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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/notice-143-a-guide-for-international-post-users/notice-143-a-guide-for-international-post-users
1.1 What this notice is about
This notice explains what happens when you import or export goods by post through Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide. It also applies to gifts received through the post. Unless specified otherwise, all further references to Royal Mail within the text of this notice also applies to Parcelforce Worldwide, who are part of Royal Mail Group Ltd.
The arrangements set out in this notice do not apply when a full declaration on a single administrative document (SAD) (form C88) is required. That is for:
- imports of goods with a value exceeding £900 declared to home use and free circulation
- imports of goods subject to customs special procedures for example, inward processing relief, outward processing relief and temporary importation
- certain exports including all goods for export with a value exceeding £900
You can find more information on the procedures you should use in Notice 144 Trade imports by post: how to complete customs documents.
The notice is not the law and does not change the law - extracts of which can be found in section 6.
The carriage of dangerous goods in post, including (but not limited to) alcohol and perfume, by post is regulated by the Universal Postal Union rules and Royal Mail Group conditions of carriage. Nothing in this notice should be construed as legitimising movement of any goods by post.
You can find information about exporting or importing by post on the Royal Mail website or by phoning Royal Mail Customer Services on Telephone: 03457 740 740. You can also go to the Parcelforce Worldwide website or phone Parcelforce Worldwide Customer Services on Telephone: 0344 800 4466.
2. Postal packages imported (arriving) from countries outside the UK
2.1 How the sender should declare the goods
Under international postal agreements, the sender must complete a customs declaration (form CN22 or CN23), which will be fixed to the package in most cases. The declaration includes a description of the goods, their value and if they’re gifts or commercial items. Any Post Office abroad should be able to give advice to the sender.
To ensure minimum disruption and avoid the chance of incorrect changes being applied, it’s in the recipients own interest to make sure, wherever possible, that the sender abroad completes the declaration accurately and in full.
If no declaration is made, or the information is inaccurate, the package may be delayed while Border Force make further enquiries, or in some cases the package and its contents may be returned to the sender or seized by Border Force.
2.2 Paying taxes on goods sent to you
Most goods arriving in the UK are liable to any or all of the following taxes:
- Customs Duty
- Excise Duty
- Import or supply VAT
These must usually be paid whether:
- you purchase the goods or receive them as a gift
- the goods are new or used (including antiques)
- the goods are for your private use or for re-sale
2.3 Limits for Customs Duty and Import VAT
The limits for Customs Duty and Import VAT are detailed below along with any changes that apply now that the UK has left the EU.
For imports of goods from outside the UK in consignments not exceeding £135 in value (which aligns with the threshold for customs duty liability), we have moved the point at which VAT is collected from the point of importation to the point of sale. This will mean that UK supply VAT, rather than import VAT, will be due on these consignments.
The £135 limit applies to the value of a total consignment that is imported, not the separate value of individual items that are in a consignment.
This does not include alcohol, tobacco products, perfume or toilet waters, these items are excluded from the relief of customs duty and VAT. Charges at import will be payable.
Low value consignment relief (LVCR), which is an import VAT exemption for goods valued at £15 or less, has been removed in:
- Great Britain for goods imported from outside the UK
Northern Ireland for goods ordered remotely that are imported from outside the UK and EU Consignments of goods with a value of £135 or less that are outside:
- the UK and sold directly to customers (not through an online marketplace) in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will have UK supply VAT charged at the point of sale
- the UK and EU and sold directly to customers (not through an online marketplace) in Northern Ireland will have import VAT charged
- if you’re sent a gift with a value of £39 or less, which complies with the rules shown in section 2.4, it will be free from Customs Duty and Import VAT (gifts of alcohol and tobacco are subject to the limits shown in section 2.5 and gifts of perfumes and toilet waters are subject to the limits in section 2.6)
- Customs Duty becomes payable if the value of the goods is over £135
|Goods value||Customs charges applicable|
|£0.00 to £135||No Customs Duty
No Import VAT
|£135.01 and greater||Customs Duty due,
Import VAT due
Excluding the following: alcohol, tobacco products, perfumes and toilet waters. These items do not benefit from the relief of Customs Duty or VAT at import, and alcohol and tobacco products will also be liable to Excise Duty.
There are several other circumstances where relief from some or all customs charges may be available. If you think your goods may be eligible for a relief, you can contact Imports and exports: general enquiries.
You can also contact HMRC for general advice and information on imports and find more information on GOV.UK.
The Gift allowance is £39 in value, gifts above this amount are liable to Import VAT. Customs Duty also becomes payable if the value of the goods is over £135.
