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Import Duty & VAT Threshold on Imported Goods

August 4, 2014 by Andrew Minalto - 605 Comments
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import-vat-tresholdToday’s article is about something quite simple, but still hugely important – import duty and VAT on goods bought from outside the EU.

I receive countless emails every week from people asking me about import taxes; how much they are, when do they apply, how to calculate them etc.

And although once you start importing it becomes second nature and incredibly simple, it is something that can be off-putting initially and as a result; some people continue ordering from local wholesalers at much higher prices than they could get importing directly from places like China or the US.

So today I’m going to go over import taxes and give you a guide to use when importing goods to the UK from outside the EU.

First things first; what taxes do you have to pay on imported goods?

In general, you need to pay VAT (Value Added Tax) and import duty.

VAT is a set amount (currently 20%) whereas import duty varies depending on the type of product, with many being duty-free.

Import duty is calculated as a percentage of the customs value of the goods you are importing, which means:

  • The price paid for the goods.
  • The shipping cost.
  • The insurance cost.

As mentioned above, the duty rate depends on the product type and many are actually duty free. I won’t list them all here but some popular duty free products include:

  • Books
  • Computer Software
  • Desktop PCs
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Mobile Phones
  • Video Game Consoles

So as you can see, a number of products actually have a ‘nil’ rate of duty, even when imported from outside the EU.

To find out the exact duty rate for a specific product, you need to know its HS (Harmonized System) Code, which is basically the universal code to categorise a product.

The simplest and easiest way to find the HS code for a product is by using this site:

http://www.dutycalculator.com/

And then VAT, which is currently a set 20%, is calculated as a percentage of the total customs value PLUS any duty paid.

But one other thing to bear in mind when importing are the minimum thresholds, below which duty/VAT is waived.

For business purchases, import duty is NOT charged if:

  • The total order is worth £135 or less.
  • The total amount of import duty due is less than £9.

And then for VAT – it is NOT charged for any import worth less than £15 with the exception of tobacco, alcohol and perfumes – for which VAT is always payable, regardless of the order amount.

So that’s it – those are the minimum thresholds for paying VAT and duty on orders from outside the EU – £135 for import duty and £15 for VAT.

Personal Purchases/Gifts

giftsBut this only applies to business imports. If you are receiving gifts from outside the EU, the minimum thresholds are slightly different:

  • For import duty for gifts, if the total value is less than £630, then a flat rate of 2.5% is paid.
  • Anything above that value is charged at the normal rate of duty.
  • For VAT for gifts, it is charged on anything above £36 in value.

Obviously we are really only concerned with business imports, but I just wanted to clarify the rules regarding gifts to make everything crystal clear.

And that brings me onto another important point…

Undervaluing Goods or Marking Them as Gifts

I’m sure you’ve all seen this 100s of times! In fact it’s so common that it has pretty much become regular practice for imports from China…

The order is either undervalued on the customs declarations form or it is marked as a gift (more common with small, personal orders on eBay etc.).

I hope you already know without me having to say that you should not do this under any circumstances, because:

It’s illegal!

This should be reason enough for everyone to avoid this practice – undervaluing goods in order to avoid VAT and import duty is ILLEGAL, as simple as that.

And no, the old claim of ‘I didn’t know it was being undervalued as my supplier did it without me asking’ is NOT a valid excuse! You, as the importer, are solely responsible for the items you are ordering and must ensure that all customs declaration forms are filled in correctly.

Another big problem with undervaluing imports is that it makes it impossible to properly book these orders and sales within your accounting.

When you’ve declared an order worth £130 when it was really worth £400, then what happens when you sell those items for £800? You’ve now created extra profit that doesn’t actual exist… ‘profit’ that you will then have to pay tax on… completely negating the benefit of undervaluing your order in the first place.

Basically; it will completely screw-up your accounts which WILL be a huge problem for you – particular as your business grows and you register as a Ltd company.

And that brings me onto the final reason for why you should never undervalue your orders –

It is the absolute WRONG mentality for creating a long-term, successful business.

If you’re relying on avoiding VAT and import duty to make some short-term profit, then your mentality is all wrong and, I’m sorry to say, you probably won’t create a successful business anyway.

If the product you’re looking at importing and selling isn’t profitable when you pay the correct taxes, then you should be looking for another product – not trying to figure out how to avoid paying those taxes!

Do things right from the beginning and you will continue that way!

I’m sorry if you feel I’m going on about this for too long, but it is so important that you don’t go down this route, particularly for new and first-time importers.

So please, always declare the correct amounts so that you can properly book your purchases and sales, and build a real business.

Now lastly for this guide, I want to do a quick example calculation for you so you can follow the same steps yourself.

Example calculation

For my example, let’s say I am ordering a set of high-end tennis rackets from the US, which I am importing to the UK.

