July 20, 2016 by Andrew Minalto - 44 Comments

Shipment Arrived WITHOUT Customs Clearance! What to do?!

customs-declaration

I regularly receive emails & blog comments from people who have imported something from China – shipments that should have been declared through customs so that import duty and VAT are paid – but they arrive without any such charges.

This usually happens because Chinese suppliers UNDER-DECLARE the value of the goods sent to you. E.g. you bought something for £200 but the supplier marks the package as a GIFT and puts $20 as the value, which by law means there are no taxes to be paid.

For personal use this doesn’t create much problems BUT if you’re a business owner or sole trader, this is a big issue as you can’t properly book the transaction as you haven’t paid any taxes. And even if you do, if you get an audit from HMRC they will quickly find out that you haven’t paid taxes on these purchases which could lead to penalties.

If your goods are delivered via sea freight or air freight, then there usually won’t be any problems as the shipping company will by default process your shipment through customs.

Problems usually occur with courier companies and Royal Mail (airmail deliveries).

First, I will give some advice on what to do to PREVENT situations like these from happening:

1) Always, always ask your supplier to attach the REAL invoice with the REAL value listed on the outside of the package and to fill in any attached customs forms properly. In many cases this will help but it’s still quite common for Chinese suppliers to under-declare your shipment, even if you’ve asked them not to.

2) If your goods are being sent via courier (DHL, FedEx, UPS etc.) then once it’s been dispatched and you have the tracking information to hand, you should call the courier and inform them that this shipment requires customs clearance. They’ll usually give you the contact details for their customs department, who you can send the invoice and proof of payment to. This way, once the shipment arrives in the UK they’re already prepared and ready to do the proper customs clearance.

Now, let’s cover situations when you receive your goods without paying any taxes:

1) If the package was delivered by a courier, chances are that you will still receive an invoice for VAT & import duty as some courier companies don’t ask for up-front payment but instead send a tax invoice to you a few weeks later, via email. But it could also be the case that your goods were not declared. So what to do?

Simply call the courier company responsible for your delivery and ask them whether the shipment was cleared through customs and if an invoice is on its way to you.

If that’s not the case, inform them that you need to declare this shipment and they will let you know the next steps to take.

2) On the other hand, if your package is delivered by Royal Mail without you paying any taxes then you know for sure that it slipped through customs. As with Royal Mail you’re required to pay any taxes due BEFORE you receive your shipment. This can be done online:

http://www.royalmail.com/customs/receiving-mail-outside-the-european-union

So if you don’t get charged by Royal Mail, it means that your goods weren’t cleared through customs… So at that point you need to fix this, which you can do by filling in a special form called BOR286 – used when you believe import duty/VAT was wrongly charged on an item you imported by post.

You can find and download this form here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vat-customs-dutyimport-vat-relating-to-imports-by-post-bor286

Lastly, don’t be surprised to see an extra processing charge on these tax invoices! Each courier company has a slightly different fee for customs clearance but it’s usually around £10-£20. Royal Mail’s fee is £8, which is the cheapest I’ve seen.

So make sure you take this fee into account when calculating the tax on goods you import for re-sale. For very small/first-time orders this fee can actually make a significant change to your projected landed cost and therefore your potential profit!

Thanks,
Andrew

44 Comments
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  1. Hi,
    I want to buy few parts for building my small cnc, the cost of parts are around £200.
    theses part coming from China and just wonder if I need pay any customs and taxes on top of that, this is for personal use only.
    Im base in UK.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Daniel,

      Yes, by law you should pay VAT and import duty on that importing purchase.

      Sometimes small/low value shipments slip through the Customs though and you don’t get charged any taxes.

      You just have to wait and see what happens when goods arrive.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  2. Hi Andrew,
    Im currently changing my supplier to a different chinese company that dispatches from a warehouse within the UK, ive been importing up ’till this point.
    What is my proof that my goods are now being shipped from within the UK and not china? Just the invoice?
    if all payments are still being made to a chinese company im worried HMRC would still be expecting Import VAT payments etc.

    Is the invoice showing where the goods where dispatched from enough?
    Thanks for any advice,

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Not sure how exactly this works with the books/accounting, you probably will want to discuss with your accountant.

