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Have you been stung by customs and VAT charges?

If you’ve recently ordered from a European retailer, you might have been stung with additional customs and VAT charges. We want to hear your experiences.

Since 1 January, when the Brexit transition period ended, some people have faced additional fees on items coming from the EU, as well as delays on orders due to customs checks.

We want to hear your experiences and make sure you’re not being overcharged.

Have you been hit with a hefty import fee?

Some are reporting being hit with unexpected charges.

Perhaps it wasn’t made clear to you that you’d be charged when you placed your order, or you might not have even realised you were ordering from a European retailer.

You might also be questioning the amount you were asked to pay.

VAT, in most cases, is charged at 20%, and should be applied to gifts worth more than £39. Goods costing more than £135 could be hit with customs duties too, which can range from 0% to 25%.

Delivery ‘handling fees’

On top of VAT charges and custom duties, some delivery firms are also adding handling fees to deliveries from the EU to the UK, and vice versa.

DPD has a EU Clearance Fee of £3.50 (PDF file attached), which it says ‘covers Customs Clearance, handling, and processing costs to export parcels to EU destinations from Great Britain’.

Royal Mail is charging an £8 fee, though some people have claimed to have paid more.


It’s worth checking how much you should be paying on the delivery firm’s website. We want to hear if you’ve been overcharged.

Will the new rules change how you shop?

Some may now think twice before shopping with European stores to avoid the steep fees, and some retailers have stopped selling to the UK due to VAT changes too.

Let us know if any of the retailers you shop with have stopped selling to the UK, or if you notice any additional ‘handling fees’ retailers might be introducing to cover extra customs checks and admin.

Have you experienced delays or import costs?

Tell us who delivered your parcel, how much you were charged, and if you had to wait longer than usual for your delivery.


My experience is that I have been charged VAT twice. I assume that is incorrect. If so do I reclaim from the retailer?

Ordered 26th December. Item more than £390. Have ordered from same company before & service been very good. Distribution hub of company for Europe in Germany. Received online invoice showing VAT charge. Retailer website said no orders processing until 4th January, because of impending changes. While delay disappointing, statement implied company knew of changes & was taking steps to comply in a manner least disruptive to customer. Money taken on 31st December- that was an unusual practice, normally money taken as order dispatched. Delivery estimated as 8th January. Then it all went into limbo. I had to initiate communication on issues & no-one clear on resolution.

Two weeks later – organisation(s) remedied deficient paperwork. Order released. No detail on additional charges. Delivery driver arrived on one month anniversary of order, with invoice for Customs & delivery admin – not welcome but expected from posts here & in media. Invoice also sought import VAT on order value. I appreciate that import VAT is one way new rules operate.

Summary to Hannah’s questions: order delayed by at least three weeks from timescales previously experienced. Charged Custom’s Duties & Brokerage fee. Charged import VAT.

Question to experts: if I’ve paid VAT on initial invoice, does it apply again as import VAT? Should retailer be reimbursing me for VAT it charged?

Quote : “Question to experts: if I’ve paid VAT on initial invoice, does it apply again as import VAT? Should retailer be reimbursing me for VAT it charged?”

anyone any information on this, as I have same question too. If I’ve paid the local VAT in an EU country, would I also be expected to pay this UK Import VAT ? If so seems very unfair

Hi Iain, if you are buying in the EU for export to the UK, then you need to pay UK vat on import but you don’t need to pay local EU vat. But if the EU retailer does not instigate the arrangements for exempting exports from EU vat, then you can end up having to pay twice.

Margaret says:
29 January 2021

Can anyone tell me, please: if I order a couple of young plants from Italy for sale on eBay are there any restrictions on importing them and will there be customs, import and handling fees?

Margaret – It would be interesting to know why it is necessary to import plants from Italy when such a wide range are available from UK growers and nurseries.

There are various regulations, controls and extensive legislation in place, so before worrying about taxes, customs duties and handling fees I suggest you start by reading this government information –

luke r says:
1 February 2021

I brought 3 lamps from Bulgaria on 22nd Dec. They were wrapped in separate packages but I paid £335.00 and delivery £56.03, so in total £391.03 and now have a import duties/vat/delivery bill of £101. As I brought the items before 31st whilst still in the EU should I pay the invoice given to me by TNT/FedEx

@lke-r I believe it is the shipping date that determines the tax point. If shipped after 31st December, then UK taxation applies.

I am having the most frustrating brexit-related experience with a recent purchase.

I bought a webcam on-line from a major name in the business on 17th Jan. It turns out they ship from somewhere in the EU (I didn’t know that when I ordered).
Tax was charged at the prevailing UK rate of 20%.
Shipping, via a well-known world-wide company, was confirmed on 19th Jan.
Since then all I get from the shipping company is emails advising me:
“Your package is delayed due to a Brexit related disruption. We are adjusting delivery plans as quickly as possible.”

