Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Expats - Beware sending gifts to the UK

Well, for the first time in 22 years, I sent a small Jiffy envelope with family gifts and my mother has to pay thirty six quid before they will release the package. Import VAT Customs, thank you very much.

Come on, it was Christmas!

Anyway, as a public service, here's the scoop -

According to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs web site, if you're sending packages from outside of the EU, your recipient in the UK can be charged the Import fee thus -

2.4 Gifts

Goods sent as a gift that are over £40* in value are liable to import VAT Customs duty also becomes payable if the value of the goods is over £135 but is waived if the amount of duty calculated is less than £9.
*Please note this limit will reduce to £36 with effect from 1 January 2013.
To qualify as a gift:
  • the customs declaration must be completed correctly
  • the gift must be sent from a private person outside the EU to a private person(s) in this country
  • 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
Note: if you purchase something from outside the EU to give as a gift to a relative or friend, whether or not addressed to that person, it is treated as a ‘commercial consignment’ for which the import VAT relief threshold in paragraph 2.3 applies.
Unfortunately, the mistake I apparently made was not to itemize every single gift in the Jiffy bag, because since none were over the forty pound value threshold, I could have escaped some of the charge. I did have gift tags on each item, which would prove to anyone that they were all intended for different people, but since it wasn't all indicated on the customs declaration (partly because there's not enough space), the entire package is being classed as a gift to my mother. 

Here's the breakdown - 

Goods sent as gifts
Relief given
One item valued at £40* or below
Free of customs duty and import VAT.
One item valued at £44
Import VAT is chargeable on the full value.
Six of the same items valued at £8 each
Five 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 (but will not be collected if the amount of duty is less than £9). Import VAT is chargeable on the full value.
You're welcome!


  1. Ever since re bridesmaid dress I sent to my friend for my wedding got held in customs I have lied about the value of everything I have ever posted! It's madness!

  2. Wow, you live and learn. It makes even more sense now to buy from UK sites and have them send directly to your family.

  3. Geeky - the problem with that is, if you send something that you want to have insured, you more or less blow the whistle on yourself. However, I won't do that again. My husband took it into work to have it sent (never again) and they put my Jiffy bag into a large box and then wrote "Gifts" on the customs label. Bit of a red flag. Grrr..

  4. I've never sent gifts to the UK again after two years ago, when my sister's Christmas presents never arrived but appeared back on our own doorstep in April, looking slightly bedraggled. Not sure if USPS or Royal Mail were to blame, but I just don't trust anything to get there any more.

  5. NVG - Funny because the only problems I have previously ever had were with Fed Ex and DHL, both of whom claimed they couldn't deliver to my mother and/or brother because they didn't have a door number. Given that the employees in the UK are British and know that some houses have names, I knew that was BS, and it turned out that in both cases, the parcels hadn't even made it to the local depots. I got my full shipping fee refunded both times, but what a pain.

  6. I feel for you--the part I caught in your post was that it all made a big drop on 1 January, which is probably not the detail most people would have seen. I know it's exactly the sort of thing I would miss. And yes, having 'gifts' and insurance was probably the problem.

    I still haven't recived a package my mom sent in early December. She is very diligent in her postage labelling and packing and everything and has been doing so for the past 20+ years, but who knows what's held it up? She is of course distraught because she followed the rules and STILL something happened.

    The mysteries of the postal systems.

  7. When my son was living in Japan, the very same thing happened to me. I had to pay over £40 for something that wasn't even worth that.
    You'd have thought that I was trying to import stuff and set up a shop the way Customs went on when I tried to query it.
    Best to down grade the cost of the presents.
    Maggie s

    Nuts in May

  8. Holey Moley, some official is vacay-ing in the Bahamas care of yours truly and others who have sent packages. I don't send stuff - even letters back to NZ now, the postage is a mortgage

  9. My mother sent us a present the other way (UK to US) which I noticed had a list of all the items included. It didn't leave much element of surprise, regarding the Xmas gifts inside! (No idea what she paid though!)

  10. looking slightly bedraggled. Not sure if USPS or Royal Mail were to blame, but I just don't trust anything to get there any more. Loan Against My Watch


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