      But in theory it shouldn’t be a problem as long as Chinese supplier is VAT registered and you pay VAT to them (if they keep stock in the UK, they MUST be VAT registered).

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  3. Hi Andrew,

    I have recently ordered some figures (called funko pops) off eBay from China and Hong Kong and I was wondering whether I have to fill out a custom declaration form or if the Chinese supplier will do that for me also will I always receive an invoice from these suppliers. Thanks for any reply you give me I have ordered quite a bit from Hong Kong/China and I am now worried my items could be seized or I could be fined.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Luke,

      Do you order these items for yourself?

      Or for a business, to re-sell them and make profit?

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Hi andrew,

        They are for me to resell and make profit

        1. Andrew Minalto

          Then you need to properly clear them through Customs, pay VAT and import duty (if necessary).

          You’re responsible to do this, not your supplier.

          Andrew

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your blog! It’s so inspiring!

    I have recently had my first ever shipment delivered to Amazon.

    The shipping fee was included in the fees I paid the supplier.

    The products arrived in the warehouse safely but I didn’t pay any import tax and duty. When I contacted the supplier, he said there is no need to pay tax since shipment came from Germany to the UK.

    Will I have any problem with this? Thanks very much!

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Maggie,

      No, if shipment came from Germany, you don’t have to pay VAT and import duty. Until Brexit is finalised, you don’t have to pay any import duty or VAT on imports from any EU country.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  5. I brought some jewellery samples, 30 pieces from China. The supplier declared on $20, then when courier wanted the invoice, Chinese supplier sent me an false invoice. I blindly sent that on and when the parcel was delayed I called and they said it would be rejected. WHY do Chinese suppliers do this? To cut a long story short, I items came to $52 and $30 shipping. I explained to the courier I won’t have an EORI OR vat number. I am using this items to take photos of, not trading or intending to start a business yet. Spoke to the courier and after explaining the above they said they would “release” the package for delivery. Will I get an invoice?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi John,

      I don’t know, you should ask the courier whatever there will be any extra fees you will have to pay.

      Chinese suppliers do this because “they think” that they’re helping us with declaring lower value on the goods so that we don’t have to pay taxes. For them, not paying taxes is normal practice so they basically go with that by default.

      This is why I always remind suppliers in China, ask them to put REAL value on customs declaration and invoice.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Thanks for your reply. The courier said they would release the package. If they needed to charge me any fees they would not release the package.

  6. Helen Sallis

    Hi Andrew
    I have a package at at International Airport which is being held at customs but they want a lot of tax money to release it. Not the kind of money I have. How can I get it released. I had contacted the courier but with no Joy

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Helen,

      If you have imported something, you need to pay VAT & import duty to get it released.

      You can’t get it without paying those taxes I’m afraid…

      Andrew

  7. Jones Morais

    Hi Andrew,

    I always receive shipments from my supplier in China. Before my shipment is delivered I always receive a text from DHL to make the payment on duty.

    However, I received a shipment (which I already paid the customs duty) and 2 days later I received a phone call from DHL asking me for the proof of purchase as my shipper is known to under declare the value of the shipment.

    I never had any issues before.
    So, my question is: is the sender responsible to declare the correct value of the shipment? Is so, could I be in trouble if he under-declared?

    Many Thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Jones,

      Thanks for your comment.

      This is very typical situation, no need to worry about it. Just send the invoice/proof of payment to courier so they can calculate correct taxes.

      You won’t get into any trouble if supplier has under-declared the shipment.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  8. Hi! I received my parcel long ago and now i received the invoice from TNT. Is it actually permissible to pay customs on my behalf without asking me and then charge me some additional fees??? I dont mind to pay clearance straight to depot. But with this practice i am not quite agree. Please advice. Thank you in advance.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Victoria,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, many courier companies do this. How lawful it is? I don’t know…. I agree that it is actually not a good practice as you should be able to reject a parcel based on these fees for example….

      OR someone could send you something very valuable (even if its valuable only on the Customs declaration) and basically put you in position where you have to pay huge taxes without agreeing to them prior receiving the package.