Firstly, I need to calculate the customs value:

$1,000 (10x $100 rackets) + $150 (shipping cost) + $20 (insurance) =$1,170

IMPORTANT – I now need to convert this amount to GBP (British Pound) for tax purposes but this cannot just be estimated or taken from an online exchange site like xe.com, no – instead you are given the rate of exchange to use each month by HMRC, which you can find here: Exchange Rates 2014

So for my calculation, the $-£ exchange rate for August 2014 is 1.7042 which means my import is valued at £686.54 ($1,170/1.7042).

The third step is to calculate the import duty, which for tennis rackets from the US is 4.7%:

£686.54 x 4.7% = £32.27

Next is to calculate the VAT at 20%. And remember, this is paid on the total customs value (£686.64) PLUS the duty paid (£32.27), so:

£686.64 + £32.27 =

£718.91 x 20% = £143.78

That means all that’s left for me to do is add the import duty and VAT together to find out the total amount of import tax payable on this order, which is £176.05 – making my total landed cost for the 10 tennis rackets £862.59 (total product cost + all import taxes).

And that’s it! 5 simple steps to calculate the exact final cost for any import order.

And although it is important to understand how it works, you don’t actually have to worry about and calculate all the details yourself if you use a freight forwarder for your order (which is what I always recommend).

A freight forwarder takes care of EVERYTHING when you import, including shipping and customs so there’s really very little for you to do.

If you need a freight forwarder in the UK, my recommendation is Woodland Global – they have an impeccable reputation and cater equally to small and large businesses, with very reasonable pricing.

Also, if you’re sending small packages via courier companies – again, you don’t have to worry about this procedure as couriers will do the customs clearance procedure for you.

Still, its essential to learn how this process works so that you can calculate POTENTIAL taxes before you place any orders, so you know exactly how much goods will cost you when they’re delivered to you.

So that covers pretty much all I wanted to go over in this post – now all that’s left is for you to take action!

Use this guide along with my hugely popular posts on How to Import Products from China & How to Avoid Scammers and Find Trusted Suppliers on Alibaba to start your very own importing business.

I really have provided you with everything you need, so don’t procrastinate and make excuses, use what you’ve learnt and get started today!

I look forward to hearing your success stories soon!

All the best,
Andrew


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605 Comments
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  1. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for the really informative article and for distilling the complexities in an easily understandable manner. We are a start-up limited company (UK registered) looking to import women’s apparel from Portugal into the UK. We are not VAT registered. Is there a way to avoid having to pay local VAT to our supplier in Portugal as well as UK VAT on the acquisitions at the time of importation?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your comment.

      The UK is still part of the EU Customs Union, so you when you’re buying something from Portugal, you are not “importing”. There’s no Customs procedure involved.

      Your supplier will charge you VAt ono their invoice and that’s it.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  2. I am a new seller importing from China through Alibaba and try to sell online in UK. I always ask for invoices from my suppliers so I can prove my cost of products when filling self assessment. However the invoices I am sent look really basic and just “doggy”. So my question is: have you ever had a problem when you need to prove your expenses in front of HMRC and all you have is these Excel invoices and bank statements ( showing that you actually paid for them)? I am afraid that when it’s time to fill self assessment I will be in trouble with these invoices. Thank you for your time!

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Abbie,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, I understand what you mean by “basic” invoices. But the reality is that the law does not require any specific design to be used for an invoice. As long as the seller details, product details, prices/amounts are there, they’re fine and legit. So no, I have never had any problems with Chinese supplier invoices “being accepted”.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  3. Good evening Andrew,

    I wish to buy a pair of shoes from an Ebay seller in the Ukraine and the total cost will be $90 ($40 for the shoes and $50 for the postage costs). Will there be any charges added to that coming through customs?

    Many thanks in advance.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Robert,

      Any chance those are BRANDED shoes/trainers? And are they brand new?

      Chances are that they’re fake…

      Andrew

  4. Anna Bakotova

    Hi Andrew,

    I am asked for a customs procedure code by DHL, do you know what this is supposed to be when importing from China to the UK? Is it the same code for everyone in this circumstance?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Anna,

      No, I haven’t heard of that term being used….. maybe they’re asking for HS code?

      Either way, you should ask them about this.

      Andrew

  5. Hi,

    would you have any idea if I was to jus transfer luggage with clothing etc, my own stuff from an EU country just say about 900e in total how much customs could end up being once in the UK (after it has left the EU)?

    thaaanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Shireen,

      No one knows how Customs will work between the UK and EU after 31st December 2020. We have to wait and see what kind of agreement will be reached.

      Andrew

  6. Freddy Carter

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your blog. I have a specific question re: non-EU imports.

