It’s always nice to receive mail from home but it can turn a little sour if you’re first presented with a hefty bill by UK Customs. Anything that’s posted or couriered to you from abroad has to go through a customs check here in the UK and you may be required to pay tax or duty on it before it can be released to you.
Charges are complicated and can be confusing, but in brief you will be required to pay VAT (Value Added Tax) on goods sent from outside the EU if they are worth over £15 (over £34 if they’re declared as a gift). The good news is that there is no Customs duty to pay on goods worth under £135.
Better news is that you don’t pay either VAT or Customs Duty when your own things are sent over to you – but they must be described as ‘personal belongings’ on the customs declaration.
If you’re expecting a package from home you will probably first be contacted by Royal Mail, Parcelforce or the courier company who will give details of any VAT, duty or fees outstanding and methods of payment. They will normally hold your parcel for about 3 weeks after which, if you haven’t paid the fee, it will be sent back.
If you feel you’ve been charged too much you can ask for a refund of VAT or Customs duty. To do this you need to download and fill in:
- form BOR 286 if Royal Mail or Parcelforce delivered the goods
- form C285 if a courier or freight company delivered the goods.
So if you’re having something sent to you from the US, please make sure the sender describes the contents of the package in the appropriate way on the customs declaration form. Sometimes senders over declare the of value goods for insurance purposes but this just leads to increased VAT charges at this end so tell them to be conservative in their estimates!
You’ll find more information on this Government website.