      But either way – it is how it is. You can try to fight this with the courier company of course and let us know how it goes.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  9. I had a parcel from the US, delivered to me in the UK in December 2017, it was delivered to me by the Royal Mail, and just after I’ve opened it, I’ve noticed that there was a label saying not to deliver until the custom fee was payed. That was my first parcel from outside the UK, so i have waited for any kind of email, card, or something that would ask me to pay the charges. But it’s April and nothing came so far. I’ve kept the envelope of that parcel just in case. The value of the parcel is declared on the label, its just under 22 USD. Should i do something?
    Thanks

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Sonia,

      No, you don’t have to do anything and you don’t need to pay any taxes on such low value, $22 shipment.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  10. Hi. Could you advise if a company that imports goods to individuals for personal use is obliged to state the value of the goods on the outside of the parcel? I ordered goods valued at £11.29 from a US-based company that sells health products (vitamins etc), thinking that it was UK-based because it had a Union flag on the website and its prices were in Sterling and its ‘About Us’ section didn’t mention the location of the company. I received a card from Royal Mail that I had to pay £11.27 to get the parcel. I haven’t yet collected the parcel and complained to the company. I’ve read that goods under the value of £15 are exempt from charges? The company gave me a partial refund only but won’t confirm whether or not they stated the value of the goods on the parcel – are they obliged to do this so that people aren’t wrongly charged and, if so, what can individuals do if they’re caught out like this? I’m a member of an online community with specific health issues and some of us are being caught out like this, so it would be great to be able to share your answer with them. Many thanks if you can advise.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Joan.

      Yes, they do have to show the value of the goods for such international shipments – it’s what Customs Declaration on the parcel is for.

      In this particular case, it’s just this companies fault that they haven’t made it clear enough for you that goods will be shipped from the US. Many US based companies will have European websites, have prices in £ and so on – that’s nothing un-usual to be honest.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

      1. Thank you very much, Andrew. Very good of you to reply.

  11. Hi Andrew
    This has been a really good read thanks
    Can you confirm if you can use form BOR286 if no VAT or import duty has been charged but you need to pay it, also can you send unlimited amounts of these forms through (50 per month for example)

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Arron,

      I haven’t looked into this in a while – please contact Customs for the latest/up to date instructions on what form is valid now.

      50 per month? Why would you need to do that many?

      Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew
        I work a just in time stock so lots of small imports coming in under £135 so not paying import duty, my issue is paying the VAT as much as I try to declare and pay deliveries are arriving without requests for payments
        Just a thought…. as I am not liable for import duty if I were VAT registered and were not claiming VAT back on imports (where I had not paid VAT) I would therefore be paying the VAT on the imports in the long run …. would this be correct ?
        Arron

        1. Andrew Minalto

          Not sure how it works with these low valued shipments, you would need to consult an accountant for advice.

          Andrew

  12. Hi Andrew,
    I have just received a shipment from China via FedEx with the correct value etc. on for declaration purposes. I am unclear whether I will automatically receive an invoice to cover duty etc. or do I need to generate an EORI form from the .gov website?

    Can you help?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Andrew,

      If courier did not ask for EORI number, you don’t need it.

      But to be sure that your shipment was properly declared at Customs, call Fedex and ask them about it – whatever you have to pay VAT and import duty or not.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  13. i bought 2 action cameras sepratly in 2 different parcels but they both are one after other. I bought them for $40 each. It comming via singapore post. Will there be customs duty. What will be the charges?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Probably there won’t be any extra charges, no.

      Andrew

  14. I have bought swimwear off amazon and paid less than £10, the value is a lot higher than this , will I have to pay import tax. It has been dispatched from USA via China Post to me in the UK.

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Most likely no, you won’t have to pay anything.

      if it was sent via China Post, it will come from the China, not the USA.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  15. Charlie Clifford

    Hi Andrew

    After a lot of reading you entire blog, and all comments.

    The Answer I think – is as an Importer you have a responsibility to pay all VAT and Duty!

    FULL STOP! No questions here!

    on all values over £15, clearly Border Agency is overwhelmed and not catching these import, via China Post or whatever.

