/ Money, Shopping, Travel & Leisure

Buy America! Does import duty stop you from shopping online?

Money in hands

Ever spotted your dream product cheaper online from a US company, but hesitated to buy because of concerns it may get stuck in customs? Or worse, have you bought from the US and incurred unexpected costs?

Friends have told me that they’ve recently been tripped up by import duty after buying goods online from US companies. The charges can be even more irritating when you compare the customs limit for buying online from the US (£135) to the limit for when you fly home with goods from the States (£390).

The question is – have you also been affected and would you like to see the UK government act?

A few years ago my husband, who is an amateur musician, spotted a synthesiser from a small American seller on eBay. Three weeks after ordering it he received a note from customs asking for additional money to cover the duty plus the VAT, which he hadn’t realised wasn’t pre-paid with his order. This nearly doubled the cost of the synth so he never reclaimed it. He also never bought online from America again.

Customs delays and charges

A colleague, Alex, spotted a picture of high heel shoe protectors for her wedding guests on Pinterest and the link took her to a US website. They were just what she was after and appeared better value than the UK equivalents she found online.

After a couple of weeks the heel protectors hadn’t arrived, so she contacted the US company who said the parcel may have got stuck in customs (annoying that they didn’t mention this at point of purchase!). Sure enough, the next day a card arrived from Royal Mail saying she needed to pay a £30 customs charge to receive her package. She had no choice but to pay the charge. It added about 20% onto the cost of the original items and meant they were now more expensive than the heel protectors she could have purchased in the UK.

Finally, Sam in our Campaigns team is a cheerleader with a UK squad. And while cheer has massively grown as a sport in the UK, the good stuff still mainly happens in the US. Lots of US teams have amazing merchandise for sale – the top team athletes are like celebrities, or “cheerlebrities” – but Sam’s held back from ordering anything due to fear of customs delays and charges.

Have you had a similar experience of customs when ordering online goods from American companies? If so, please share your stories. Do you think the UK Government should make it easier, simpler and cheaper to buy from the US?

Should the UK Government raise the import duty threshold so Brits can buy more from America?

Yes (72%, 925 Votes)

No (18%, 236 Votes)

Don't know (9%, 120 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,281

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Barry Oakley says:
12 January 2019

If or when we depart the EU, will imports from the USA no longer incur duty costs? I’ve just seen an item and given the present US Dollar/Sterling exchange rate (13/1/2018) , that would cost nearly £200 less than if bought from a UK supplier.

The pat excuse given in this country to damp down dissent is-
Much larger population therefore cheaper Barry .
That excuse has been torpedoed by one of the new hypersonic Russian missiles as I have the full TTIP agreement with the UK that didn’t happen .
It states EQUALITY right across the board in trading between the USA and the UK and your dead right Big Business USA has made it part of the trade legislation of parity of dealings/prices etc and yes barriers to trade ( nasty word in the USA ) will be removed .

As we speak NEW trade talks are under way – Donald has said — the TTIP Agreement was NOT in Americas interest so the new ones will be even more open -in America Firsts favour.
I also noticed the massive price differential and brought this up here and I am in agreement with you ,the £ is dropping and will become near parity with the $ .

Duty on most items is relatively low; the major tax is VAT – payable on the item plus p&p.

Lin N says:
29 May 2019

Why can’t there be a simple guide? If I want to buy a bottle of herbal capsules from the USA I could find I have to pay a large bill before I can get hold of them but I can’t find out how much it will be before I order! The government site is fiendishly complicated and more aimed at people who want to import tons of the stuff.
Very frustrating!