In Europe, Germany ranks third for B2C online turnover, after the United Kingdom and France. Cross-borders online sales made by Germans come mainly from the USA, the UK and China, and lower prices are among the main reasons to shop from foreign websites. Moreover, Estonia benefits from a privileged relation with Germany as private distributors from both countries have developed business agreements in order to facilitate e-commerce between the two markets. 
Social media
At least 75% of internet users in Germany have an account on a social media platform and use it frequently. Facebook is by far the most popular social media in Germany, with about 32 million users (38% of the population). Instagram accounts for 9 million active users, according to the company, and is popular with people aged bewtween 14 and 29, but isn’t used much by older demographics. So far, Twitter’s use has been limited in Germany, with 5.7 million people using it in the country. The German language is made of long words and is very descriptive while Twitter only offers a limited number of characters to communicate. Google+, Linkedin and Youtube are present in the country as well but there are also homegrown social media platforms, like Xing (the German version of LinkedIn) and StudyVZ (a students’ network). It is also important to note that almost 80% of Germans say they use WhatsApp for daily communication.

Direct Selling

Evolution of the Sector
The European Direct Selling Association (SELDIA) shows Germany's direct selling market grew 3.7% in 2017, reaching EUR 14.82 billion and involving 884,932 independent representatives. More than 80% of German enterprises use direct marketing. The most frequently used formats are email and Internet marketing, telephone marketing (31%), direct mail (24%) and catalog sales. In addition, Germans particularly enjoy 'sales parties' at home as a mean to socialize. Companies using direct marketing must follow stringent data protection, consumer protection and advertising laws.

According to Euromonitor International, direct selling is expected to grow despite increased pressure from internet retailing given Germans' appreciation for direct selling consultants. Main products sold directly include housewares, home furnishing, and consumer appliances. Vorwerk was the market leader and Tupperware Deutschland had with modest growth in 2017. Other relevant companies include Otto, Quelle, Neckermann, Klingel, Schwab, Heine, Conrad, and Baur.

Direct Selling Europe, the DDV, and the German DSA also promote best practices in the industry.


Commercial Intermediaries

Trading Companies
  • Type of Organization
Most of the small and medium sized companies in Germany use third parties or structures to deal independently on the market. The most significant of these are franchises, commercial agents and distributors where big companies use central purchasing agencies.
  • Main Actors
The main players in the food industry distribution business are Edeka, Rewe, and Aldi. The biggest garment department store is C&A whereas hardware, Obi dominates.
  • Type of Organization
There are three types of wholesale markets in Germany: the self-service (Cash and carry) wholesale, wholesale by grouping together orders (Zustellgrosshandel) and the mass wholesale (Grossverbraucherzustelldienst) which is for the big companies' market.
  • Main Actors
Edeka , Rewe , Aldi Nord, Aldi Sud, Markant (cooperative sale group in supermarket retail) and Metro (Supermarket retailer).
Useful Resources
Federation of German wholesale, foreign trade and services

Using a Commercial Agent

The Advantages
As they are paid on commission, they do not represent a fixed cost.
Where to Be Vigilant
Agents act for several firms and concentrate on the products which sell most easily.
Elements of Motivation
Participation according to turnover.
The Average Amount of Commission
Breach of Contract
Council Directive 86/653/EEC establishes certain minimum standards of protection for commercial agents.
Finding a Commercial Agent
Commercial agents' organization

Setting Up a Commercial Unit

The Advantages
Setting up on locally reassures potential customers because it shows a long term commitment.
Where to Be Vigilant
Be careful of fixed costs: rent, wages, cars for sales persons.
Different Possible Forms of Settlement
  • A Representative Office
At first sight it is provisional, less difficult to manage in case of withdrawal as it does not come under German law.
  • A Branch Office
Franchise is the quickest method of forming a company for a foreigner however, it has some inconveniences.  In effect, the mother company has complete liability with regard to the operations of the franchise.  Specifically significant and large extra operating expenses could be incurred with the tax authorities when calculating taxes and liabilities.
  • A Company
A company comes under German law. It is more difficult to manage but is more reassuring as far as the customers are concerned.


Evolution of the Sector
The German franchising industry generated a turnover of EUR 122.8 billion in 2018, an increase of 9.4 %  if compared to 2017 (Germany Trade and Invest, latest available data). In 2018, around 9993 franchisors operated in Germany, with about 130,000 independent franchisees and 700,000 employed. The franchise system in 2018 was divided as following: 40% in the service sector, followed by food service, tourism and leisure as well as retail with both having a share of 24%. Skilled trades, construction and maintenance reach a share of 12%.

Some Big Franchises
Quelle, various products
Kamps, baker
McDonald's, fast food
Spar, food
Ikea, furniture
For Further Information
German Franchise Association
German Trade and Invest
European Franchise Federation

Finding Assistance

Export Trading Companies
German Investment promotion Agency

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Latest Update: April 2024