    We supply dental services in UK which is exempt from VAT. For the purposes of consumables / drugs procured in order to provide our services, from within the EU we would not be charged VAT on any purchase of supplies as the suppliers defer the charge. However, for any non-EU procurement we incur the 20% VAT charge on import. Do we or can we qualify for a refund on the 20% paid on these goods?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Freddy,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Depends on whatever those goods that you import are VAT-exempt/zero-rated or not. If yes, then you should be able to get that VAt back. If not, you will have to pay VAT. It could be that your services are exempt from VAT, but consumable/drugs are not. You should contact HMRC and ask them about this.

      Andrew

  7. Hi Andrew! I am planning to order Rewarewa honey online from New Zealand. It’s 2kg of honey, 500g bottles, total amount is $79.60 (NZ Dollars). Shipping on it will be $98 and it’ll be sent via an International Courier. The website of the honey company says that I am responsible for duties on my package – so that’ll be VAT 20% and I’m not exactly sure what else? Also, do you by any chance know if I need a health certificate to import honey into the UK? This honey is being bought as a Christmas present. Thanks!

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Aisha,

      Thanks for your comment.

      This blog and information is mostly about B2B transactions, not B2C. I don’t know what are the rules to import honey, as a consumer, so you should probably call HMRC and ask them.

      Apart from the VAT, you will have to pay Import Duty and customs clearance fee, which is usually around £20 with couriers.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  8. Glen Moyer

    Hi Andrew,

    I’ve just sold my first item overseas. I’m in USA, buyer in UK. The item was a wool scarf. I sell this for $80 (£65 approx) and $30 shipping.

    I marked the item merchandise and put value at $40 – closer to my cost than sale price. The buyer just emailed me to say she had to pay £24 in duty and tax. She suggested I mark future international sales as “gift” so buyer can avoid duty/tax. I will not do that!

    She also suggested I should advise international buyers of possible additional duty/tax so they would not be surprised. I already do this, she apparently did not see that notice on the order page.

    Still Im shocked at £24 ($32) on a purchase of $40 (indicated) value. That seems wholly exorbitant! I admit I was uncertain on declared value whether to list cost or retail. I went with cost in part to hopefully mitigate the tax/duty liability to the buyer.

    If VAT is 20% ($8 on $40) How could they arrive at $32? I can’t expect many sales of duty/tax is 40% and more if I declare the $80 retail cost.

    I think in the USA there is a high threshold of value before duty/tax is charged. I’ve bought numerous items from UK and never been charged. I’d there s threshold value at which duty/tax is not charged for items being delivered into the UK from the USA?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Glen,

      Thanks for your comment.

      VAT is charged on the goods value + shipping, so it won’t be just $8. Plus there’s a customs clearance/processing fee which can range from £8 to £20, depending on the shipping company.

      If you take those two points into consideration, it’s not hard to get to that £24 number.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  9. Hi Andrew,

    I import low value goods from China for resale, I buy some goods in bulk and pay the relevant import fees, however I am making an increasing number of transactions below the £15 VAT threshold. My business is home based so it suits me to place small orders and keep topping up my stocks which helps with my limited storage space. Is there a limit to the number of orders I can place below the threshold? or if a large number of orders were placed below the threshold could this be seen as tax avoidance?

    Chris

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your comment.

      To be honest – I don’t know… There’s no such threshold as per se, BUT, in the eyes of HMRC – it could be seen as tax avoidance. But I have no experience with this as I don’t deal with such low value, large quantity of individual shipments from China.

      Andrew

  10. Hi Andrew, i just mailed a gift package to Poland worth $300 with shipping cost $80. I am concerned that the recipient may have to pay import/customs tax? Pls help. Tks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Gloria,

      Where did you ship the item from?

      If it’s from outside the EU, then yes – the customer will have to pay VAT and import duty.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  11. Hi Andrew,

    Great job helping all us folks on this page. I’ve looked through the relevant page on the Gov.uk site and I’m still not totally clear on one thing.

    If I go on holiday to the US (or any non-EU country) and buy some goods which exceed the £390 allowance and then return to the UK, will the payable tax and duties on those goods be identical to those applicable when buying online from home and getting the goods shipped over?

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Andrew,

      Yes, it’s the same thing – IF the goods need to be taxable, it doesn’t matter whatever you bring them into the UK by yourself OR those goods are being sent/shipped via the mail/courier. Taxes are the same.

      I don’t know though how this applies to personal belongings, who can check them etc. I mean – if I buy a $2k phone abroad, I don’t expect to pay taxes on it when returning, I don’t think anyone at Customs checks such personal belongings which are “on you”, opened and already being used.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Andrew

        Cheers Andrew, I appreciate it.

  12. Hi Andrew,

    Firstly, thank you for your informative article!

    My sister is kindly sending me her old fishing gear from Australia (to uk). I’ve said I’d cover postage but she’s not charging me for the equipment. It’s value brand new would probably be close to £2k but it’s all at least a couple of years old. How do I complete custom forms for this and will I need to pay VAT or duty?
    Thanks so much

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Oli,

      I’m not sure how it works with USED goods sent as gifts.