To qualify as a gift:
- the customs declaration must be completed correctly
- the gift must be sent from a private person outside the UK to a private person(s) in the UK
- there is no commercial or trade element and the gift has not been paid for either directly or indirectly by anyone in the UK
- the gift is of an occasional nature only, for example, for a birthday or anniversary
If you purchase something from outside of the UK to give as a gift to a relative or friend, whether or not it is addressed to that person, it will be treated as a ‘commercial consignment’, for which the Import VAT relief threshold in section 2.3 applies.
2.5 Gifts of alcohol and tobacco products
Gifts of alcohol and tobacco products, with a value not exceeding £39, qualify for relief from import duties and Import VAT, subject to the following limits against each of the goods described below:
|(1) Tobacco products||Quantity|
|cigarillos (cigars with a maximum weight each of 3 grammes)||25|
|smoking tobacco||50 grammes|
|(2) Alcohol and alcoholic beverages|
|distilled beverages and spirits of an alcoholic strength exceeding 22% by volume, undenatured ethyl alcohol of 80% by volume and over||1 litre|
|distilled beverages and spirits, and aperitifs with a wine or alcohol base, tafia, saké or similar beverages of an alcoholic strength of 22% by volume or less, sparkling wines and fortified wines||1 litre|
|still wines||2 litres|
If gifts of alcohol and tobacco are sent in excess of the quantities shown in the above table, relief from Import Duty will only apply up to the limits shown above, and the consignment will not benefit from any relief of Import VAT.
Relief to the limits in the table above only apply to gifts and do not apply to commercial consignments.
In addition, Excise Duty is payable on all alcohol and tobacco products, even if they are a gift.
Undenatured ethyl alcohol and alcoholic beverages containing more than 24% alcohol by volume (abv) are prohibited in international mail. If you’re in doubt, you can check with the Royal Mail Group before sending.
2.6 Gifts of perfumes and toilet waters
Customs Duty and Excise Duty are not chargeable on gifts of perfumes and toilet waters. However, Import VAT is chargeable if the allowances detailed below are exceeded, or the goods’ value exceeds £39.
|Perfumes||50 grammes of perfume|
|Toilet waters||0.25 litres of toilet water|
Relief to the limits in the table above only apply to gifts and do not apply to commercial consignments.
Perfumes with a flashpoint of less than 60°C is prohibited in international mail. If you’re in doubt, you can check with the Royal Mail Group before sending.
2.7 Multi-gift packages
Multi-gift packages containing more than one gift and clearly intended for several people, the £39 VAT relief applies to each individual person, provided the goods are:
- individually wrapped
- specifically addressed to them
- declared separately on the customs declaration
- within the allowances specified
- marked with the price for each individual item on the declaration
If more than one individual package is addressed to a particular person, the value of the goods will be added together. If the total value then exceeds £39, Import VAT will be charged. If the value exceeds £135, Customs Duty may also be due.
If a package contains several different types of goods intended for more than one person, these should be separately described and given a value on the customs declaration. For Import VAT, only as many items that add up to the value of the Import VAT threshold of £39 will be granted relief. For example, if a package contains 5 items each with a value of £8, 4 of the 5 items will be entitled to relief (4 × £8 = £32). Charges will be payable on the fifth item.
When one item is sent to 2 people and its value exceeds £39, it’s not possible to aggregate each person’s gift relief. The value of an individual item itself cannot be divided - for example, one item with a value of £50 sent to 2 individuals cannot benefit from the gift relief.
|Goods sent as gifts||Relief given|
|One item valued at £39 or below||Free of Customs Duty and Import VAT.|
|One item valued at £39.01||Import VAT is chargeable on the full value.|
|Five of the same items valued at £8 each||Four items are relieved of Import VAT leaving Import VAT chargeable on the remaining one item.|
|Five different items valued at £120 each||Import VAT is chargeable on the full value.|
|One item valued at £300||Customs Duty is charged. Import VAT is chargeable on the full value.|
2.8 How and why Border Force examine packages
Border Force examine postal packages arriving in the UK for prohibited or restricted goods, such as:
- indecent or obscene material
- endangered species
- counterfeit goods
They examine packages to confirm the description and value stated on the declaration are correct and check the customs declaration to determine if Customs Duty, Excise Duty and Import VAT is chargeable.
Border Force will sometimes need to examine the contents of a package, particularly when the sender has not completed the declaration correctly. In such cases, the opening, repacking and resealing of the package is carried out, under Border Force instruction, by Royal Mail staff.
3.1 The calculation of import charges
Charges are calculated at the postal depots, where the packages are received. In some cases, special arrangements are in place for goods purchased on the internet or by mail order (for more information, see section 3.4).
Customs Duty becomes payable if the goods are more than £135 in value.
The amount of Customs Duty charged will depend on the type of goods imported and the value stated on the customs declaration CN22/CN23 which is converted to pound sterling using the rates of exchange for the month of importation as shown on the HMRC website.
