/ 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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I bought and paid for some old Canadian stamps online (via eBay) costing just over £15. Postage was £3.50 from the US. I now have a card from the Post Office asking for 76p for import VAT (which is fine) and an £8 charge from the Post Office for collecting the 76p and remitting to Customs (What? Arggh!). Apparently going even 1p over the de-minimus limit (of £15) results in import VAT on the full £15.01 and a collection fee of £8.00. This feels crazy. We have a flat fee levy giving profit to the Post Office rather than a charge driven by associated costs plus an element of profit – the same £8 levy is charged on goods valued at £500 or £10,000. This is a ridiculous situation and works as an obvious barrier to trade (which the Post Office gains from!) In my view either the de-minimus limit should be raised or HMRC should provide a method of prepaying the import VAT at point of purchase (I’m happy to register online, tell them what I’ve bought and remit payments monthly – they can then check against anything noticed by Border Force as it goes through customs). HMRC should NOT be happy for such profits to be made on the collection of it’s taxes – after all they work for UK tax-payers (via the government). Needless to say I won’t be buying from abroad unless the purchase is so high that the £8 tax collection fee levied by the Post Office becomes negligible compared to the total transaction value. I cannot justify paying a 50% tax collection levy on this purchase so will do nothing and let the Post Office return the items after a 21 day wait. In the meantime I will ask the seller to split the stamps when returned into two consignments each of which will be under the £15 de-minimus limit. I will eventually have paid £3.50 x 3 but that is still cheaper than £12.76 and I get to stick two fingers up at the Post Office.

It costs the Post Office, and other couriers, just as much to remit your tax as a larger amount. A flat fee is the norm and, I believe, required by the EU. The terms of import charging are given on the HMRC website and the couriers list their charges.

“If you are receiving a package from overseas (unless it’s from another EU Country), please be aware that it may incur customs charges. Any package assessed as being liable for customs charges will also incur a Royal Mail handling fee of £8.”

The uk is so greedy, they are not working for the voters, they are takers, we are taxed around 60% by the time you work out every tax vat duty we pay on everything! austerity my ass they are stealing our tax money as if it’s their own money! nikes are 20 bucks on ebay usa and that’s about 14 quid, we are fools in the uk.

Some voters might think that fully taxing people who buy goods abroad is a good thing as it takes the pressure off the rest of the revenue base. They might also think that buying goods abroad is not such a good thing for UK manufacturers and retailers.

I am not clear why the cost of Nikes in the US proves anything. Most of the US has no free health service so would you prefer cheap Nikes or the National Health?

Our NHS is not free, we all pay into it through one way or another. In America they have simplified it so you see where your money is going… Obama Care now means that healthcare is no longer only for the rich
Don’t get me wrong I love this country but they sure do know how to milk the working man!!

Are people complaining about the tax on imported goods [which is the equivalent of VAT on goods bought in UK shops], or to the charges made by the carriers for collecting the tax and remitting it to HMRC? Both are visible in advance to people who purchase goods from overseas suppliers. Suggestions that there is a form of double taxation are wide of the mark.

I’m not sure of its relevance to this question but Obamacare is about non-mandatory personal health insurance, not the US government’s provision of a comprehensive health service in any way comparable to the UK’s NHS which is free at the point of access. Obviously, the NHS has to be funded from universal taxation which is why there should be no evasion through the importation of goods.

Ricki Baran says:
30 July 2017

Yes I know where your coming from,but if the item is not made and sold in UK and only in America why does have to so damn complicated and expensive.

I cannot believe there are many goods sourced from America that are not available from an EU supplier where there are none of these complications and expenses. No doubt in due course we shall be able to import goods from the USA on more favourable terms, but at the same time goods from the EU might become more expensive.

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We once stayed at the Navajo reservation in Monument Valley. Bizarrely, the reception had a TV showing old cowboy films where the Indians usually came off worse.

It was a dry area with no alcohol but they had a drink driving problem as the locals all drove across the border for a drink!!!

I am sorry Duncan, but I cannot see the connexion between what you have written and anything I have posted in this Conversation. This is about the present situation where import duties and other fees have to be levied on goods from outside the EU.