      Your best bet is to simply call HMRC and ask them directly about this.

      But most likely yes, you will have to pay import duty & VAT on these.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  13. David Brown

    Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for the information.

    Can you please advise what should people do if a very well known Chinese supplier of photographic equipment clearly states that they will pay all import duties and tax so the final price is what you see on their web site but when an order is received you note that the value of a £2000 camera has been declared with a value around £20?

    Also, is there a value limit on how much can be imported if you intend to start a business to sell it on?

    Note: I live in the UK.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You have to pay correct taxes on that shipment. Here’s how to do it:

      https://andrewminalto.com/shipment-without-customs/

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  14. Dear Andrew,

    I am so grateful for all the tremendous value and insight you give to everyone here. Thank you.

    I am VAT registered as a business in the UK. If I were to expand to the USA, would i still have to pay import VAT here, on the goods I have exported from China to the USA?

    I was under the impression you do not have to pay sales tax in the US, which made the margins more attractive.

    Thank you in advance,

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for your comment.

      No, you won’t have to pay VAT on those goods as they don’t enter the EU.

      There’s no VAT in the US, BUT there’s a Sales Tax there – look it up online to learn more about it. For Amazon sellers it is a very complex and expensive tax to manage.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  15. If box of something is bought in eg USA for $1000 but you are only having one of parts in the box imported ie one main component which could be valued at $500,
    what do you pay tax on? the estimated value of that part?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      It would be valued at the amount of what you paid for the thing.

  16. Hello,
    Thank you for your kind explanation for the duty and VAT, etc.
    Really really helpful to me. Today, I want to know your opinion about my case.

    I have sent my old used mobile phone to my daughter living in London. The price is 100 US dollar (~77 GBP) and delivery fee is 48000won (~31 GBP). Total price is 108GBP. I checked ‘used’ and wrote clearly ‘Private use only’.

    First of all, should I pay duty and VAT for my old used mobile phone in this case?
    If yes, can I predict total extra price? I calculated as below on the basis of your explanation. Is that right?

    [108GBP + (108GBP x 0.0% duty)] x 20%VAT = 21.6GBP

    Commodity code: 85 17 70 00 00
    VAT 20%, duty: 0%

    https://www.trade-tariff.service.gov.uk/trade-tariff/headings/8517?currency=EUR&day=1&month=5&year=2019

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Yes, that is correct.

      Plus Customs Clearance/processing fee which can be anything from £8 to £20, depending on the shipping company you use.

      Royal Mail will be the cheapest option.

      Andrew

  17. So if a business sends me some free samples, they are not charging for the goods, shipping etc. There is absolutely zero cost to me, is any duty or VAT payable.
    As duty etc. is based on the price paid, and the price paid is zero, is it safe to assume there will be no duty payable.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Samples are usually fine, especially if the package is small – no one will really “investigate it”.

      As long as it’s nothing valuable or illegal of course.

      Andrew

  18. Christian Bessini

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m not VAT registered and willing to import products by plane from China to be sold in Amazon UK. Getting my order delivered with DDP shipping to Amazon warehouse. I understand duties are already paid but not VAT.

    How do I have to do to pay VAT and not having any issue with HMRC and making sure my products are released as soon they land in british land?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Christian,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Don’t use DDP terms – in 99% cases Chinese suppliers use this term when actually they don’t pay those taxes. They under-value goods and bring them into the EU via various routes but the end result is that taxes are not paid AND you won’t have any tax documents/proof that they have been paid. So you can’t even book this order properly.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  19. Hi Andrew.

    I’m buying a garment online from the USA and having it shipped to the UK. The garment is:
    1) Used
    2) Originally made in the UK

    Does import duty and VAT still apply?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Paul,

      What’s the value of that garment?

      If it’s above the VAT and import duty thresholds, you will still have to pay those taxes, yes.

      It doesn’t really matter where it has been made or that it is used.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  20. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the article! For a Swiss company dropshipping products from China and selling in EU countries. Is it possible to pass on the responsibility to pay VAT on to the customer by adding a clause in the terms and conditions/shipping policy?

    For example, wish or mvmt watches have policies where it’s up to the customer to pay VAT. A sample from Wish’s policy:
    “Does Wish charge for customs, taxes, VAT, or any other extra fees?
    Wish does not collect any payment for customs, taxes, VAT, currency conversion rates, or any other fees, and cannot reimburse any extra charges.
    VAT: We do not charge for Value-Added Tax and cannot cover any charges which your country may add.”

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi David,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      But that’s what usually happens anyways – if a customer buys an item from outside the EU, he/she is responsible to pay VAT and import duty.

