Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1998, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe
Humanitarian Aid and Customs Regulations: A Hungarian Case Study
Approximately 150,000 foreign and international organizations
are currently registered in Hungary. Any Christian organizations
desiring tax-exempt status and authorization to distribute humanitarian
aid in Hungary must register with the Ministry of Public Welfare by
submitting the group's founding document and any valid contracts with
local companies or agencies. Any Christian organizations desiring
tax-exempt status and authorization to distribute humanitarian aid in
Hungary must register with the Hungarian Ministry of Public Welfare. A
registered humanitarian organization, with a tax number entitling it to
certain exemptions, can import humanitarian aid under certain
conditions. Generally, every item must clear customs, and duty and
value-added tax (VAT) must be paid, which may be partially or
completely reclaimed afterwards. Such a claim must be filed separately
in each case.
The following goods/conditions allow for duty exemption in Hungary:
These and other customs regulations can be found in Hungarian at http://www.sztaki.hu/providers/torvenytar/.
For more information on Hungarian customs regulations and/or laws on
registration, contact the customs hotline in Budapest (tel:
36-1-331-3536 or 36-1-332-6735; fax: 36-1-312-0621).
- Those items which are to be used or distributed free of charge by
registered charities or humanitarian organizations in Hungary and are
received free of charge. Exception: vehicles, including ambulances
Medicine, food, and clothing that arrive free of charge to registered churches and denominations [#0361/111/4].
Food, medicine, clothing, and other essential items intended for free
distribution to victims of natural disasters such as fires and floods
Religious objects donated to registered churches and denominations and
material assistance given to construct or renovate churches and prayer
Medical items and equipment given to state or church-run hospitals,
under the condition that they not be sold or rented within three years
Gifts given by foreign states and international organizations which
have a public/ national purpose, especially educational, environmental,
social, or medical [#0361/117/1].
Educational and scientific objects donated to institutes of higher
education, science, or health care, as well as to educational,
scientific, and medical foundations [#0361/117/3].
Donated books, periodicals, and printed music [#0361/118/1].
Items received free of charge serving the public good in areas of
education, health care, culture, religion, and ethnic minorities are
eligible for exemption or discount [#0370/138/2].
Sending Humanitarian Aid to Eastern Europe:
Guidelines for Clearing Customs
Complete a thorough investigation of a country's needs. Gifts must make
common sense: for example, do not donate videotapes if VCRs are scarce.
Become familiar with each nation's trade and customs regulations.
Generally speaking, donations are duty-free if they offer educational,
social, or cultural aid, or help for health care or ethnic minorities.
Websites on international trade laws and regulations include: The Commonwealth Yearbook (http://www.tcol.co.uk/cyb.htm); International Trade Law Monitor (http://itl.irv.uit.no/); International Chamber of Commerce (http://www.iccwbo.org/).
The process is simplest when donations are made to a specific
institution or organization, such as a single orphanage, hospital, or
local humanitarian organization. In this case, all customs procedures
(making an official list of the goods, filing for exemption, reclaiming
VAT, etc.) are the responsibility of the recipient, thus minimizing
If the donor organization is planning to distribute or use the
nonprofit goods itself, procedures vary from country to country. In
most cases, the organization must get official recognition as a
charitable or humanitarian organization in country, which means having
a valid contract, local representation, and a tax number. Be aware that
bureaucracy in East Central Europe is complex and inefficient. Laws
change rapidly, making procedures unclear and subjective and giving
opportunity for corruption.
For a description of customs regulations and duty-exempt items and categories, contact national consulates. See East-West Church & Ministry Report 6
(Summer 1998), 13-14; http://www.tagish.co.uk/embassy1a/ (worldwide); and http://www.embassy.org/embassies/index.html (U.S.).
Barbara Kertai, "Humanitarian Aid and Customs Regulations: A Hungarian Case Study," East-West Church & Ministry Report 6 (Fall 1998), 10.
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© 1998 East-West Church and Ministry Report
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