For what it’s worth, my guess is that a bilateral trade agreement with the USA will be set up for when we leave the European customs union if that happens. It will be the same with many other non-EU countries like Australia, Japan, Canada, Argentina, India and so on. If any such agreement is not advantageous to the UK I doubt that Parliament would approve it. If we have left the EU I don’t see how a TTIP could be imposed on us. Many of the EU States do not seem very keen on such a deal.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

There is no doubt they got a very raw deal and many still struggle. The more enterprising now make a living from tourism and casinos. We had a very interesting chat with a Navajo lorry driver when we were stuck in a long traffic jam and surprisingly he didn’t have a chip on his shoulder.

Very annoyed to have just been stung for £5 VAT plus £8 RM handling fee, ie £13, on a DVD from the USA priced at $20 (a few pence over £15 at time of import).

Item = £15, UK levies = £13.

Meanwhile companies such as Amazon, Vodafone, Starbucks, Google, Facebook et al make billions of pounds in this country and barely pay a penny in tax.

We have to pay vat on such items in the UK, so no reason why an import should be treated any differently in my opinion. The Royal Mail publish their fee on the website, which supposedly covers their costs. https://www.royalmail.com/sites/default/files/International-customs-charges-leaflet-Jan-2017.pdf

I just bought some toys from Australia that you cannot get here and in total they were £90 for some animal figures for the kids for xmas. The international postage was 58 pounds so I was extremely angry when I then had to pay a further £30 before even being allowed to get the package. They are all the in thing with kids but typically we dont buy in the new season stuff until ages later and sometimes by then its discontinued. We are really backwards in regard to lots of stuff including tv series which we get a year later than the rest of the world. Its pathetic and we are taxed on everything.

Please console yourself with the thought that your children now have the most-wanted must-have toys and are the envy of their peers. And also the thought that if they were exported from Australia for sale in UK shops the inclusive price with shipping, vat and wholesale & retail profits would probably have been about the same – but without the exclusivity.

Is it the wombat or the platypus that has the most appeal?

You’ve spent £148 on the toys including p/p and they will presumably be subject to vat at normal UK rate – 20% – which is £29.60? You would have paid vat if you’d bought them in the UK so if that tax was applied I do not see the need to be “angry”.

zatara says:
14 January 2018

“the UK is so greedy” … where do you think those taxes go? back to you when you claim education for children, go to the hospital for an operation or expect a policeman to help you if you run into difficulty. since the British population expects these things to be handed out as a right then it has to be paid for by hook or by crook.

zatara says:
14 January 2018

because they want to protect European business. simple as that. if a French worker wants a 2 hour lunch break and to go home at 5 on the dot so they don’t lose their joie de vivre it means the costs of business go up which makes goods expensive vs. the Yanks stuff. if they opened us up to free trade British workers would have to pull their finger out and we wouldtn want that would we? LoL

A Person says:
9 June 2018

The annoying part is when the product you want to buy is not even available to buy within the UK (or EU), or second hand items that are no longer available to buy new.

What is “annoying”?. If you are prepared to pay for them to be shipped to you, and I presume you don’t object to paying the standard rate of VAT (which you would have paid anyway if you could have bought in the UK) then only the duty is extra. For many goods this is only a small %.

So you pay about paying 60% tax on the whole including shopping ect.My husband along with many pays 45% on his salary alone because of being over the threshold plus we are taxed on 25% on everything in the uk and I mean everything

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Please do not make rude or offensive comments. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, Alex.]

In a country where you manufacture something of interest that might be the case, we make little here of any consequence so it’s all imported into the U.K. is great in name only. Why are you trolling that right wing Eurosceptic nonsense.

I will reply to myself to wonder how my comment above ended up in this position and super out of context from where it originally should have been?

Hi Antony and welcome to Which? Conversation. You may find it surprising that all replies to an Original Post and any replies to those replies are all added in chronological order to the end of each post. But that is just how the system actually works here.

The exchange rate is the biggest deterrent in ordering from the US currently. Never mind the customs fees… Be aware of inaccurate exchange rates (ebay) as the rate you get charged will always be worse than shown with the caveat that the rate may be subject to fluctuation.

The fact remains that despite the increasing availability of goods certain things just can’t be bought in the UK or Europe and, often or not, items are considerably cheaper when buying them from their source.

