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Online Retail: Watch out for tax and customs for goods your ordered from abroad

(FREE) Buying goods from abroad requires an understanding of how taxes and duties are charged and have to be paid

Tax and duty

Individuals or businesses may be contacted by a post office or the courier company (Fast Parcel Operator) if they need to pay any VAT, duty or delivery charges (‘handling fees’) to receive the goods.

They’ll send individuals or businesses a bill stating exactly which fees they need to pay.

They’ll normally hold a parcel for about 3 weeks. If the individual or business have not paid the bill by then, your parcel will be returned to the sender.

Individuals or businesses will normally not have to pay anything to the delivery company to receive goods worth less than €150 / £135 unless they’re gifts over €45 / £39 or excise goods (for example, alcohol and tobacco).


VAT is charged on all goods (except for gifts worth €45 / £39 or less) sent from:

  • outside the UK to Great Britain

  • outside the EU to the EU

  • outside the UK and the EU to Northern Ireland

  • VAT is not charged on goods that are gifts worth €45 / £39 or less.

You pay VAT when you buy the goods or to the delivery company before you receive them. If you have to pay VAT to the delivery company, it’s charged on the total package value, including:

  • the value of the goods

  • postage, packaging and insurance

  • any duty you owe

VAT is charged at the VAT rate that applies to your goods.

Goods worth €150 / £135 or less in total

If you bought the goods yourself and they are not excise goods, the seller will have included VAT in the total you paid.

You will need to pay VAT to the delivery company if the goods are:

gifts sent to you by someone else and worth more than €45 / £39

excise goods

Goods worth more than €150 / £135 in total

You will have to pay VAT to the delivery company either before the goods are delivered or when you collect them.

Customs Duty

You’ll be charged customs duty on all goods sent from outside the UK (e.g. the EU) or the EU (e.g. the UK) if they’re either:

  • excise goods

  • worth more than €150 / £135

If you’re charged customs duty, you’ll need to pay it on both:

  • the price paid for the goods

  • postage, packaging and insurance

Type and value of goods

Customs Duty

Non-excise goods

​No charge

​Gifts above € 150 £135 and up to € 650 / £630

​2.5%, but rates are lower for some goods

Gifts above € 650 / £630 and other goods above € 150 / £135

​The rate depends on the type of goods and where they came from

Excise Duty

If you’re sent alcohol or tobacco from outside the UK, you’ll be charged Excise Duty at current rates.

If the goods are sent from the EU to Northern Ireland, check that the Excise Duty was included in the price. If it’s not, your goods may be seized.

It does not matter whether you buy the goods or they’re sent as a gift.

If you receive large amounts of alcohol or tobacco for your business, use the Trade Tariff to check duty rates.

Your goods can also be seized if they’re:

  • spirits over 35 centilitres without a UK duty stamp

  • cigarettes or hand-rolling tobacco without UK health warnings or fiscal marks

If you’re charged too much or return your goods

Ask for a refund of VAT or Customs Duty if you:

  • return your goods

  • think you’ve been charged too much

Contact us to help you with this.

Essential, online Customs & Global Trade Support

You can:

Where to find even more help and support

About Customs Manager Ltd.

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This information is intended to serve as general guidance only and does not constitute legal advice. We cannot guarantee the quality, content, or accuracy of the information provided on this page as laws and information change regularly. Moreover, the application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. This information should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a Customs Manager Ltd. professional.

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