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. If you import samples from a country outside the EU, customs rules apply.

You do not need to invest a lot of money in purchasing products for which you do not even know whether they will find a market in the Netherlands. Ask for samples – free if possible. Be sure to ask the supplier if there are any conditions attached.

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. Their aim is to help you find potential clients. 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.


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. Customs 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 customs 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 them for free, it is still a product that represents a customs value (see Pay lower or no import duties). The import declaration must contain the code C30 to prove it is a shipment that has an ‘exemption from import duties and VAT for imported samples of negligible value for client acquisition’. Usually, your transporter or customs broker draws up the import declaration.