A few good threads have already given some good info on this subject. Here are some basics that are important to follow if you want a hassle free import or export:
What you want to say is that you are going to import an antique art sword from Japan, that has a "harmonized tariff code" of 9706.00.00.90. You would like to know the duty rates (it will be duty free 99% sure), and tax rates (some countries have reduced taxes on antiques).
Have the seller or sender put a photocopy of the NBTHK or NTHK papers for the sword in with the external paperwork. This is justification for antique status (if it is more than 100 years old). Translate the key items, like for instance if it just has a mei or a mumei attribution, translate the mei. Indicate then what period the swordsmith or school worked in. Write this right on the photocopy.
If no papers, and the sword is dated, put in a scan/print of the nakago, both sides with date. Same for mei if you can match up to a book.
Customs will just want justification for a lowered duty/tax rate.
If it is not more than 100 years old and it is an art sword, it is a "collectible item of historcal/ethnographic interest." 9705.00.00.90. You will need to justify why... one thing is that it is a 1,000 year old tradition, only made in Japan... WWII and earlier swords are easiest to justify, newer ones may be harder. See my posts on this subject for more info.
9705 has the same properties as 9706 in terms of duties and probably taxes.
If you have no date, no papers, no mei, no nothing, then you can still claim this status but the agent may deny it and assign you 9307.00.00.90 (swords). That will get you duty and max tax rate. You could probably appeal afterwards, but it's better to get this stuff straight in advance.
Calling customs, and talking to an agent in advance, getting their name "if you have more questions" can certainly help if your sword is stopped on import. If you call and can say that you talked to agent X in advance and did your best to document everything, then you are informed and prepared and that makes a customs agent feel more comfortable giving you the benefit of the doubt that you're not pulling a fast one.
I am not from Belgium but from the Germany, but I think the processes in the EU are almost the same for the different countries. Whenever I import a sword from a non-EU country into Germany I am notified by the customs that a package arrived for me and I have to bring various papers to the customs to get the sword handed over.
- Passport/ID card
- Invoice (or an ebay printout)
- any other papers that tell about the age of the blade (if available).
The package then is opened at the customs and they inspect the blade and compare it with the printout. You eventually have to proof how much you paid for (e.g. printout of your bank account, displaying the sum). In Germany the customs then check the Internet (if it was purchased on ebay or another internet selling platform) to confirm the sum and that this auction really existed.
Based on the total amount (auction price + dispatch costs) I have to pay 19 % VAT and 1,5 % import tax. You may avoid the import tax if you are able to proof that the item is over 100 years old. But the customs are very odd in accepting any ebay statements. They want a rather official certificate (in German) which is of course hardly to get when you did not have to sword in hand before. Therefore all in all I have to pay 20,5 % on the final price (which is quite a lot for basically no additional value). But that's the way it goes. In Germany with the customs checking either via Internet or wanting to see a printed bank account, there is hardly and space for cheating them.
If the sword is more than 100 years old, you need to make sure it has a Harmonized Tariff of 9706.00.00 attached to it. That makes sure it falls into the correct tax rate.
There should be no VAT assessed on EU goods traveling from country to country. The VAT should be assessed only on things coming from the USA or from Japan, etc.
There are no duties on a 9706.00.00 (antique item more than 100 years old). If the item is true gendaito or shinsakuto, then 9705.00.00 should apply (collectible item of historical and ethographic interest). The argument for 9705.00.00 on a modern made sword centers around Japanese swordsmiths being trained for a set period by a licensed smith, and then licensed by the Ministry of Education if their work passes the standard to sustain the historical art. An Iaito or a japanese-style work made in the USA would not fall into this category. An older modern sword like Sadakatsu's work applies also as being historically important.
Both of those codes insure against duty charges, and you may have to support them with documentation.
Always with customs in any country, getting all of your documents lined up in advance and attached to the shipment shows an intent to be clear about the contents and that you have done your homework, and this will give you a much better time than playing catchup with a package marked "Japanese sword" with nothing else.
Something to keep in mind is that the VAT rates are different for various countries in the EU. As well, VAT rates in individual countries are *different* for items that fall into different categories. For instance, the import VAT rate in England for a 9706.00.00 is 5%. For other goods may be as high as 17.5%.
In Italy, a 9706.00.00 is 10% VAT, without that code it is 20% VAT.
So it pays to go and visit customs in person or to call and ask about the VAT rate in particular in regards to this harmonized code. Ask them what they need to substantiate the age, and provide it. It can save you a lot of money.
It is not fully clear to me, but it may be that doing your import into the EU into a country like England with 5% VAT on 9706.00.00 gets your VAT paid at the lowest rate, then importing to your own country from England should be 0% VAT since it has been properly imported into the EU already. I am not a European, so I don't know if that is how they intend things to work. That is, if you demonstrate to your customs that it was imported to England at 5% VAT, if they will allow this or else say that since the goods originally came from outside of the EU when you bought them, that you need to pay the difference or else the VAT all over again. So it bears asking a customs officer what happens in this situation.
At the very least, you need to find out the proper tax rate for a 9706.00.00 in your country during import. I have had friends tell me it can be hard to get customs to do this properly. I live in a country where customs is pretty fair and is interested in getting things right rather than getting things at the max tax and duty rate, so if it is more than 100 years old and you have the documentation to back it up, it automatically gets the correct code and correct duty/tax rates. Unfortunately no tax break here for 9706.00.00, just duty-free.
Do keep in mind that I am not an EU citizen and am writing this based on what I have read online in trying to figure out tax status for shipping to various places. Don't take what I write as gospel, I may be wrong, and as importer of a particular object you always have final responsibility to get everything right even if someone is sending to you and signing documents. You have to make sure to get it right, and customs in various countries usually have some unusual and eye-opening powers to enforce the law
Also most importantly for you, import taxes on a 9706.00.00 to Belgium should be 6%, which is quite nice. This is based on a shipment I made in the past year that cleared customs properly.
I put in the sales invoice, photocopies of the Tokubetsu Hozon papers, translated the characters that described the piece (1 katana, etc) on the photocopy. The sales invoice stated explicitly what the item was, the age, and that it had been certified in Japan by the NBTHK as work of a particular smith, while explaining what the NBTHK was. I put in prints of pictures of the piece, which ideally eliminates a need to open the box and prevents damages.
I made sure the harmonized code was clear and explicit everywhere, and as always, ship by Fedex whenever possible.
The items I sent to Belgium have sailed through customs with no problems, and at a 6% import tax rate you're in one of the best places to import swords. Note that this may not apply to 9705.00.00 and additionally you do not want to get the dreaded 9307.00.00 (swords, bayonets, etc) code. This is why it is so important to establish the code up front, rather than to give a description and count on the broker to assess the code.
Because multiple codes will always apply. For instance a sword can fall under sporting goods (for iaido), swords bayonets etc., historical collectible, or antique object. It's up to the customs broker to assess which, and if they get it wrong your tax rates can go up and you have a paperwork mess.
Your arguments are always better received when established clearly and openly up front with backing documentation.