The percentage varies depending on the type of goods and their country of origin. Duty is charged on:
- the price paid for the goods
- any local sales taxes
- postage, packing and insurance
The cost of postage is excluded from the calculation for Customs Duty on gifts except where the sender has used the Express Mail Service (EMS) as opposed to a standard mail service.
Where the value of gifts is below £630 per consignment, a flat rate of duty of 2.5% will be applied, but only if it is to your advantage.
Excise Duty is charged on alcohol and tobacco products, and is additional to Customs Duty. The Excise Duty on alcohol products (such as wines and spirits) depends on the alcohol content and volume. For wine and cider, it depends on if they’re sparkling or still. Duty on cigarettes is based on a percentage of the recommended retail selling price, plus a flat rate amount per 1,000 cigarettes. On other tobacco products (such as cigars or hand rolling tobacco) Excise Duty is charged at a flat rate per kilogram.
Import VAT is charged at the same rate that applies to similar goods sold in the UK and applies to commercial goods over £135 in value, and on gifts that are over £39 in value. The value of the goods for Import VAT is based on the:
- basic value of goods
- postage, packing and insurance
- any import (Customs or Excise) duties charged
As with Customs Duty, the cost of postage is excluded from the calculation for VAT on gifts, except where the sender has used the Express Mail Service (EMS) as opposed to a standard mail service.
3.2 Duty charged on used goods
Used goods are liable to the same duty and VAT charges as new goods. The value on which the charges are calculated may take into account the age and condition of the goods.
3.3 Paying customs charges
Royal Mail provides several options for payment and they’ll inform you of the options and the amounts payable when they contact you. A postcard or letter is usually delivered to your address, detailing the amount due and the options available for payment. Once payment has been made, the package may be collected from the post office, or (if you’ve paid online or by phone) you can arrange for it to be delivered. Details of the charges, including the Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide handling fee, will be shown separately on a label affixed to the package.
If the value of the package is over £900 (for Great Britain) and £873 (for Northern Ireland), or it is for a specific customs regime (including all special procedures), you’ll need to complete a customs declaration. You’ll be sent a customs declaration form (C88 or C160) which you must complete and return to Border Force at the Postal Depot, before your package can be delivered. You should not send any payment with this form unless asked to do so. If there are any charges due, you’ll be required to pay them to Border Force before your goods can be released.
3.4 Prepayment of Import VAT on goods purchased over the internet or by mail order
HMRC has special arrangements that allow some overseas traders to charge, collect and pay to HMRC the Import VAT for goods purchased by mail order. This would normally be chargeable at the time the goods are imported. These arrangements operate under Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) signed with certain overseas customs and postal authorities. Currently only Jersey and Guernsey has an MoU with HMRC.
Existing arrangements for imports from Jersey and Guernsey will continue after the end of the transition period.
Consignments of goods from Jersey and Guernsey, where VAT is collected and paid to HMRC under the Import VAT Accounting Scheme, will be outside the scope of the new measures.
Overseas traders wanting to use this procedure must be authorised to do so by their authorities.
Once authorised, foreign businesses are issued with a unique authorisation number, which they must show on the customs declaration or packaging. They’ll include the statement ‘Import VAT Prepaid’.
Where these arrangements are used you will not be charged a Royal Mail handling fee when you receive your package.
If you’re a VAT registered business and purchase goods for use in your business, you should keep the outer wrapper and invoice from the supplier to support your claim to input tax.
3.5 Paying a handling fee to Royal Mail
If customs charges are payable upon importation, Royal Mail will charge a handling fee to cover the costs for carrying out customs procedures, which includes paying any Customs Duty or VAT due and collecting it from you. If customs examination is required, or if information is missing from the declaration, Royal Mail will open, repack and reseal the package. All international courier and postal operators charge fees for their services. HMRC and Border Force do not have any authority over the level of charges applied for these services.
If there is no duty or tax to pay, you will not be charged a handling fee.
The customs charges and handling fee will be itemised individually on the charge label. Royal Mail will tell you how much you need to pay and the available payment methods. Once payment is received, you can request delivery of your package or pick it up from your local delivery office or depot. You can read more about how to pay charges on either the Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide websites.
As the handling fee is separate from customs charges, queries about the handling fee should be raised with Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide, as appropriate. Royal Mail do not answer queries about customs charges. If you have any queries about the charges raised on your parcel you should contact Border Force – for more information, see section 3.6. General queries on customs charges should be made to the HMRC Customs International Trade and Excise enquiries service – for more information, see section 2.3 for contact details.
3.6 Where can I ask about or query a customs charge?
If you have any questions about a particular customs charge you should contact Border Force as soon as possible using form BOR286.