The biggest obstacle in my view is Parcel force’s inability to process a shipment requiring fees in an acceptable time frame and with an acceptable level of accuracy, transparency and accountability. I’ve spent hours refreshing the tracking status of a parcel only to see it get from the shop in Japan to the UK in under 24 hours and then sit day after day in the Coventry Parcel Force depot whilst they wait to process it. The last item I ordered sat there for 10 working days before the letter was sent out asking for me to pay the fee (another 2 days) and I was able to release my parcel (+2 more days).

Where possible I now use a proxy (forwarding agent) based in the US, Japan or China to process the goods for me with the added benefit of being able to consolidate parcels. Some even allow you to generate your own invoices and shipping documents! There’s a cost to doing this but where the forwarder handles all customs & duty and passes the goods directly onto their UK agent as duty paid the delivery is quicker with genuine traceability. It’s overkill for the occasional order but makes sense if you order a lot of higher value items and critical if you are ordering something by a given date – birthdays etc.

kimberlin says:
23 October 2016

Buying from Amazon, A Yellow Plastic Car Radiator Funnel and adaptors at a cost of £33.0, the postage and packing cost me a further £9.95 even with this extortioate cost, I decided to buy the item.Seeing the sellers address had EU I didnt give it a second thought. Two weeks later I recieved a card from the Royal Mail saying that my parcel was at their depot but they could not deliver it until a Customs Import Tax bill of £13.46 was paid, the item had come from the USA.
To say I am disgusted is an understatement, but a lesson has been learned and one that will not be repeated either Amazon or anything else that is sold from the USA or any other country outside the EU .
What a shame, so for an item that cost £33.0 it was escalated to a cost of £55.46, The HMRC are happy, the Royal Mail are happy but the ordinary person is not.
On top of all this, it took two hours of my time to travel to the Royal Mail Depot and back to get the parcel, £2 in Car Parking Charges while I walked to the depot office and back.
And to top it all, by the time I actually got the item home, the whole point in my ordering the “Yellow Plastic Refrigerent Funnel and adaptors” was lost as I had already done the job on the car that the order was for.
(Job on the Car “removing an air lock from the refrigerant in the radiator” )

You have to pay VAT on the item + PP at 20% (£6.79, just as in the UK), little or no duty, plus the RM make a charge – normally £8 – to handle to collection and transmission of taxes to HMRC (somewhere I think there is an EU involvement in the charges).

I would have thought something like this could have been bought in the UK without adding to our balance of payments deficit (well, I suppose it was as you cured the problem – hope it was a permanent fix 🙂 )

Somethinglikemynamehere says:
19 November 2016

I had enough being ripped off by scammers, fraudsters, thieves and even government agents! And from now on I will DO EVERYTHING to never pay a single penny, pence, cent, groszy or kopeika for any racqueteering government!

Import duty could be charged, fairly, only for items that are already manufactured, produced, made in the particular country or bloc to which they arrive knock-knock! In other words, if you do not produce this kind of unique goods, then why are you ripping us off racqueteering us to pay for it, even that you do not provide it to us within our Customs Area? Customs duties are just another way for the Gov. to empty our Poc.

The duty on most imported personal goods is very low, typically 2-3%. The main extra Government charge is tax – vat. You would pay this if the item originated in the UK, so why not when it is imported?

I think it is a disgrace how much ” Tax ” us brits have to pay, if you were to visit the USA on holiday like we did last year, you can buy items of clothing, ie, Jeans, T-Shirts etc and pay NO import duty when bringing them back, but to purchase these online as I have recently, not only did I pay a lot for just 2 t-shirts, a high carriage cost, then to be hit with an Import Tax, for goods totalling £60 I believe to be a joke. Our government needs to help, raising the cost of goods allowed to brought in for clothing could at least be improved.

Sue, duty is usually less than 2.5% but you have to pay vat (if applicable) just as you would if you bought goods in the UK. I don’t see why that is a “disgrace”.

Lance K says:
19 December 2016

I do not buy from the USA any more because of import dudty charges. I buy from all over the world and nowhere else do I find this problem. I think our special relationship with theUS is that we get ripped off more by them than anyone else

I think the title of this Convo is inaccurate. The duty on much of what we purchase personally from outside the EU is, in my experience, relatively low. Typically 2.5% or less. The main charges are vat and P&P, which you’d expect to pay on a UK transaction, plus the charge the carrier makes for collecting and remitting the taxes to HMRC. So we don’t get ripped off with taxes. You might query the carrier charge – around £8 – but I think this is an agreed charge within Europe; is that correct?

