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Sending a package to Tonga for Christmas? Think again

Nuku'alofa, Tonga


By Mary Lyn Fonua

If you are thinking of posting a parcel to Granny in Tonga this Christmas – please think again - because your loved one now has to pay the cost of a sizeable turkey to collect a small personal package from the Post Office – even if it is a gift.

Customers at the Post Office, along with the officers who have to enforce the rules, are not happy with the new procedures. This is not surprising, when very small personal gifts worth $10 can cost over $100 to clear and when times are extra tough.

It's useful to talk about this in the wake of Tax Week 2021, when the complicated tax process on personal imports was an issue raised in community sessions with the Ministry of Revenue & Customs (MoRC).

Customs officials claim that the change in procedure is part of Tonga's war on illicit drugs. Officers in the Post Office are no longer allowed to issue receipts to customers to clear parcels.

But others involved say that it’s not about drugs, but more about tax collection targets and shows that, perhaps, Customs don't trust their own staff.

All imports, same process

For the last few months all packages arriving in Tonga – even those weighing under 500 grams – and even if the contents are worth only $10 - have become subject to the same import procedures as big commercial cargo imports, and attract the same import fees.

Customs rules state that if you are importing or exporting personal effects (non-commercial in nature), you must first apply for a Customs Identification Number (CIN) in the approved form before you can process your (many) import/export documents, and this is now enforced for the smallest of packets.

So Granny will have to hire a customs broker before she can collect her little Christmas package from the Post Office.

Customs brokers charge a fee, because they have a lot of paperwork to do - their fees range from $30 to clear an A4 postbag, and from $50 and upwards per package, depending on the value of the contents.

And Granny must be quick. Because if she doesn't collect her parcel within five working days the Post Office will charge a storage fee of $5 a day. Not forgetting, of course, that this will be in addition to the $10 Tonga Post import release paper fee.

But before she can have that release paper, Granny needs to get all her import paperwork in order. The Tonga Trade portal says this Procedure involves 7 steps, 5 institutions, and 12 documents.

Remember, only Customs brokers are allowed to prepare the required bunch of documents (Granny won't have to fill in the details herself). All she has to do is hire the agent and pay all the fees required by the Ministry of Customs & Revenue.

So what's Granny going to pay?

Let's say you've sent her a little handbag from New Zealand, the declared value is NZD$20 and postage to Tonga NZD$50. This means the value for import (declared value + postage+ insurance 2%) converts to around $110 pa'anga. Customs Import fees to pay in Tonga on that valuation of $110, will be about:

Taxes and import charges on gift worth NZ$20


Import duty rate 20%


Consumption Tax 15% on aggregated value


Customs Process Fee


Quarantine fee


Wharfage fee


Customs Agent Fee


Tonga Post release fee


Total fees if claimed within five days


Then add $5 per day after five days if unclaimed.

And beware if you are sending your false teeth to New Zealand for repair and return, or anything of high value, like a laptop, or a wedding ring, because if you haven't notified Customs and filled in an Export Entry, then you will have to pay the full import duty and CT when it comes back fixed.

If you don't claim your parcel, after a few months the Post Office is allowed to sell the contents. In recent months there have been crowds pushing to buy unpacked items released for only $5, $10, $20 pa'anga across the counter at Tonga Post, but these items are said to be from unclaimed general delivery.

Unclaimed Poste Restante items are sold by the Post Office in Tonga. Nuku'alofa, 2 September 2021.

Customers complaining

The new process raises a lot of questions from customers.

Selu Kavakava, A/CEO Tonga Post Ltd. told Matangi Tonga “It's not good feedback from customers who have been used to getting their small packages. It's new for them to pay $100 to get a broker and pay fees.

“Those customers who complain we told them that the customs process is required and if concerned they should go to see the CEO of Customs.”

Ministry of Revenue & Customs

Answering questions during Tax Week on October 27, MoRC‘s Deputy CEO Border Management Division, Sau Niulala, said that in the past a Customs Officer who works at the Post Office, was given a receipt book to work from. But they stopped that practice.

“Because of the drugs, all goods have to come through us.”

“Now you have to find a broker to clear your parcel, even if it is only a ring or a watch, the reason is because drugs come into the country in different forms, it could be inside. We have to screen the Manifest, list everything – after identifying them.”

All items must have a value.

“You can't say it was given to you for free. There must be a cost.”

Michael Cokanasiga (Dep CEO, Customs & Trade Div.) said the Customs and Excise Management Act and the Regulations had not changed. A CEO had cancelled the process for receipting, because it was up to one officer who was stationed there.

“What we found in our war against illicit drugs, this was a big loophole.

“So what happened was to ensure we had a record of what was cleared from the Post Office.”

Michael said the legislation would have to be changed or enacted to cater for minimum value imports.

“It doesn't make sense if someone sends something $10 dollars worth and then you pay $100 worth process fees.

“We do realise that's an issue that a lot of people are having now, ever since we tightened up the officer, but we are trying to deal with that and it needs a law change, unfortunately, which we are working on.”

However, he said that a lot of other problems they are having would involve a complete rewrite of the legislation, so it will take time.

“But yes, we can change regulations.”

Tonga Post

Meanwhile, the volume of packages coming into Tonga through the Post Office has more than doubled since travel restrictions were imposed in March 2020.

Selu Kavakava at Tonga Post Ltd. said COVID restrictions had not affected the postal service.

Cargo arrives weekly and after four days quarantine they pick it up. They receive hundreds of packets and parcels every month.

“Yes the volume has increased, more than doubled, even goods going out.”

“But the [import] processing time has increased the time the customer is running back and forth and it's taking a bit long to clear small packages.”

“We have no inside broker so they have to go and find their own broker, go to Customs, come back to us.”

Customers unhappy

She said the new Customs process started in about August.

“They just sent an email that we have to do the new procedure.

“We can tell that most customers do not agree and are not happy about the new procedures,” she said.

Selu said many people had lost their jobs since the COVID restrictions were imposed.

“Most people unhappy with it, but they (Govt.) don't see that side. Some people suffer to buy basic things. They don't have jobs.”

Selu does not believe that the new process is to do with drugs.

“We have customs officer here for the cargo with police dogs - it's the staff not the process. Perhaps they have no faith? They have machines to scan at the airport and increased customs staff.

“For us we want to help the people of Tonga and provide a service. Everyone wants to help others, we want to serve and make them happy, government should make people happy!”

She also explained that the items sold at Tonga Post recently were sample products, from unsolicited parcels that were received, addressed to general delivery ‘Poste Restante Tonga’.

Customs Brokers

Meanwhile, the brokers are not complaining about the new process for private imports. But some said they were concerned with having to deal with unhappy customers. They also saw many people complaining across the counter at Customs, and trying to clear little gifts and personal items they had received.

“Some people are in tears when told they have to pay over a thousand pa'anga,” said one.

Tonga Customs clearance process for private imports requires 7 steps, 5 institutions, 12 documents. Source: Tonga tradeportal org

Tonga Post Ltd. is a public enterprise, owned by the Tonga Government.

The Ministry of Revenue & Customs reported that tax collections for the financial year 2020/2021 of $240 million had exceeded expectations by $10 million pa'anga.