Importing by post
What you have to declare and pay in customs duty, excise duty or import VAT depends on the value and type of the goods you’re importing.
Importing by post includes goods you’ve bought abroad and have sent to you, eg when you buy something online. It also includes gifts sent to you.
Paying for your goods and collecting them
Royal Mail or Parcelforce will deal with customs on your behalf. They won’t deal with any disputes about customs charges. They’ll charge you a handling fee for dealing with the customs process. This is a separate fee from any duty and VAT you may have to pay.
When your goods are ready for collection they’ll write to you. You must collect your goods and pay any charges within 3 weeks or they’ll be sent back.
Goods imported by post from another EU country don’t need a customs declaration form.
Who deals with customs procedures?
When you import goods from outside the EU, the sender must complete a customs declaration form. Check with them that the form is filled in correctly. By law, this is your responsibility. HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) can fine you or seize your goods if there is a mistake on the form. In some circumstances you might be prosecuted.
If you have an agreement with the sender that you deal with customs procedures and declare the goods, the sender must clearly write ‘goods to be declared by importer’ on the form.
HMRC will then send you a full customs declaration form and tell you how much tax and duty you have to pay if any. However, this can delay the receipt of your goods by at least 4 weeks.
If the form isn’t marked this way, the sender has to declare the goods.
You don’t have to pay VAT on most goods sent from another EU country. For goods sent from non-EU countries you have to pay VAT if they’re worth more than £15 and on all items sent to the UK from the Channel Islands. If it’s a gift, for example from a friend or relative, you only have to pay VAT if it’s worth more than £36.
You must always pay VAT on the following goods, it doesn’t matter how much they cost or where they’re sent from:
- Tobacco products
- Perfumes and toilet waters
The value you pay VAT on includes:
- Local sales taxes
- Postage, packaging
- Any duty already charged
Paying customs duty
You pay duty on goods from outside the EU if they’re above a certain value.
|Type and value of goods||Customs duty|
|Merchandise £0 – £135||No duty|
|Merchandise above £135 and gifts above £630||Duty depends on the type of goods and their country of origin, call the helpline (duty less than £9 isn’t collected)|
|Gifts less than £630||2.5% flat rate (duty less than £9 isn’t collected|
The value of the items includes local sales taxes, postage, packaging and insurance.
VAT, customs and excise helpline
Telephone: 0845 010 9000
Textphone: 0845 000 0200
Paying excise duty
Excise duty is charged on alcohol and tobacco sent by post from other EU countries or from outside the EU. It doesn’t matter if you purchased the items or if they were sent to you as a gift.
Excise duty has to be paid by the sender and should be included in the price you pay for the goods. Check that it has been paid. If the sender hasn’t paid the excise duty, the goods can be seized by customs and you might not get a refund.
The rates depend on the type of alcohol and its strength.
For tobacco they depend on the product.
|Tobacco product||Duty rate|
|Cigarettes||16.5% of the retail price plus £167.41 per 1,000 cigarettes|
|Cigars||£208.83 per kilogram|
|Hand-rolling tobacco||£164.11 per kilogram|
|Other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco||£91.81 per kilogram|
If you import larger amounts of alcohol or tobacco use the Trade Tariff to check duty rates.
Cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco must have UK health warnings and fiscal marks. Containers of spirits that are larger than 35cl must have a UK duty stamp.
There is also detailed guidance for duty on alcohol and guidance for duty on tobacco.
Refunds of custom charges for postal imports
If you return your goods and want to claim back VAT and duty or if you think you’ve been charged too much, contact the UK Border Agency using form BOR 286
Exporting by post
What you have to declare and pay duty or VAT on depends on the value and type of goods you’re exporting.
Exporting by post includes goods you’re sending abroad, for example when you sell something online, or when you send a gift to someone.
Goods sent to another EU country by post don’t need a customs declaration form. When you send a package to a country outside the EU you need to fill in a customs declaration form. The form needed depends on the value of the goods.
|Value of goods for exports outside the EU||Declaration form|
|Up to £270||Form CN22 (available at the Post Office)|
|£270 to £2,000||Form CN23 (available at the Post Office)|
|Over £2,000 or when claiming customs relief||Form C88 the ‘Single Administrative Document’|
Commercial goods that you sell on through your business also need the following attached to the package:
- A commercial invoice
- Any export licences or other permissions you may need (eg for certain works of art)
- A C&E 83A sticky label from the Post Office
Search the Trade Tariff if you’re unsure about licences you may need.
Accounting for VAT
Businesses exporting by post outside the EU don’t usually have to charge VAT on these sales.
If you send goods to another EU country by post you don’t charge VAT in the UK as long as the customers receiving the goods abroad are VAT registered in their country. If they aren’t, you’ll have to charge VAT.
All UK business who export have to record the goods on their VAT return.
Generally, the rules are the same as for other exports.
Paying custom charges
Any customs charges (customs duty, excise duty, VAT, or their equivalents) are paid by the importer in their country. However, if you’re selling alcohol or tobacco products to a private person in another EU country you have to make sure that the excise duty is paid in the country of destination before the goods are dispatched.At Bizorb we aim to provide the most accurate and up to date information to you. This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0. If you spot any errors in this article please let us know.