How does this fit with Boris Johnson’s speech 24/12/2020 here ..

in which he says:
“… Because there will be no palisade of tariffs on Jan 1.
And there will be no non-tariff barriers to trade.
And instead there will be a giant free trade zone of which we will at once be a member. …”

I fear that speech was self delusional.

Does the EU seller not take off the VAT as it is being exported out of EU?

Ben says:
2 March 2021

I ordered some fans from a Company in Spain. The Web Site clearly states “All purchases include taxes and shipping” and the Invoice shows VAT paid at 20%. However I was also charged by UPS for “Import VAT” at 20% plus a service charge. Clearly I have been charged VAT Twice, but the seller is refusing to refund the VAT. What can I do now?

If the seller has charged you EU VAT as opposed to going through due process to zero rate your order, I’m not sure that there is much that you can do now.

The equivalent UK regulations seem to allow UK exporters to either charge UK Vat or zero rate goods when exporting to the EU. But, to use the latter option, they need to generate and keep export records, ie more red tape is needed to offer the most competitive prices.

At the beginning of March, I ordered some scuba diving equipment from a UK retailer. The equipment is manufactured in Sweden by a well-known and long-standing manufacturer of scuba diving equipment. According to the the shipping tracking information, the goods were shipped on 4 March and cleared customs a couple of days later while at a hub airport destination in Germany. They then arrived in the UK at a warehouse facility on 8 March where they have remained for nearly 4 weeks. The tracking information keeps coming up with a message (almost daily) saying “Your package is delayed due to a Brexit related disruption. We are adjusting delivery plans as quickly as possible.” Despite the best efforts of both the UK retailer and the manufacturer in Sweden (who arranged the shipping), there has been no explanation as to what is causing the delay. The goods are here in the UK and have apparently cleared customs and VAT has been charged and paid for yet they are not being released for delivery. So what on earth is going on? Is this just a case of UK Customs being difficult or playing politics?

Just had a letter from Parcel force asking for £218.00 to cover customs duty and import VAT and clearance fee – about 30% of the value of the contents of the parcel. A tent and sleeping mat.
I bought the tent from an company who advertise themselves as being ‘international’ and include the union jack on their website. They deliver to free of charge if spent over £50 and free returns – and they have the parcelforce logo next to the flags… nowhere on their website are customs and excise charges mentioned

Chris Schwarten says:
26 April 2021

I ordered a used guitar effects pedal from the US for $140. I knew I would be up for some charges and had done some rough calculations but I couldn’t believe what I was actually charged. Though I think the handling and VAT charges are too expensive, I can at least understand how they’ve been calculated. I have no idea how the duty has been calculated. This US$140 item has now cost me £215.33 total in shipping and customs costs. I asked if I could just return to the sender and claim a refund but apparently when you do this the goods never get dispatched from The Netherlands if going through this system. I’m going to dispute this but it seems like I have very little power in this scenario. Plus they make it very difficult to even lodge a dispute with Border Force anyway, so I have little faith anything will come from it.

Ultimately, my takeaway is that I’ll just never buy anything outside of the UK ever again. Which I’m sure is the ultimate goal here.

John Spooner says:
28 April 2021

I purchased bike parts from Italy but returned them and have now received an invoice from FedEx for the import duty (37% of the original price). FedEx have not responded to an email or telephone call so I am presently struggling to either question the invoice or pay it. As I have no contract with FedEx and they paid the duty without asking me I am surprised they are able to work in this way. I wonder if it should be their responsibility to claim the duty refund?

On delivery of a sound processing unit from German, I was charged an additional £45.89 broken down as £31.66 import VAT, £2.73 duties, £11.50 brokerage charges, an additional 30% on the cost of the goods. It was delivered by UPS

Noel, as with importing from other countries you must pay VAT (unless prepaid) and duty on goods imported from the EU. The carrier makes a charge for remitting these to HMRC.

Niki says:
6 May 2021

Just got charged £61.99 for a gift (clothes) worth USD$160 (~£115). Delivered by UPS. Unbelievable, over 50% of the value of the goods.

Derek says:
6 May 2021

UPS charged tax and brokerage fee on a parcel from the EU which is below the £135 value threshold mentioned on the gov.co.uk website. I have the invoice to prove the value, and the online retailer confirmed they declared the correct amount.
This is a scam. UPS just charge what they want and there is no way to get anything resolved.
HMRC help line is useless, they sent me links to gov website pages I had already read. It’s impossible to apply for a refund because I don’t have the import details and codes used by UPS.
One UPS person admitted I am right, and escalated the issue, but nothing happened.
HMRC help line agreed I am right, but sent useless information.
A shambles.

