Ordering goods from abroad

Ordering goods from abroad

VAT, Customs Duty and Excise Duty

When buying or receiving goods from abroad you have a legal duty to check that any VAT, customs duty and/or excise duty has been paid in full. If you don't, your goods could be seized, or you could be fined or prosecuted.

The meaning of abroad depends on where in the UK you will receive the goods:

  • If in England, Wales or Scotland, abroad means anywhere outside the UK.
  • If in Northern Ireland, abroad means anywhere outside the UK and the EU.

Different rules and exemptions apply to each of these taxes and duties and are briefly set out below.


VAT is paid on all goods entering the UK from abroad at a VAT rate of between 0% to 20%, except if the goods are specifically exempt.

The point at which you pay VAT mostly depends on the value of the goods:

You pay VAT to the seller when you pay for the goods if buying them yourself and they're worth £135 or less.

You pay VAT to the courier if the goods are:

  • worth more than £135
  • a gift worth more than £39 that's sent to you
  • excise goods (see below), no matter what their value

When paying VAT to the courier, the value of the goods on which you must pay the VAT is the total package value. This includes the value of the goods, the postage, packaging and insurance costs and any customs or excise duty owed on the goods.

VAT is not charged on goods that are gifts worth £39 or less.

Customs Duty

Customs duty is paid on all goods that are either worth more than £135 or are excise goods.

The value of the goods for calculation of the customs duty includes both the price of the goods and the postage, packaging and insurance costs you paid.

The rate of customs duty depends on the type of goods and their value.

For more information and help, contact HMRC.

Excise Duty

Excise duty is paid on all excise goods, such as alcohol and tobacco, irrespective of the price of the goods or whether you bought them or received them as a gift.

The excise duty rate depends on the type of tobacco product, and the type of alcohol and its strength.

If you return goods to the seller abroad

You will be able to get a refund of VAT and customs charges if you decide to return the goods.

You can contact HMRC to find out how to do this.

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