Jack says:
1 February 2017

I don’t know where you get £8 from but I got a small parcel sent from the US and paid £24 shipping then got a letter that I had to pay £30 customs fee this happens everytime I buy
online I get £30 customs charge ontop of the shipping so cost me £54 to revive it which is very ridiculous all because we in the EU which we voted out of nearly 6 months ago 🤔… when I googled this it said custom fees are hit and miss and it’s put on random parcels but can’t be that random if it happens every time

“where you get £8 from”. Carriers fees for handling any taxable imports are generally given on their websites. Further down I give fees from some carriers. These fees are separate from the taxes – vat and customs duty, if any – that you are required to pay. These are given on HMRC’s website. The major charge us usually vat, a tax you would have to pay also if you bought the item in the UK – including on post and packing.

Jack: our experience is that it seems to be happening a lot more often. Our eldest buys a lot of stuff from the US and it’s only in the past few months they’ve been hammering him with the extra charges – and quite substantial ones, at that.

Perhaps we could apply to become the 51st State?

Personally i would like to know what the money they feel they have the right to demand is actually spent on, before deciding if to pay the ransom or not

Adam says:
13 January 2017

I find this utterly ridiculous. We are paying ridiculous amounts of tax in the UK and not getting much in return, just making the government richer. It’s just like pension pools. They benefit not us..

I do understand why UK have import tax and customs, but if I can’t find the product I need in the EU or UK than what the hell do you expect me to do! At least make exceptions.. If could have bought it from UK or EU I bloody would have.. but the US are the only ones that had it!

Tired of being taxed left right centre in the UK and not seeing benefit, just fix it.

NHS actualy gets paid for from both income tax and national insurance contributions how can it be free…were all paying for it.

If you had found what you wanted in the UK you would still have paid the main tax if it was applacable – 20% vat – on the item plus any postage and packing. Duty is usually minimal – 2-3% if any.

Re the NHS. Of course it is not free – they need to pay their staff, for their buildings and materials. But you do not pay when you need to use it in most cases.

I think you are deliberately being obtuse or just playing devils advocate. In both cases it is annoying. To order something from the US worth £4 and pay a handling charge of £8 is not right. There is no legal framework that dictates a minimum charge- at least you haven’t pointed me to one. If the Government can have a de-minimis , so can the Post Office. With such a large workforce, please don’t tell me that they can’t.
Even if they want to argue that they can’t, they can go down the route of banding the charges – say something like: up to £15 – handling charge of £3; £15 – £30 – handling charge of £4. I don’t care what your political views are but we are supposed to be in a n enterprising environment with little or no barriers to trade. Well a handling fee of £8 on a product less than say £55 is extortionate and a clear barrier to trade. Simple as.
People were also complaining of the process. Surely it can be improved with little or no effort. Instead of subtly trying to discourage the importation of items or trying to stick up for the Government, why don’t you do more research and advocate a more streamlined process for the collection of these charges?
Compare Parcelforce to TNT or DHL – their competitors – From TNT or DHL, you get an email or a note drop to alert you to pay your charges and you go online to pay and presto, it is delivered asap. Compare that with Parcelforce and they process the paper trail over an average of ten days. Ten days. Why can’t you advocate that Parcelforce becomes more efficient in your response instead of trying to subtly “encourage a “Buy in Britain” approach? I submit that this is not your remit on these pages. It is our choice where we buy from.
You are also linking VAT to the NHS. No the NHS is not free. We already pay for it – same way we pay for the roads, Police, Customs or even the Government itself. Nothing is free. Try to understand the relationship between government collection of taxes and the subsequent funding of services.
That is why we ave an unusual high rate of tax in this country compared to the USA. Whilst I don’t advocate that the Government should not charge and collect tax, I am advocating that if it is going to use agents like the Post office, it can at least regulate the collection of these ancillary charges and stop them ripping us off. Otherwise how about your employer charging you to collect the states’ taxes from your pay. What is different? The employer is an agent much like the Post Office is or shops charging us the buyers an explicit handling fee to collect vat? Justifying the Post Offices £8 is blind science. It is too restrictive to free trade.
If we are going to be a competent country, then tools already available should be used to our advantage. Why can’t you advocate HMRC setting up an easy to use prepay site that its agents can link to and users can pay at point of purchase?
There is nothing wrong buying from abroad even if the product is already is already here. Free choice – remember. We either have it or we don’t.
I personally don’t like buying from abroad for various reasons – if the product is not good, returning it is a hassle, if it is going to come through Parcelforce, I don’t buy.
Lets have less politics and more consumer friendly advocacy.
Thank you