Derek says:
6 May 2021

The information at the top of this article is not entirely correct.
VAT is due on personal gifts valued over £39, and on items bought from a retailer only if the total value without VAT of the item(s) in the package and the cost of carriage, is greater than £135. You are always charged for alcohol, cigarettes and perfume.
See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/vat-and-overseas-goods-sold-to-customers-in-the-uk-using-online-marketplaces

I am a UK citizen currently living in Germany. I received 2 small parcels from my parents containing clothes and a gift candle. On arrival, I had to pay a customs fee plus handling fee for both items. My mum ensured that the value was under 39.00 on the customs fee. Is this correct?

I’ve just ordered and received a spare handle for my old Hoover HU4205 upright cleaner. I was pleased to find that I could order the part direct from Hoover, but surprised to learn that they now ship spares direct from Italy. The part was about £3 plus another £4 for shipping. I did not get stung for any unexpected customs or VAT charges. So that’s a “no obvious harm from Brexit” story.

In other news, I learnt that my cousin’s son, who founded an engineering consultancy business, has had to open a subsidiary office in the EU, so that he and his staff can continue to work there. Definitely not a win for Brexit.

Francis says:
13 May 2021

I’m ordered a specialist piece of equipment for work from Germany. The website appears to suggest all charges are covered and I am awaiting clarification from them. However UPS are charging 22% import tax and on top an £11.50 brokerage charge. The delivery man appeared to be trying to goad me into an argument when I was asking genuine questions. The trying to contact UPS was useless, their phone lines are open until 20:00 apparently but when calling they said they were closed, the only way to contact them was either to pay or via social media which I did via Twitter. It took two messaged for the person to actually read the message and respond appropriately. I’m awaiting responses from them.

Hi Francis,

There is a simple summary for consumers here:-https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/jan/21/eu-website-purchases-the-import-charges-uk-customers-have-to-pay

And the full rules for businesses are here:-https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/changes-to-vat-treatment-of-overseas-goods-sold-to-customers-from-1-january-2021/changes-to-vat-treatment-of-overseas-goods-sold-to-customers-from-1-january-2021

The bottom line seems to be that customs duty kicks in for goods over £135 and that businesses need to use reverse charge according for the VAT.

MichaelC says:
14 May 2021

I received some free equipment from a course I attended and this was shipped from Amsterdam, I then received a text from FedEx asking for £152.00 import tax, when I select the links there is an * and further down it states *the above amounts are estimates. However, my item has arrived even though I have not paid the requested tax. Should I be taxed on free stuff, Can I refuse to pay or refuse to accept the item as it is free?


If your free stuff counts as gifts over a certain value, then you are supposed to pay VAT and, depending on rules of origin, customs duty as applicable.

If that does not sound like tariff free access to the EU, don’t blame me I voted Remain.

MichaelC says:
14 May 2021

But now they’ve delivered it where does that leave me? An outstanding bill presumably…

I think that really depends on the value of the items. I think below £39, duty is waived.

Also, if you have already paid for them within your course fee, they might just already count as your personal property and thus be exempt on that basis.

MichaelC says:
14 May 2021

Think I’ll sit this out and see anything like a bill drops through my door but thanks for your replies.

Fran says:
4 June 2021

I have just been stung with a bill of £78 for a £150 item (VAT included already) and Fed Ex included a £13 handling fee. Thought I was buying from a UK company with a .co.uk website and UK telephone number to only find out that they’re based in France. (you have to look really hard on their website).

Took me ages to figure out what the bill was for as they give a tracking number completely different from the tracking number from the purchaser site. I was also told that delivery would be by DPD. It doesn’t reference the seller or item on the invoice.

Surely there should be a cap on “processing fees” by the delivery company and a rule to make it clear that the sellers have to declare their outside of UK, with a warning that customs and VAT will be added on.

Also, how do I check that FEDEX has even got the correct amount? Seems very fishy that the bill is over 50% of the value of the product.

Chris says:
18 June 2021

I think there is a clear conflict of interests here -& the recipient has very little power (because from the carrier’s perspective, the seller is the customer, not the recipient).

As many others appear to have found I have failed, after innumerable attempts, to get a clear explanation of the charges from the multiple carriers I have had this issue with (is it the VAT rate or the rate of exchange they’re using which is driving the apparently too high costs)?

My real objection, however, is with the handling fee -this is about the same or more expensive that the costs to the sender of sending the item. I cannot believe it represents a true cost. So we have a situation where the recipient is paying an excess on something they haven’t contracted to & that excess is (presumably) being passed on to the seller to encourage them to use the product.

& there’s very little we can do. If it goes through the normal post, the item is returned to the sender is the charges aren’t paid. If it comes by carrier, they’ve already paid & will threaten legal action
&/or bailiffs if payment isn’t made within a set time period (which period is notably shorter than their average time taken to respond to a query with regards to the charges).