Importing and exporting by post

Pay outstanding charges on goods imported by post

Where Customs charges are payable, Royal Mail and Parcelforce levy a handling fee to cover the costs of operating the postal Customs depot, carrying out Customs formalities, paying the import charges on the importer's behalf and collecting it from them. Royal Mail/Parcelforce may also handle the package for Customs examination and, if required, open, repack and reseal the package if information is missing from the declaration.

If you have been sent an item from overseas and Customs charges are due, Royal Mail will hold the item and send you a 'fee to pay' card, letting you know how much you owe. In the case of Parcelforce, a letter will be sent explaining the amount to be paid.

Items that have outstanding Customs charges are kept at the local delivery office for three weeks. If they are not paid for and collected, or if no enquiries are made, they are returned to the sender.

Royal Mail/Parcelforce fees are itemised separately on the charge label and collected at the same time as the Customs charges.

Find more information about Parcelforce Worldwide handling fees or Royal Mail Handling fees.

How can you get your items

There are several options available. You can:

  • Put postage to the correct value on the other side of the 'fee to pay' card and send it back to the Royal Mail.
  • Bring the card to the delivery office (as stated on the 'fee to pay' card), pay the charge and collect the item. Please remember you will need to bring proof of identity.
  • Pay online on the Royal Mail website.

Once you have paid the fee, the item will be delivered along with your post, or you can arrange a delivery online on a convenient date. Alternatively, you may pick it up from the postal depot.

If you are sent a Customs declaration form (C88 or C160), you must complete and return it to the address in the top right hand corner of form C87 'Notice of Arrival' which accompanies the Customs declaration form. Only then will your package can be delivered. You should not send payment with this form unless you are asked to.

Pre-payment of import VAT on goods purchased online

For goods purchased online, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) operates a scheme which allows some authorised overseas traders to charge, collect and pay import VAT on your behalf under a Memorandum of Understanding with that country.

Items that are purchased through this scheme are not subject to a handling fee by Royal Mail/Parcelforce in the UK.

Read more about international shopping on the internet.

If you are a VAT-registered business and purchase goods for use in your business, you should keep the outer wrapper and invoice from the supplier to support your claim to input tax.

Querying Customs charges

If you have any questions about a particular customs charge you should contact the Border Force at the postal depot shown on the charge label as soon as possible using form BOR286.

When you write to the Border Force you should include as much detail as you can, including the customs charge label, the customs declaration and the part of the wrapper with your address on it. If your claim is about overcharged tax because the declared value of the goods was incorrect you will need to supply evidence, for example, an invoice, receipt of purchase etc, to support your claim.

The Border Force deal with thousands of packages every day and without this information they may not be able to trace your particular package in their records. In the event of a claim you should retain copies of all wrappings and documents until your claim is settled.

Repayment of duty and VAT on mail order/internet goods

If you decide to return imported goods to the sender after paying duty and import VAT, you can ask for a refund of the charges.

You will have to make your claim in writing within three months of the date of import to the UKBA at the address shown on the charge label, enclosing:

  • the original charge label
  • the sender's declaration (CN22 or CN23) and outer wrapper showing your address
  • a certificate of posting stamped by Royal Mail confirming the goods have been returned to sender

If you aren't able to provide this information, your claim may be rejected.