As a matter of interest, can anyone tell us how much UPS or Fedex [for example] charge for collecting and remitting the tax on imports? I had assumed that the Royal Mail’s price for doing that was standardised because the cost bears no relation to the value of the consignment. And how can the carrier know the value of the consignment without unpacking it? A further query is who decides that Royal Mail/Parcelforce will be the final carrier from the point of importation to the delivery address? – There are plenty of alternatives.

From what I can see, Parcelforce have online payment that releases the goods for delivery. Charges are published online so are visible when choosing to make an overseas purchase – just need to know who will handle the goods.

Looking online, Parcelforce charge £8, Fedex the higher of 2.5% (goods value + p&p) or £12, UPS £14.35, DHL higher of 2.5% or £11,

The contents will be described and valued on the customs label attached. Presumably the carrier dealing with the duty/vat will have the authority to open a package to decide the accuracy of what is stated if they are suspicious.

Thank you for getting that information, Malcolm, which shows that Parcelforce is an economical import tax collector contrary to the criticism that has been levelled. The consignor will be responsible for declaring the value so if it’s sent by a trader it is likely to accurately represent the purchase price. I am sure if HMRC could come up with a cheaper process they would do so. It is good to get the facts out into the open.

I was reminded that the last time I purchased from the US, I was charged for examination and repackaging of my parcel although it was very obvious it hadn’t been opened. I can’t remember how much they charged, but it did make a very expensive purchase.

I wonder if the government pay Parcelforce for collecting revenue? Are they being paid twice for handling international parcels?

“Otherwise how about your employer charging you to collect the states’ taxes from your pay”. It costs an employer to collect and remit tax – staff costs for example. So this is part of the company cost and effectively comes out of everyone’s pay packet. Nothing is for free.

Sean…..Malcolm R has posted all about taxes but misses the main point and that is that even if the products are available in the UK they are generally more expensive because we are being ripped off in the first place by astronomical VAT at 20% and due to go up again if the Govt. get their way…used to be 7.5% when I was a kid and has gone up and up same as council tax going up for councils by more than inflation when there are more and more houses being built each year so more and more funds being collected….people need to wake up and see that this country rips us off time and time again…spent 4 1/2 years in Australia where GST (VAT) is only 10% and you can import goods up to a value of $1000 before taxes are applicable yet here it’s £18!!! joke of a country and wish I wasn’t back living here.

I don’t think I did miss the main point. I simply pointed out the “rules” that govern imports. Taxes fund our public services and need to come from somewhere. Should we pay the same price for petrol as in the USA? Should we be able to import all our wine from France without paying duty? If so, where would people suggest we raise the extra tax from?

I would however question why we spend so much on defence ( including the huge spend on F-35B American planes – do these attract duty, VAT and carrier costs 🙂 ), when we struggle to fund the NHS and social care – surely these are more relevant to protecting our citizens?

Having just purchased a £55.00 jacket from USA and agreed a £21.00 postal charge how do the government work out that I should pay £19.00 customs duty on a £55.00 purchase. This keeps happening every time I order anything from around the world £14.00 duty in November for a £25.00 CD from Australia and so on.
When I complained they said it one in every 10 parcels randomly selected i am more inclined to believe once your name is on the list you pay every time.

Robert, you pay vat on the item plus post/packing – so presumably most of the charge is due to this. Don’t know what the duty is – likely to be small. The carrier also makes a charge to deal with the tax/duty and remit to HMRC. All on the HMRC website.

But the core point, MALCOLM, is that it’s fundamentally wrong, isn’t it? It’s crooked, twisted, behaviour. The HRMC are ripping off the nation.

