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Those Annoying Hidden Import Charges

Update: This post is some years old now, charges and limits may have changed.

When buying online it is annoying when you find a good deal only for it to become a bad deal when it gets shipped to you. This often happens when buying from outside the European Union (EU). For people living in the United Kingdom (UK) you can read a guide for international post users on the GOV.UK website (previously on the HM Revenue and Customs web pages). It takes some reading and the label stuck to front of the packages by the UK Border Agency is not that helpful:

Customs charges are applied to imports into the EU with a value over £15 for VAT (Imports from the Channel Islands the value is £0). All items values over £135 will attract import duty. Imported gifts valued over £40 sent between private individuals will also attract VAT. Reliefs do not extend to excise goods e.g. tobacco products & alchohol. Our website gives details about these charges - search "Notice 143"...

If it is a gift between relatives and friends charges kick in at £40. For normal purchases the charges start for goods valued at £15, unless the item is tobacco, alchohol, fragrances or from the Channel Islands. The charges start with an additional 20% for import VAT, and for items valued £135.01 or more there is 2.5% customs duty (but that rate can be subject to change depending upon the country of origin and total value). To rub salt into the wound the charges also apply to the postage paid for shipping! And even more is charged by Royal Mail for handling the item.

I recently ordered a product from New York for $25, including shipping, about £15.50. So it fell just over the limit. Customs charged £3.13 VAT and the Royal Mail £8.00 handling! My bargain headed towards doubling in price!

So do the math before buying outside the EU, it may not be worth it!

Here is the math from my purchase:

Value of goods including postage: $25 = £15.39 VAT at 20% = £15.39 * 0.2 = £3.08 (I was charge £3.13 so they used a different exchange rate). Royal Mail handling fee = £8.00 Total paid = £15.39 + £3.13 + £8.00 = £26.52

Archived Comments

daigle on 8th March 2013 at 21:20 said:

So did they deliver the package to you and you had to pay the VAT upon pickup? Thanks for the help!

Daniel S. Fowler on 9th March 2013 at 12:41 said:

Royal Mail left a card saying an additional payment was required. I went to the sorting office to pick the item up as it is not to far away (other options were available see https://personal.help.royalmail.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/143). Paid the extra £11.13 (VAT+Handling Fee) at the sorting office and got the item.

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