Importing cosmetics

Makeup, perfume, shampoo, hair dye products, soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, and hand cream are all examples of cosmetics or personal care products for your body. Many cosmetics come from abroad, and you have to meet the requirements set out by the European Cosmetics Regulation to import them.

Cosmetic products must be safe for consumers and unsafe cosmetics may not be placed on the European market. What you should look out for depends on whether you import cosmetics from EU countries or non-EU countries.

Product requirements

You have to meet certain rules to place cosmetics on the market. The European Cosmetics Regulation sets out the requirements that cosmetic products must meet in the European Economic Area (EEA, in Dutch). Manufacturers of cosmetics in the EEA and importers who import cosmetics from countries outside the EEA are responsible for the safety of the cosmetics they place on the European market. This also applies if you import products from an EEA country and sell them under your own brand name. You can prove that cosmetics are safe with a safety assessment performed by an expert, such as a toxicologist, and must also provide a production information file (in Dutch) with relevant information about the products. As the supervisory authority, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) can demand access to this file.

Dutch legislation for cosmetics is laid down in the Commodities Act Decree on Cosmetic Products 2011 (in Dutch). NVWA has a special page with information about the rules (in Dutch) for cosmetics and labelling requirements (in Dutch).

The Dutch Cosmetics Association (NCV) is the industry body of manufacturers and importers of personal care products. They can provide information on the main elements of the European Cosmetics Regulation, such as product information, product safety, notification, labelling, and cosmetic ingredients. You will also find information on other regulations (in Dutch) you may have to deal with as a cosmetics importer, such as the aerosol regulation for cosmetic products packaged in aerosol cans.

Notification requirement

Any business putting a cosmetic product on the EEA market for the first time must announce this import. Manufacturers and importers can submit these announcements through the Cosmetic Products Notification Portal (CPNP, in Dutch).

Product liability

If you purchase cosmetics outside the EEA, you are deemed, legally speaking, to be the manufacturer, which means that you are responsible for ensuring that the products are safe and meet all requirements. You also carry product liability for injuries or damage caused by a defect in the product, so always have your product evaluated by a safety expert. You are also liable if you import products from an EEA member state and place them on the market under your own brand, as a private label.

Importing goods from another EU country

There is free movement of goods in the EU, so you do not have to pay import duties when importing cosmetics from another member state. You do not have to declare the goods to customs either. Your supplier will usually charge 0% VAT, provided you pass on your VAT identification number to them. If you add Dutch VAT to the purchase and report it in your VAT return, you will usually be allowed to deduct it as input tax in the same return.

Importing goods from non-EU countries

When you import goods from a non-EU country, you have to file an import declaration with Dutch Customs. Your carrier or customs broker will usually take care of this on your behalf for a fee, as well as advancing any import duties and VAT that may be due. You will also need an EORI number, a mandatory identification number for anyone dealing with Customs.

Import duties

Most cosmetics imported from non-EU countries are subject to a low or 0% import duty. You can find a list of import duties and other duties in the Customs Tariff Manual. To look up the import duty rate for your product, you need a commodity code. The commodity codes for cosmetic products can be found in chapter 33 on the 'nomenclature’ tab). Income duty, if applicable, has to be paid on the customs value of the products: the purchase price plus shipping and any insurance costs up to the border (or port) of entry into the EU. Read more about paying import duties.


When you import cosmetic products into the Netherlands, you pay Dutch VAT (21%). You are allowed to deduct this VAT as input tax in your VAT return, provided that you are entitled to deduct VAT. If you regularly import goods from non-EU countries, you can apply for an  article 23 permit (in Dutch) from the Dutch Tax Administration to avoid having to pay for VAT at the time of import. Instead, you can file the VAT with your VAT return.

Parallel imports

Suppose you want to import an original branded perfume or other branded cosmetic product from a non-EEA country. This is allowed only if you have permission from the trademark owner. The trademark owner – usually the official manufacturer – has the right to put a product on the EEA market first.

Once a product has been placed on the market for the first time within the EEA by the trademark owner or another party (with the trademark owner’s permission), it can be freely traded within the EEA as the trademark owner’s right will be exhausted. From that moment on, you may buy the branded product in another EEA member state as a permissible form of parallel importation.

You are never allowed to import and trade counterfeit products, as this is punishable by law.

Importing: how do you do that?