RdWd – I’m relaying the facts. Not whether it is right or wrong. I do happen to believe that when taxes exist we should not make exceptions. HMRC are responsible for ensuring appropriate tax and duty is paid on purchases from abroad – for the benefit of the UK. Are you suggesting some purchasers should be exempt from paying taxes? Or is the “rip off” you refer to the charge that the carrier makes to collect and remit the tax to HMRC? The latter is published and I believe is a requirement of the EU.

Re the heel protectors you mention in the article that your friend wanted: the UK company that had imported them had to pay import costs, shipping, duty, and VAT.

And, they are legally required to charge VAT (20%) on all sales in the UK. That company has taken the risk and invested money, so that the product would be available in the UK, and meant your friend could have it a lot quicker than importing herself. They might be promoting the product, advertise it, and invest a lot of time and money into it. They are likely sitting on stock, so are carrying a large financial risk. They might employ people, and the certainly pay tax; all something which supports the UK financially.

Unless you want your local small shops and suppliers (whether online or offline) to survive, you need to support them. Or we will all end up having to import our goods ourselves as the UK companies in the end have to close. Or rely on Amazon and other global mega-sized corporations. With their tax evasions…

How about an article that supports these UK companies for taking the initiative and introducing the product to the UK – it was possibly even thanks to one of them that your friend even knew about the product.

Yes, I am a small company owner, and an importer and reseller of products…

This is spot on. What these articles usually fail to highlight is that when you import yourself, the goods (and P&P) will be subject to VAT and, for goods of significant value, this will be the major “extra” charge – – no different to buying in the UK. Should people who buy from abroad escape vat? Duty is usually zero or very small. The final charge is the carrier’s – to process and remit the tax and duty to HMRC.

All these charges are published.

Lynn Riccio says:
21 March 2017

Just been stung for duty charges i didnt even know 30..00 worth of goods cost 18.00 in duty over half the value of my good
Another way for UK goverment to rip us off
I am appauled and discusted but ill never order from USA companies again not giving this greedy robbiing goverment any more of my hard earned cash
They get enough from me as it is in taxes

The duty is usually minimal – 2 or 3%. But you nomally pay vat on the goods plus shipping, and a fee – usually around £8 – for the carrier to deal with the return of tax to HMRC. All published on HMRC’s site and the carrier’s.

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So you seriously believe anything Trump actually says?

Ian, you are so cynical.

If Mr Trump writes to Duncan along the lines of “Are you free, Mr Lucas, on the fourth of April to help me put America back together again?” we should be more respectful of that, because the new President is still in diapers and has a mammoth operation on his hands. The question is – can we spare Duncan? As he rightly points out, the UK needs all the help it can get at this moment to rebuild our industrial strength and capture world markets.

The USA really is the land of wasted opportunities. It has a massive landmass compared with ours, rich in every natural resource imaginable, but it is grossly under-achieving. The UK’s population density is over seven times that of the USA’s and we are also running on empty. I think there are feint signs of a re-awakening of British drive and entrepreneurship but the UK’s bloated service sector and long bureaucratic tail are a drag on performance. People are complaining in this Conversation about the cost of importing products from America, and I would bluntly say “So why do it?”. Buy British, from British companies. As Petra says above, “if you want your local small shops and suppliers (whether online or offline) to survive, you need to support them. Or we will all end up having to import our goods ourselves as the UK companies in the end have to close. Or rely on Amazon and other global mega-sized corporations. With their tax evasions…” What we need to guard against is America getting great again at our expense. So Duncan, please ignore these invitations from the White House and stay here and keep banging the drum for Britain [with less of the flag-waving for America if you don’t mind].

Cynical – moi?

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Perhaps a Convo could be devoted to UK/US relations – that is if Which? wants political debate. However as an apolitical organisation I imagine that might not happen.

We do from time to time deviate from topics into political territory. I, personally, see a rather fine line between taking political sides, and criticising politicians for their perceived shortcomings in dealing with consumer issues.

I would have thought we could keep politics separate in a Convo about paying import duty etc. on goods bought online.

E Jones says:
30 March 2017

Away from the politics, I have just been charged £12.05 import VAT on goods + shipping totalling £23.48 – that’s a VAT rate of more than 50%. The goods were one cushion from the USA. How can they charge more than 20% VAT? HM Gov website says import VAT is normally waived anyway if it comes to less than £7 – which would have been the case if the 20% rate had been used.
This looks suspiciously like a ploy by Parcelforce to be able to charge their £8 clearance fee. I’m sorely tempted to ignore the letter and just have the cushion returned to sender, but it was supposed to be a present for my Mum on Mothers Day – which Parcelforce managed to miss by a week!!!!

