1. Importing by post

What you have to declare and pay in customs duty, excise duty or import VAT depends on the value and type of the goods you’re importing.

Importing by post includes goods you’ve bought abroad and have sent to you, eg when you buy something online. It also includes gifts sent to you.

Paying for your goods and collecting them

Royal Mail or Parcelforce will deal with customs on your behalf. They won’t deal with any disputes about customs charges. They’ll charge you a handling fee for dealing with the customs process. This is a separate fee from any duty and VAT you may have to pay.

When your goods are ready for collection they’ll write to you. You must collect your goods and pay any charges within 3 weeks or they’ll be sent back.

Declaring goods

Goods imported by post from another EU country don’t need a customs declaration form.

Who deals with customs procedures?

When you import goods from outside the EU, the sender must complete a customs declaration form. Check with them that the form is filled in correctly. By law, this is your responsibility. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) can fine you or seize your goods if there is a mistake on the form. In some circumstances you might be prosecuted.

If you have an agreement with the sender that you deal with customs procedures and declare the goods, the sender must clearly write ‘goods to be declared by importer’ on the form.

HMRC will then send you a full customs declaration form and tell you how much tax and duty you have to pay if any. However, this can delay the receipt of your goods by at least 4 weeks.

If the form isn’t marked this way, the sender has to declare the goods.

Paying VAT

You don’t have to pay VAT on most goods sent from another EU country.

For goods sent from non-EU countries you have to pay VAT if they’re worth more than £15 and on all items sent to the UK from the Channel Islands.

If it’s a gift, for example from a friend or relative, you only have to pay VAT if it’s worth more than £36.

You must always pay VAT on the following goods, it doesn’t matter how much they cost or where they’re sent from:

  • alcohol
  • tobacco products
  • perfumes and toilet waters

The value you pay VAT on includes:

  • local sales taxes
  • postage, packaging
  • insurance
  • any duty already charged

Paying customs duty

You pay duty on goods from outside the EU if they’re above a certain value.

Type and value of goods Customs duty
Merchandise £0 - £135 No duty
Merchandise above £135 and gifts above £630 Duty depends on the type of goods and their country of origin, call the helpline (duty less than £9 isn’t collected)
Gifts less than £630 2.5% flat rate (duty less than £9 isn’t collected)

The value of the items includes local sales taxes, postage, packaging and insurance.

VAT, customs and excise helpline
Telephone: 0300 200 3700
Textphone: 0300 200 3719
Find out about call charges

Paying excise duty

Excise duty is charged on alcohol and tobacco sent by post from other EU countries or from outside the EU. It doesn’t matter if you purchased the items or if they were sent to you as a gift.

Excise duty has to be paid by the sender and should be included in the price you pay for the goods. Check that it has been paid. If the sender hasn’t paid the excise duty, the goods can be seized by customs and you might not get a refund.

The rates depend on the type of alcohol and its strength.

For tobacco they depend on the product.

Tobacco product Duty rate
Cigarettes 16.5% of the retail price plus £184.10 per 1,000 cigarettes
Cigars £229.65 per kilogram
Hand-rolling tobacco £180.46 per kilogram
Other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco £100.96 per kilogram

If you import larger amounts of alcohol or tobacco use the Trade Tariff to check duty rates.

Cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco must have UK health warnings and fiscal marks. Containers of spirits that are larger than 35cl must have a UK duty stamp.

There is also detailed guidance for duty on alcohol and guidance for duty on tobacco.

Refunds of custom charges for postal imports

If you return your goods and want to claim back VAT and duty or if you think you’ve been charged too much, contact HMRC using form BOR 286.

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