    It’s then a grey area, if you place 1 order of 50, or 10 orders of 5, to keep the cost below £15!

    but then the same applies, of businesses which “fudge turnover” to stay below the VAT threshold, because then they are 20% more expensive, to non-registered job public on stupid street!

    I think I have my answers!

    Not sure though how BA/HMRC, know or how they are going to catch up with all these non-VAT, non-DUTY payers in the UK, which are staving the UK of TAX (Money!)

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Yes, that’s all correct Charlie.

  16. Charlie Clifford

    Hi Andrew

    Been reading this topic area with great interest with the number of Sellers on eBay and Amazon, re-selling stuff purchased from Alliexpress, and I’m sure HMRC are missing a huge amount of money, which is not being picked up on items arriving via Royal Mail in the UK – under staffed ? or hoping businesss will do the right thing, and cough-up the VAT!

    You state fill in form BOR286 – this form states – Customs Duty or import VAT has been incorrectly calculated on your imported item.

    Does this APPLY to NO Customs Duty or Import Duty has been calculated, e.g. ZERO, because you have no Reference Number to fill in or Label to apply.

    How would you then calculate what you owe, because, you could make up any figure, and state its below £15? So owe nothing?

    and if all the items you import are under £15, rather than a large box of items, get it split to under £15, is that going to avoid VAT and DUTY (subject to item)

    I know a local business reselling on eBay/Amazon purchasing from Aliexpress, receive many shipments a week, via Royal Mail, (because 50 arrived here one day, because my neighbour was out!) and NONE have been subject to VAT/Duty, and the values have been clearly marked, and it makes me wonder why Border Agency is missing these items ?

    (I received a damn T-shirt gift from the US, in a competition, and had to pay $35!, VAT and Handling Fee!) – why is US shipments so hot, and China shipments get through!

    So, this local Business should be paying 20% to HMRC ? and maybe duty as well ?

    BUT how, if it’s not caught by the Border Agency in the first place, is it not there job to police this and apply the charges, or is this a case of Ignorance is no Defence?

    and some of the parcels I inspected were declared of correct values, well more than £15, which I believe is the no VAT, so this business would need to pay many hundreds or thousands of VAT ?

    thanks, I’ll wait a reply, before I burst his bubble…..but I think I get the picture, there’s no free ride, when it comes to HMRC!

    Charlie

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Charlie,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I won’t be able to answer to all of your questions but yes, that form should be used when you haven’t been taxed at all on your imports.

      This form is used to VOLUNTARY inform HMRC and pay VAT and import duty – so why would you under-declare value of goods there?

      Business owners need to do this as otherwise they can’t do proper books. Individuals will probably never do it as they’re just lucky that they didn’t get charged, that’s it.

      Reason why so many packages gets through Customs without charges? Don’t ask me Charlie, lol, I’m not working there.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

  17. Hi Andrew,

    I just wanted to say thank you, this site is a wealth of information, and has helped me to correctly calculate the landed costs of my imports, and in one instance even saving me money, by showing that a UK distributor was cheaper for one item, however rare that may be.

    Thanks 🙂

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Great to hear that Daniel! 🙂

      Andrew

  18. Hi Andrew,

    Just a quick question. Opened my business in October 2015. On my first shipment from China they under-valued my goods so I have paid less Tax and VAT on it. On all orders since I have been very clear to correctly declare the value of goods and all suppliers have done so.

    What should I do about that first order that I have not paid enough VAT and Tax on? I am a limited company that is not VAT registered.

    Thanks
    Jake

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Jake,

      Not sure really what you can do as it was long time ago…

      Probably you should contact HMRC and ask them for advice on how to deal with this situation now.

      Andrew

  19. I have got a parcel in value of £1360 shipped to my door by DHL from USA. I found a Tax invoice inside the parcel with DHL logo asking to pay £334 to HMRC.
    I wonder whether DHL has paid this behalf of me and now asking for it or ……

    It is not clear to me. Would you advise me please?

    1. Andrew Minalto

      Hi Jay,

      That amount sounds about right and you just have to pay those taxes as per that invoice.

      To be 100% sure it’s legit you can of course call DHL and confirm.

      Thanks,
      Andrew

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