From the information you give I presume your charge was 20%vat on the goods+shipping of £23.48 added to which is the shippers handling charge – £8 for Pardelforce. VAT is charged on goods + shipping if these total more than £15. The fee is for remitting taxes to HMRC. All these charges are shown online, by the carrier and by HMRC https://www.gov.uk/goods-sent-from-abroad/tax-and-duty. Note that you would pay the same 20% vat on goods+shipping if bought in the UK.

E Jones says:
30 March 2017

If only!! No, the £8 Parcelforce handling charge was on top of the £12.05 import VAT, making a grand total of £20.05, almost doubling the cost of goods and shipping.

Have you asked Parelforce for a breakdown of the charges. vat should be around £4.70 and I doubt duty would be significant. Perhaps you could let us know how they arrived at the total?

E Jones says:
30 March 2017

Thanks Malcolm. I will try and find out.

Yamini Mahay says:
8 June 2017

Due to a health condition I purchase certain clothes from the USA and having just paid nearly £200 for them i have had to pay £70 import tax and VAT.
Im not registered disabled otherwise i could have used that to claim some relief.
The threshold should be raised as i know so many people who buy from the USA and send it to family in the USA who are coming over for holidays or partners going to the USA for work and they bring it back.
If my husband was scheduled to be in the USA at the time or my family coming over i would have ordered and saved myself money and stress.

Presumably your clothing was subject to vat at 20%; if so this would add £40 (plus vat on any post and packing if that was additional) and you are being treated exactly the same as if you bought in the UK. Perhaps you could breakdown the total charge – whether any duty was payable and how much the carrier charged to remit the taxes to HMRC (they do charge for this).

Simple fact is Malcolm that whilst you and others bleat on about small business ( I am an owner of one as well) struggling if people purchase abroad the Govt. actually don’t give a damn where you buy from as long as they get their cut….pity the Govt. weren’t so hot on clamping down on Amazon and PayPal etc…. who don’t seem to pay taxes anywhere.

[Sorry, your comment was edited to align with our Community Guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

Darren, I don’t “bleat on” about small businesses. I expect them to have a sensible business model and to stand on their own feet. I don’t owe anyone a living. 🙂

Fred says:
13 June 2017

I bought a product from the US that cost over $2000. I paid the import duty on the was through the airport on my return. The product turned out to be faulty so I am sending it back for refund or replacement. Right now the item is stuck in the holding unit at a UK airport because they want the “export documents” . No matter how many time I tell them its a return they don’t seem to get it. If the item ever gets there and they do in fact refund it I have the job of trying to reclaim the duty. After what has already happened I’m wondering if the £400 (ish) is worth all the hassle and stress. One thing I do know…. I will NEVER buy from anywhere abroad again. I will let someone else in the UK deal with all the importing.

I find buying from EU countries quite pain-free so would not suggest to anyone that buying from a abroad should be avoided. Just remember that whilst the EU has no trade barriers and can be used for items not available in the UK there are significant benefits from buying UK goods as it keeps people off the dole.

I agree with Patrick. I have just bought an item from Germany which I could not source in the UK and there were no difficulties or extra costs in importing it. I cannot believe there is anything in America that cannot be obtained from somewhere in Europe at equivalent or lower overall cost. As Patrick says, wherever possible it is best to buy a UK-manufactured product, which can be of the same high quality as the best foreign goods without any complications and better consumer rights in the event of a problem.

Angie Matthews says:
21 July 2017

It’s a rip off
ordered my g.daughter a logan paul top 4 her b.day…its from U.S. now it’s in customs with a 14.79 tag on it.not happy

It would not surprise me if such US celebrity merchandise was only available from an American supplier, but did you not realise that import [customs] duty would be payable? Except for childrenswear, you can’t buy clothing in the UK without paying VAT so the equivalent has to be paid on imported goods.

At present there is no free market with America and, since we have decided to resign from the free market that is the European Union, things could get even worse in due course.

Looking at the LoganPaul shop this is on every tab when you look at an item:


I am not clear what more could be done by the vendor to show the potential for further costs.

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