Importing and exporting by post

Calculating Customs charges when importing by post

Most goods arriving in the UK from outside the European Union (EU) are liable to import VAT and Customs duty if certain limits are exceeded. Some goods are also liable for excise duty. Any charges due must be paid whether the goods:

  • were purchased or received as a gift
  • are new or used
  • are for private use or sale

Charges are raised by Customs staff at the postal depots where the packages are received.

Import charges will depend on the type of goods imported and their value, which is stated on the Customs declaration form CN22 or CN23. Goods are not chargeable if the total value of goods in the consignment does not exceed £15*. Goods over £15 are liable for VAT.

*Please note that all mail order goods/merchandise sent to the UK from the Channel Islands is liable to VAT at import.

There is a different rate for imported personal gifts, which is £39. Gifts above £39 will attract VAT, and if the value is above £135, according to their type, Customs duty and/or excise duty may be due. For goods to qualify as a gift they must be sent between two private individuals, for example as a birthday present. An item bought online to give to someone else as a present is not considered to be a gift for Customs purposes.

Goods sent to the UK from the Channel Islands

All mail order goods/merchandise sent to the UK from the Channel Islands are subject to VAT at import.

However, this change does not affect any other Customs thresholds or reliefs.

Customs duty

Customs duty is payable on imported goods with a value over £135 although payment is waived if the amount of duty is less than £7. This is usually charged as a percentage of the value. The percentage varies depending on the type of goods and their country of origin. Duty is charged on the price paid for the goods, including any local sales taxes plus postage, packing and insurance costs. However, postage is excluded from the calculation for duty on gifts sent by post except for goods sent by Express Mail Service.

Where the value of gifts is below £630 per consignment, a flat rate of duty of 2.5 per cent will be applied - but only if it is to your advantage.

Excise duty

This is charged on alcohol and tobacco products and is additional to Customs duty and VAT. The excise duty rate on wines and spirits depends on the alcohol content and whether wine is sparkling or still. Duty on cigarettes is based on a percentage of the recommended retail selling price as well as a quantity charge. On other tobacco products, such as cigars or hand rolling tobacco, it is charged on the net weight.


Import VAT is charged at the same rate that applies to similar goods sold in the UK and applies to all goods over £15, and all goods sent to the UK from the Channel Islands. If the goods are gifts however, the limit is raised to £39.

The calculation for import VAT is based on the price paid for the goods, including any local sales taxes, plus postage, packing and insurance costs, plus any import duties charged.

Used goods and antiques

Any goods which have been purchased are considered a commercial transaction and are therefore subject to import duty/VAT. However, rates of duty and VAT do vary on antiques.

Exchange rates

The rate of exchange from Euros to pounds sterling is set annually by the EU Commission. These rates are published in the European Commission Journal on the first working day in October, to take effect from 1 January the following year.