When you write to Border Force, you should include as much detail as you can, including the customs charge label, the customs declaration and the part of the wrapper with your address on it. If your claim is about overcharged tax because the declared value of the goods was incorrect, you will be required to supply evidence, for example, an invoice, receipt of purchase to support your claim.
Border Force deal with thousands of packages every day and without this information they may not be able to trace your package in their records. In the event of a claim, you should retain copies of all wrappings and documents until your claim is settled.
3.7 If your query has not been answered or you have more information
If you think that your query has not been answered satisfactorily, or you have some additional information that may affect an earlier decision, contact Border Force at the postal depot again to resolve the matter.
3.8 Disagreeing with a Border Force decision
If you do not agree with a decision issued to you, there are 3 options available. Within 30 days of the date of the decision you can either:
- send new information or arguments to the decision maker
- request a review of the decision by someone not involved in making the disputed decision
- appeal directly to the Tribunal, who are independent of HMRC
Your request for a review of the decision must be in writing and should set out the reasons why you do not agree with the decision. Write to:
The Review Officer
National Post Seizure Unit
If you opt to have your case reviewed, you’ll still be able to appeal to the tribunal if you disagree with the outcome.
More information about reviews and appeals is contained in factsheet HMRC1 Decisions – what to do if you disagree.
4.1 Sending a package abroad
When you send a package to any country outside the UK, including EU member states, you must complete and affix a customs declaration, either (CN22, CN23 or a Parcelforce Worldwide Despatch Pack (incorporating the CN23)), which can be obtained from the Post Office.
Any necessary preference certificate or licence should be attached to the outside of the package and clearly identified before handing it over for post.
For commercial items that require an export licence or are being exported under or following a customs special procedure, a commercial invoice should accompany the package. A sticky label C and E83A named ‘Exported by post under HMRC Control’ should be attached which directs post office staff to present the parcel to Border Force at the Office of Exchange for checks to be made prior to export.
4.2 Evidence of posting
For private persons, there’s no legal requirement to obtain evidence of posting. However, if you’re in business and registered for VAT, you’ll need to obtain and retain a certificate of posting (C&E132) to support the VAT zero-rating of your supply, and to discharge your liability to customs charges on goods temporarily imported into the UK. In addition, if you’re a business exporting UK duty paid excise goods, you’ll need a certificate of posting on form C&E132 to support a claim for reimbursement of the UK Excise Duty.
You can find more information of the procedures to be followed in Notices 200, 221, 235, 275 and VAT Notices 703.
4.3 Customs controls on goods exported from the UK
Border Force carry out selective examinations to make sure no prohibited or restricted goods, or items relating to the proceeds of crime are being improperly exported.
4.4 Other restrictions on what goods can be sent abroad
Customs and postal administrations throughout the world set certain restrictions on what type of goods can be sent by post. If you have any concerns about sending your goods by post, contact Royal Mail to discuss them.
5. Quality of service
5.1 Delays or damage to a package
Although Border Force can examine the contents of a package, the responsibility for opening, repacking and resealing it is carried out by Royal Mail, who also deliver it. Therefore, if you have a complaint about delay or damage to your package, you should contact the appropriate Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide Customer Service Centre.
In cases where Border Force have damaged the contents, an acknowledgement will be provided by enclosing a letter within the package.
6. Extracts from the law
Opening of postal packages
Regulation 21 of The Postal Packets (Revenue and Customs) Regulations 2011 gives authority for an Officer of Customs to require Royal Mail to open for examination any postal packet being imported or exported.
Relief from Import VAT on gifts of goods with a value not exceeding £39
The VAT (Non-Commercial Consignments) Relief Order 1986:939 (as amended), Article 3, provides that no tax is payable on the importation of goods forming part of a small consignment of a non-commercial character sent from a third country by a private person to another private person if the value of the goods does not exceed £39, subject to specified limits for alcohol, tobacco, perfumes and toilet waters as listed in the Schedule to the order (detailed in sections 2.6 and 2.7 of this notice).
7. Glossary of terms
|CN22 and CN23||Customs declaration forms to be used for import and export of postal packets.|
|Customs Duty||Tax charged on imported goods under the UK Trade Tariff.|
|Datapost||The Parcelforce Worldwide Express Mail Service.|
|Excise Duty||Tax charged on certain goods particularly alcohol and tobacco.|
|Gifts||Goods of a non-commercial character sent by a private person to another private person without payment of any kind and intended for personal use only.|
|Intrinsic value||Means the price paid or payable for the goods excluding postage and packing and insurance costs.|
|Import VAT||VAT chargeable on importation.|
|Package||Includes a letter, parcel, packet or other article transmissible by post.|
|SAD||Single Administrative Document (C88).|
Your rights and obligations
Read Your Charter to find out what you can expect from HMRC and what we expect from you.