Importing samples

A sample is an example of a product. With a sample, you investigate if there is a need for the product. This prevents unnecessary large investments. You can also check if the product meets your quality requirements. If you import samples from a country outside the EU, customs rules apply.

Ask new foreign suppliers if they will provide samples of their products. And their conditions for sending samples. That way, you can see in advance what you will be bringing onto the market.

Demand and quality

Before you place a large order with a foreign supplier, you need to check the demand for the product with your (future) customers. Samples provide a simple way to do this. Samples are not trading goods. They are intended to get future orders. 

A sample also helps to find out if the product meets your own quality requirements, and the existing product requirements. Samples enable you to compare products from different suppliers. By supplying samples, you immediately test the performance and reliability of your supplier. Think about meeting the delivery time or delivering the correct product specifications.

Gaining import experience

Importing samples is also a learning experience for yourself. You gain knowledge about transport and possibly customs clearance. Clearing means that you declare goods from outside the EU to customs and pay the import tax due. Countries outside the EU are also known as 'third countries'.


Ask the supplier if there are any conditions for the samples you receive. For example, can you keep the samples, or do you need to return them after a certain period of time? Make sure that ordering a free sample does not automatically oblige you to purchase the product. Not every supplier provides free samples. It depends on the type of product, its value, and its purpose.

Exemption for import duties and VAT

Within the EU there is free movement of goods. You do not have to go via customs if you receive free samples from a supplier. You do not pay import duties or VAT.

If you receive samples from non-EU, or ‘third country’ suppliers, customs regulations (in Dutch) apply. You file an import declaration, but if customs rules that the goods are samples, you do not have to pay import duties or VAT. You are not allowed to sell the samples. They are only meant for acquiring orders. The Customs Administration of the Netherlands may demand that you make your samples unsuitable for sales. For example by cutting or piercing the product, or damaging it in some other way.

Proforma invoice

If you import samples from third countries, you have to inform the Customs Administration that the shipment consists of samples. Ask your foreign supplier to enclose a proforma invoice containing a text such as 'sample shipment with no commercial value’. Your supplier must state the value of the samples on the proforma invoice. Even if you get a sample for free, it is a product that always represents a value to the Customs Administration.