This is what I think of when I'm forced to do any shopping in Iceland:
Here's the thing: my boyfriend owns two pairs of jeans. Only two! Seriously. Meanwhile, I have how many pairs? I lose count. But I digress. Anyway, these jeans are going on three years old, which means that after near-daily use, they are wearing to threads. Threads! Keys are falling through the front pockets. There are impressions in his back pockets, perfectly formed in the shape of his wallet. It's time for new jeans to join the family. Oh boy.
Therein lies the problem. Shopping here--as I have ranted about in great lengths in previous posts--is really like entering a world of pain. It's a small island, OK? Stuff is imported at high cost and then due to general lack of competition the stuff is marked up to an even higher cost. Then there's a 25.5% VAT levied on the stuff. And now the stuff has become prohibitively expensive. For new jeans in Iceland, we're talking about 15000 - 20000 ISK on average, not even for designer denim. You don´t even want to know how much that costs.
To get around this obstacle, most people residing in Iceland simply take 1 or 2 mostly empty suitcases abroad and stuff them full of Target or H&M or whatever store the merciful retail gods have presented to them. Socks, underwear, jeans, computers, iPods--you name it, it's all fair game. Naturally, at customs in Keflavik Airport, nothing is "new". And sometimes, unassuming guests coming to Iceland are given a formidable shopping list by their host(s) in Iceland. (Thanks, Shannon!)
But lacking the time or money for a trip abroad or lacking any visitors from "the free world", sometimes a person has to bite the bullet and [gasp] buy stuff here. After a largely unsuccessful trip to one of Reykjavik's two shopping malls, my boyfriend decided that maybe he would just order some cheap jeans from American Eagle Outfitters in the US and just pay the exorbitant shipping fees. BUT here's how that would work out:
1 pair of men's jeans (on sale!) at AE: $35
AE's fee to ship to Iceland: $50
But wait, there's more!
Jeans & shipping: $85
VAT @25.5%: $21.68 (This is obviously converted to ISK by this point)
NEW SUBTOTAL: $106.68 for a $35 pair of American Eagle jeans.
There may also be an import duty assessed to this shipment but it's hard to calculate what that would be, mostly because I'm not up to date on all the laws and bylaws and technicalities of the Tollstjóri, the Iceland Directorate of Customs. However, by checking out the Iceland Post website, I found this handy-dandy little toll calculator, courtesy of Tollstjóri http://www.tollur.is/upload/files/calc_netverslun(20).htm
According this calculator, there is a 15% import duty on the package. That works out to $12.75. But then when I went back to double-check my USD-ISK conversion of the VAT in the toll calculator, I found that my original VAT estimate was off. The toll calculator first adds the 15% import duty to the shipping costs and purchase cost of the product and THEN it calculates the VAT. So now we have this:
"cheap" jeans from AE: $35
shipping to Iceland: $50
import duty @15%: $12.75
REVISED SUBTOTAL: $97.75
VAT @25.5%: $24.93
GRAND TOTAL FOR A PAIR OF CHEAP $35 AE JEANS: $122.68
FUCK! SHIT! World of pain!
And this is why I have a lot of clothing from second hand stores and clothing swaps, folks.
The Tollstjóri can also charge a fee to just open a box to examine the contents and value--even if it is marked as a "gift" from your mother. They do this because even gifts valued over 10000 ISK are subject to VAT and import duty (only on the difference on the amount above the 10000 ISK threshold). The fee for opening a package can be something small like $5 but it's still insulting. But sometimes--if a minion at the Tollstjóri feels altruistic that day--then maybe there's no charge.
Once I had to pay 800 ISK for the privilege of them ruffling through a package from my mom that contained (no kidding) a Green Bay Packers jersey as a joke and three boxes of Craft Mac 'n' Cheese (not as a joke). I thought this was annoying, yet somewhat hilarious. More recently, my friend Shannon sent me a "hipster mustache" that she found for $3.50 at a grocery store in Portland, OR. It was sent in a padded envelope along with a quirky magnet and my spare keys (that she forgot to return after visiting us in Iceland). This package was also opened by the Tollstjóri but they found the kindness in their hearts not to charge me for it.
Fake 'hipster mustache' from Portland, Oregon: $3.50
Knowing that someone at Tollstjóri was thoroughly confused by a package containing a fake mustache and set of keys: PRICELESS