      You just always want to be 100% clear in product description/terms and tell that the item is located outside the EU AND customer WILL face import duties.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  21. Timothy Buktu

    Hi,
    Thanks very much for your insightful article. I would appreciate if you could let me know whether those shipping individual products can pay for the duty in advance (so the item is not held up at customs). Specifically (sending leather products from SAto the UK ). Can I post these items to customers in a away where the package reaches them directly (or there local sorting office) without them paying anything extra. Items are less than a kilo between 70GBP to 400GBP and are soft. ##

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Timothy,

      Yes, there’s such an option if you get an account with a courier company, such as FedEx or DHL – they offer a service where they do the Customs clearance on customer behalf. So you need to contact courier companies to find out more about such services, costs involved etc.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  22. Vicki Magnusson

    Hi,

    I order regularly from China and pay 180 dollars in total for a set number of items. Last month I was charged around £60 for import tax, Duty and £12 fedex fee. Today my items are in customs (same value of goods) and require a payment of £123 for it to be released. I am just waiting on Fedex to email me a proforma. £80 of it is for import tax and £22 for duty which would mean my item is valued at around £400 @20% tax. Is there any reason for this do you think? Hoping it is a mistake as it almost doubles the amount I pay for the goods.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Vicki,

      Could it be that previously supplier was under-valuing your shipments and this time it is THE REAL VALUE? Hence the increased tax payments…

      Usually that is what happens but in any case, you just ask for the invoice from Fedex – everything will be broken down there in detail.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  23. Maria Swift

    Hello
    I am ordering girls shoes from Mexico on Esty they are £64 with free shipping.

    How much will I have to pay in taxes and import duty?

    Should I go for a cheaper shoe to avoid the taxes import duty.

    I am not sure on anything and don’t want to get stung for extra costs.

    Thank you in advance.

    Maria

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Maria,

      It depends on what shipping company will be used as customs handling fee varies from company to company.

      But if it’s Royal Mail, the fee will be £8 + approx. 25% in taxes. So altogether about £25 or so in fees, VAT and import duty.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew,

        i have an invoice for some goods from the US which cost c.£76 with free shipping. DHL have for some reason declared the shipping costs were £44.44 so the total VATable amount is c.£120 which has increased the VAT bill. I’ve already contested this by sending in my invoice saying shipping is free but i can’t get a straight answer out of them and i’m not sure if i’m right or wrong.

        My question is, am i at the whim of someone declaring a ‘shipping value’ of their choosing for VAT purposes or should VAT just be calculated from the commercial invoice received from my supplier (which to me sounds a lot more logical).

        Thanks!

      2. Andrew Minalto

        Hi Andy,

        Shipping costs are included when import VAT is calculated and as shipping is never free (someone still pays for it), this could be the reason why you see the increased number there?

        Andrew

  24. Good morning Andrew,

    Hope your day is going well

    Can you elaborate on the info that duty under £9 isn’t payable please. Is there a reason for this do you know?

    Does the gov.uk website confirm this as well?

    Thank you,

    Natasha

    1. Andrew Minalto

      The reason is that they don’t want to do all the paperwork etc. for such low-value shipments, as simple as that.

  25. Hi, I think I know the answer to this question, but just wanted make sure.

    My company is not registered for VAT as it is below the threshold, so do I have to pay VAT on importing products from China for resale in the UK?

    Thanks.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Pete,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, you will have to pay VAT on imports from outside the EU, if you’re not VAT registered.

      Andrew

  26. bob threader

    Andrew,
    I am not surprised by the amount of responses to your thread
    without doubt this is a topic that seems to affect so many people – and so many people are equally confused by it.
    I for one just brought two golf head covers from the states from a very reputable business and they where purchased at $76 (£57:08)
    they where FeEx’d to me and since their arrival I have received an invoice for £39 duty and advancement fee.
    I am finding amazingly hard to find any link to someone at HRMC that can justify £27:90 worth of duty and tax on a £52 purchase.
    It would seem that they have valued the package at £119 and not the $76 I paid and the sender declared.
    do you know anyway to question the costings – and do you know if it is legal under UK law for a foreign carrier to charge “advancement fee” when no prior agreement or acknowledgement was in place between us ?
    thank Bob T

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your comment.

      It could be either:

      a) import duty on this product is super high;
      b) there was a mistake with tax calculation.

      You should call FedEx and ask them about this, ask them to break down these costs as they did the Customs clearance procedure.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  27. Simon Joffery

    Hello Andrew,
    If I buy something from China for under £15 (including postage) I believe it is duty and VAT exempt (for non-restricted goods). What if I buy the same Item every day, and every day I received a new parcel for each order, would it still be exempt, or is there a limit to how many times you can do this?

    If I were to buy the same item every week for say £13, including postage from China., would it still be exempt?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Simon,

      As far as I know, this is “parcel based” so yes, you should be fine doing that.

