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VAT on goods posted to you from abroad

If you buy goods from outside the UK then you may have to pay VAT and duty when they're sent to you. This can apply to gifts too. It makes no difference whether they're posted to you or sent with another carrier company.

Duty is something charged on goods that you bring into the UK and the amount depends on what the goods are and where they've come from.

On this page:

Alcohol and tobacco

There are special rules for alcohol and tobacco. The rules depend on why they're sent to you and where they're sent from. It's important that you do things properly or you could end up losing the goods.

If you buy alcohol or tobacco from another EU country, then you'll have to pay duty on them, depending on how much you buy.

If you buy alcohol or tobacco from a country outside the EU then you'll have to pay duty and VAT, depending on how much you buy.

These rules also apply if alcohol or tobacco is sent to you as a gift.

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VAT on other goods sent to you from within the EU

If you buy goods other than alcohol and tobacco from a seller in another EU country then it's just like shopping in the UK. There's no extra VAT to pay.

Check which countries are in the EU

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VAT on other goods you buy from outside the EU

If you buy goods from a seller outside the EU then you'll usually have to pay VAT and duty. It makes no difference if the goods are new or used, for example antiques. And it doesn't matter if you buy them for your own use or to sell on.

VAT is worked out on the full value of the goods plus postage costs and any duty. The amount of duty varies, depending on what the goods are.

How duty charges are calculated

When you don't have to pay VAT or duty on goods you've bought

There's no VAT to pay if the value of the goods is less than £18. This doesn't apply to alcohol, tobacco, perfume or toilet water.

You won't have to pay any duty if the amount of duty due is less than £7.

Pre-paying the VAT

Some Internet sellers outside the EU have arrangements with the UK whereby you pay them VAT that's due on the goods you're bringing into the UK. It's important that you do things properly or you could end up losing the goods. They will pay it to their postal authority, who then pays it to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). These sellers must be authorised to do this. They'll have a special number that will be on the customs declaration, which should also show 'Import VAT pre-paid'. When this arrangement is used you won't be charged any import VAT or a Royal Mail handling fee when you get your parcel.

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VAT and duty on gifts sent from outside the EU

If someone from outside the EU sends you a gift that isn't alcohol, tobacco, perfume or toilet water, there's no VAT to pay as long as:

  • its value is no more than £36
  • the sender has filled in the customs declaration properly
  • a private person, not a business, sent it to you or your family
  • it's for your own or your family's use
  • it's a proper gift and not something you've bought - you mustn't have paid for it
  • it's an occasional gift like a birthday present

You won't have to pay any duty if the amount of duty due is less than £7. If it's more than £7 you will need to make a payment direct to the carrier.

The sender can't pre-pay any VAT and duty due on a gift.

How to pay import VAT, duty and handling fees

Gifts of perfume or toilet water

If someone sends you perfume or toilet water as a gift then you may have to pay VAT on it, no matter what it's worth. But if it's no more than 50g of perfume or 250ml of toilet water, there's nothing to pay.

Packages containing gifts for more than one person

If one package contains several gifts for different people - perhaps family members - then each gift can be treated separately as long as it's individually:

  • wrapped
  • addressed
  • listed on the customs declaration

If it's treated separately and it meets the other requirements for gifts then there may not be any VAT or duty to pay.

Read more about import VAT on packages with several gifts in them

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Shopping on the Internet

If you're buying from abroad over the Internet it's worth knowing that:

  • Some websites might not make it clear that as well as the price you pay, you may have to pay duty and VAT if you're buying from outside the UK so you end up paying more for your goods.
  • Some websites will offer to show a value on the customs paperwork that's much lower than what you've really paid so you don't have to pay duty and VAT when the goods come into the UK. This is wrong. You need to make sure that the sender completes the customs declaration correctly. If you buy goods and HMRC find the declaration is wrong, you could be fined or even prosecuted - and your goods could be taken away.

Read more about VAT and shopping on the Internet

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How to pay import VAT, duty and handling fees

Generally, if you've received goods through the post you don't pay VAT or duty directly to HMRC. You pay the carrier instead, whether it's Royal Mail or another carrier. You may have to pay them a handling fee too. If you've got any questions about the fee, you should contact the carrier direct.

If it's Royal Mail you can pay in person, by post or online.

Pay a Royal Mail fee online

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Questions about the VAT or duty you've been charged?

If you've got any questions about the VAT or duty you can contact the HMRC office at the postal depot that dealt with it. You'll find their contact details on the charge label attached to your package.

If you don't agree with the charge

You can ask the HMRC office at the postal depot that dealt with your package to review their decision. If you're still not happy, you can ask for a full HMRC review.

Find out how to appeal against the VAT you've been charged on a package

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What to do if you return the goods after you've paid VAT and duty

If you return goods to the sender after you've paid VAT and/or duty you can ask HMRC for a refund. You'll need to claim in writing within three months. Write to the address on your charge label and enclose:

  • the original charge label
  • the customs declaration and the part of the packaging showing your address
  • a certificate of posting to prove you've sent the goods back

If you can't provide all these, HMRC may reject your claim.

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More useful links

Understand why HMRC examines packages from overseas

Read detailed information for international post users

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