Photo by Sophie Su, Creative Commons Attribution License.

As we get ourselves (and wallets) ready for the impending GST (Goods and Services Tax) come 1 April, the government has released the full list of sundry goods that will have the 6% tax added. But while many of us are concerned about the hike in prices, there are various items that are exempt from GST (or “zero rated”) – which means you can save some money by tweaking your shopping habits.

By looking through the long list of specified items (1,800 items to be exact), here’s what we know: the shelf life of an item can be used to determine if you’ll have to pay more for it. For example, tinned sardines will be subjected to the 6% tax whereas fresh fish will not.

Similarly, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, it’s often the preserved, dried or salted foods that will cost more. Fresh fruit and vegetables are mostly exempt. That’s why dried mushrooms will have GST added, while fresh mushrooms will not.

Unfortunately, this means that many store cupboard stables will have GST added: items like Milo, soy sauce and Maggi chilli sauce that Malaysians consume daily.

However, even with dried food products, there are exceptions: for example, black instant coffee powder is exempt from GST, but the 2-in1 or 3-in-1 type of coffee will have GST added. Similarly, 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 powdered tea will also be slapped with the tax, whereas tea bags will remain exempt.

In a few cases, a minor difference will determine whether or not food is taxed with GST. For example, marinated raw chicken will have GST added – but raw chicken without marinade will be zero rated. Caster sugar will be taxed, but fine granulated sugar won’t be. GST will be added to sandwiches, but not bread.

So, to sum it up: if you want to save some ringgit and sens, marinade your own chicken, brew your own coffee and make your own sandwiches.

For the full list, check out the handbook jointly published by the Royal Malaysian Customs Department and the Finance Ministry. The remaining 8,200 items will soon be added to complete a 10,000-item list for registered traders.

Sian Marie Low

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