      Maybe if you get high volume of such parcels every day then Customs would look into it as a fraud or something but not if you just get one package shipped once a week.

      Andrew

  28. I want to order an apron for $19.99 from an american company I think called Banggood who offer free delivery, but it is coming from their chinese warehouse. they offer shipping insurance and a customs tariff insurance but I have no idea whether i need the tariff insurance (for them to refund if I’m charged any duty) as when i try to fill in the customs duty form it won’t accept it as I can’t seem to enter $0. Will I need to be paying any Customs Duty do you think??! and therefore if so I will pay the tariff insurance to cover it. I am beginning to think it almost is not worth ordering the darn thing in the first place! Thanks.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Janet,

      If the item is worth $19.99 you shouldn’t really worry about any VAT/import duty… as the value is so low.

      You won’t have to pay any taxes in the UK for this shipment.

      Andrew

  29. Lauren Hutchinson

    Hi Andrew. I’ve recently imported some guitar picks and drumsticks from the US to the UK. The value of goods was $550 and shipping was $100. The goods are currently being held and require payment of customs charges which are £206. Based on your calculations this seems extremely high. Do you have any suggestions as to why this may be and whether or not this can be disputed?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Lauren,

      Yes, this does seem too high, unless the import duty is extremely high for these goods?

      You should contact the courier company and ask for a break down of these fees, maybe then you can find am mistake there?

      Andrew

  30. Aleksandra

    hello

    I’ve purchased cheap sunglasses from australia. they cost £24.99 and i paid additional £24.99 for shipping. I have now received a note from the post office that i need to pay additional £13.35 (tax and handling fee £8.00 ). I count find any tariff code for non-designer sunglasses and was supporised by this additional charge. is this correct? if not where should i dispute that?

    appreciate your advice on this>

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Aleksandra,

      That extra tax seems about right – VAT @ 20% plus some small import duty on top of that and the handling fee.

      Don’t think you can dispute it at all….you can of course go to the post ofice and ask them about the calculations and fees.

      Andrew

  31. Hi, I am looking to import nasal strips from china, where do I find the duty andVAT cost? Can you please tell me these.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Billy,

      You can find the VAT & import duty rate for that product using this website:

      https://www.gov.uk/trade-tariff

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  32. I bought some products in China for 88 usd. I want to know whether or not I have to pay import duties and taxes

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Qasim,

      You will find that out when you receive your shipment.

      Andrew

  33. Hi,

    I was just wondering how this works for drop shipping.
    For example If I import 10 batteries for a mobile device from China and the supplier is shipping directly to my customer, how do I pay the VAT and Duty as this is my responsibility not my customer… I will never actually see the goods as they will be shipped directly to my customer.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Annie,

      When you drop ship something, your customers become importers as their name and address will be on the package. So they will have to pay VAT and import duty for these shipments.

      UNLESS you set-up an account with a courier company which charges you for all these import charges/VAT.

      Andrew

  34. hello – Thank you for this great article ! 🙂
    i have sold 3 pieces of art to dubai – i will be sending via parcel2go – Will my customer have duty/tax to pay if the items are valued at £900 each. or does parcel2go cover it in their price ? here is there reply – Your parcel may be subject to a customs charge upon arrival in the destination country – this is not something we can control. The charge on the item will vary depending on the item, the value of the parcel, the parcel contents and the discretion on the guidelines in the delivery country customs. Unfortunately we the courier company will not be able to advise whether a parcel will or will not attract charges as each individual parcel is treated differently.

    I am not sure if i need to ask for more money from the dubai company – or is it all already covered in my shipping price ?
    all help is very much appreciated.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Craig,

      Thanks for your comment.

      The shipping cost will definitely NOT cover any import taxes. Your customer will have to pay these taxes when the goods arrive in Dubai.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  35. HELP!
    Hi Andrew

    Thank you for this page & this information I have found import Vat & Duty details for the UK are scant on the web.

    I Need HELP! I’m panicking I’ve been gifted a baby doll that was my late Grandmas (my late father’s side live in the US).

    The baby doll has been passed down to me / gifted to me and uncluding shipping the value is approx $1850 USD I don’t understand why If it’s a gift why I have to pay VAT & DUTY?

    I’m a severely disabled single parent who is too sick to work at the moment I’m waiting for my 35th surgery, I don’t know how I’d be able to find 25% of $1850 USD!???

    Please can you confirm the rules around this and APPROXIMATELY how much the VAT & DUTY charges will be?

    panicking like crazy as I don’t want it to arrive and I have a huge bill and be unable to pay it and my dolly will get sent back.

    Kind Regards

    Joan

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Joan,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      You should call HMRC and ask for advice on what to do – I’m afraid I’m not in a position to help you with this specific situation as this is a business blog, about importing bulk items from China.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  36. Christine Norton

    Bought 2 T shirts from the USA costing £20, paid £20 shipping cost. DHL are now requesting £20 customs/tax costs, is this right

    1. Andrew Minalto

      If they ask for it, probably it is right.

      Out of those £20, the tax is probably just £8 or less, rest is the processing fee.

      Andrew

  37. so if i purchased an item from the US and paid £11.99 for it will i have to pay the duty /vat or the dhl £8 fee for this transaction?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      No, you won’t have to pay anything extra on that low value £11.99 purchase.

  38. I would like to buy something from Japan that costs £47 , it states free shipping but I know it won’t actually be free as UK customs will probably charge almost as much as the goods are worth. My main gripe is always that the threshold of £15 is ridiculously low and appears to be done deliberately to put people off from buying anything outside of the EU because the customs enforcers seem to think the only possible reason anyone would do so, is to save money in buying something cheaper than it is sold in the UK, they never seem to realise that actually, as in my case, people would prefer to buy it in the UK, but some things are just not being sold here and if you want them, you have to buy them from the country that sells them. Nothing illegal obviously, just certain toys or novelties, collectibles, a lot of Sanrio products that are just not sold in the UK, apart from Hello Kitty, she seems to be quite prevalent everywhere, LOL. My main point though, is always, the amount of £15 is ridiculours, you can hardly buy anything for less than that price nowadays, yet far from making it fairer and more realistic, they have actually lowered it, it used to be £17 and that was bad enough, now it is even worse. The minimum should be around £50 not £15, this is done solely to penalise people or put them off from buying in the first place. Or at least there should be some way to work out what is being bought because it is not being sold in the UK versus what is being bought just because someone thinks they are getting something cheaper. They can find out nearly everything nowadays, so it should not be too difficult to ascertain that actually some items are not for sale anywhere in the UK and therefore no option but to purchase from abroad and in that case the threshold should be around £50. And what, I wonder, will happen once we are free from the EU? I suppose the £15 will apply then to anything bought from outside of the UK?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Not much we can do about it I’m afraid…

      As for the life after Brexit – we still don’t know how it will work. We have to wait.

      Andrew

  39. Hi andrew, my dad from the US is planning to send me a gift, its worth $147 as it is on sale, and it is a designer bag, will I be charged from this? And roughly how much would that be?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi There,

      Did you read the post? 🙂

      I have explained it all in detail.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  40. Hi Andrew
    I’m new to this and I bought a stuffed animal from America being imported to UK.

    It’s not business related it’s just a hobby of mine.
    The stuffed animal cost 50 usd and shipping 51.50 usd. How much will I have to pay for import fees and customs charges and tax I looked on hmrc website but don’t understand it please can you help me to calculate how much I will need to charge. My parcel is still on its way so haven’t had invoices or letters yet but I want to know what I’m really in for
    Many thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Vicky,

      Just wait for the parcel to arrive 🙂

      It could be that you’re not charged anything.

      Andrew

  41. Dear Andrew, is there any way you can help me calculate the whole cost of importing supplements from the US. The total of 5 bottles is $99, shipping $29,95. As you understand it is the costume they add that I would like to know about. How much will they add, and will they add anything else, like VAT?

    Many thanks, Susanne

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Susanne,

      Usually, you can use 25-30% as a rough guide on this.

      So in your case, taxes will probably be about $35 or $40.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  42. John Lilly

    Hi Andrew,
    I have agreed to purchase a painting in Italy and the artist is to post it to me.
    The value is €700 and this is a once off transaction!
    I’m presuming this is applicable to VAT at 20%?
    Is duty applicable?
    I have joint citizenship – UK (N.I.) and Irish (Rep of Ireland) – would it be more advantageous to have it delivered to my Irish address?
    Many thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi John,

      Did you check tariff codes for paintings? You can do it here:

      https://www.gov.uk/trade-tariff

      It will tell you exactly what taxes you will pay.

      Andrew

  43. Rachel Batts

    I import from China to the UK. On the items that I regularly import I expect to pay around 7.5% import duty + VAT + DHL admin fee.

    For the last two shipments DHL have charged duty at 16% – 20% (the last charge was £381.56 cutoms duty on an invoice value of £2380, the total bill was £957.19). I have requested the waybill documents from DHL and checked the harmonised codes used for the goods imported, none of which are anywhere near 16% – they range from 0% – 12%.

    I have contacted DHL for an explanation and spoken to many people there with no joy, they say it has been charged at 7.5% which it clearly has not.

    I have calculated the import duty myself and submitted a claim form to HMRC for the fist shipment but now that it has happened twice I am concerned that something has changed that I am unaware of and do not want to submit a second claim until I am sure that I am right.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Rachel,

      You need to speak with the person who is doing your Customs declarations at DHL – there’s obviously something wrong there.

      You need to contact DHL as many times as needed to get this sorted.

      Andrew

  44. Hi Andrew,
    I’m an Australian who is starting up an Easy business to sell my art prints & stationery items (all paper/print items). I would like to market and sell to the UK, but I’m unsure if the potential VAT & import taxes will price my product out of the market.
    The products I sell will be between GBP10-40, but the postage costs will be an additional GBP5-23 (depending on weights as well as whether it’s sent via courier/express mail). But that means that even at the cheapest options, it’s likely to be over GBP15 per single purchase.
    None of the purchases would be of a commercial nature for the buyer, simply for personal use – a print to hang on the wall or give as a gift, or some personalised stationery to use for themselves or gift to someone.
    So is there any way that I can ensure they don’t get charged the 8 pound admin/handling fee? Or anyway I can limit the amount of VAT they get charged? Not to be illegal or dodgy or anything, just to minimise the costs for them if at all possible.
    And should I advertise that there is likely to be a 25% additional cost for VAT/Import duty for anyone purchasing from the UK?
    Really appreciate your expertise in this matter. Thank you!

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Melissa,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You can’t do much about it… if the import value is above the threshold, it will get taxed.

      There’s an option to pre-pay this if would use a courier company, have an account with them BUT courier shipping will be VERY expensive so I don’t think it would make any financial sense on such /cheap low-value items.

      Yes, clearly say in the listing that item will be shipped from Australia and that in some cases additional import duty/VAT will be charged by local Customs.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Melissa

        Good to know! Many thanks you for your valuable feedback.

      2. Andrew Minalto

        No problem, you’re welcome! 🙂

  45. Hi Andrew. I am hoping to start a small (very small) with buying electric bikes or conversion kits for bikes ( I know there are lots doing this but worth hopefully a try) could I ask you would I have to pay a lots in duty and vat? I only want to buy 5 or 6 to start with, I would be grateful for any advice. Kind Regards James

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi James,

      Yes, you will have to pay 20% VAT on such imports plus duty rate, which is based on the product in question.

      You can find the exact duty rate on this website:

      https://www.gov.uk/trade-tariff

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  46. I’ve been clicking all sorts of articles today when I stumbled onto yours. I have never once ordered things online other than on amazon and now I’m finding out all sorts of things about customs fees and it’s still so new. My question, which may be both stupid and simple, what does the customs base the charges on exactly? I understand it’s the value of the goods and the shipping and all that, but what if I got a discount? Or I used the website’s “reward/points” to save some pounds? Example I have £16 altogether in my cart but by adding a discount code or reward points I get it to £15 or less – would customs charge on what I paid for or the original price? I’m probably making this so complicated and I’m sorry for that.

    Before I knew about customs I ordered £52 worth of stuff and I got charged. I’m 17 and my parents were pretty irritated about it and I really don’t want to make the same mistake again.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Rae,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Customs will calculate fees on the amount you paid, yes. Discounts are irrelevant – taxes are calculated on the actual value you paid to the merchant.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  47. Hi
    I have a vat registered company. And would like to purchase vehicle lifts probably 7 and the valuation is £10000 and would like to is the custom duty or not because I am not selling the good on. Thank you

    1. Andrew Minalto

      You would still pay import duty & VAT on such import, yes.

      It doesn’t matter whatever you re-sell the goods or keep them, taxes stay same.

      Andrew

  48. Hi Andrew,

    This is a very helpful article!

    Have a query about sending Video Game Console from UK to France. This was bought in Germany and then shipped to my partner in UK. Now, I have to get this shipped to France from UK for a conference..

    Any ideas if the console will be customs free or there will be any difficulties in transit. Two Consoles and valued at 860 Euros.

    Thanks.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Roxy,

      Goods can be moved freely throughout European Union so there won’t be any taxes or import duty to pay, no.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  49. Hi Andrew,
    I have a children’s nightwear company. we make the goods in India and import them. We have just received a very high bill for Import duty and Vat from DHL.
    I didn’t think we should pay VAT when importing children’s clothing? is this an area you know anything about?

    Many thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Nicola,

      No, you should not pay VAT on children’s clothing, if it has all been correctly processed through Customs.

      You need to contact DHL and sort this out with them.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  50. Aleksandra

    Hi Andrew,
    Great article and very clearly explain facts about importing goods from outside the EU.
    I think I have more complex situation with my business and would be very grateful for your advice.
    Limited company from UK which is registered for VAT bought goods in India. Freight forwarder was Polish company. Goods came first to port in Germany where they were loaded on truck and arrived to Poland straight to customers.
    Freight forwarder invoiced for duty (which is fine) and VAT in Polish rate which is 23%. Is it correct? Should there be any VAT at all and if what rate is correct – 20% 19% or 23%?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Aleksandra,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Good question and honestly – I don’t know… I’m not an expert in Customs or such intricate importing deals where multiple countries and companies are involved…

      I’m sorry but you will need to consult an accountant about this.

      Andrew

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