Christmas Shopping? - Beware of Unexpected Charges


Mitchell Charlesworth's VAT expert, Colin Corder, warns that you should be careful not to be hit by unexpected charges when shopping for Christmas presents this year.

Christmas Shopping

If you are buying your Christmas shopping online this year from non-EU countries or going abroad to do your Christmas shopping, you must make sure that you know how much you can buy before you have to pay import duty or VAT.

At this time of year, many people like to go abroad to buy 'cheaper' Christmas presents or go online to buy gifts at a lower price from non-EU countries. However, the final price that you pay when purchasing the gifts may not necessarily be the price you must actually pay after import duty or VAT is levied.

HMRC has published the following guideline for Christmas shoppers:

  • Arriving in the UK by commercial sea or air transport from a non-EU country, you can bring in up to £390 worth of goods for personal use without paying customs duty or VAT (excluding tobacco and alcohol, which have separate allowances, and fuel). Arriving by other means, including by private plane or boat for pleasure purposes, you can bring in goods up to the value of £270. Above these allowances and up to £630, there is a duty flat rate of 2.5 per cent.
  • Should you buy goods over the internet or by mail order from outside the EU, you will have to pay VAT if the value of the package is over £15.
  • If the goods are over £135 in value, customs duty may also be due, although this will depend on what they are and where they have been sent from. Where, however, the actual amount of duty due is less than £9, this will not be charged.
  • If someone sends you a gift from outside the EU, import VAT will only be due if the package is valued at over £40. To qualify as a gift, the item must be sent from one private individual to another, with no money changing hands.

You should be aware that excise duty is always due on all alcohol and tobacco products purchased online or by mail order.

If you are planning a Christmas party and need to stock up on beers, wines, sprits or tobacco products from across the Channel, then there is no limit on the amount of duty and tax paid goods you can personally bring back from another EU country, provided they are only for your own use.

Customs officials at the UK border crossing may however ask you some questions if you have more than:

- 110 litres of beer,
- 90 litres of wine,
- 10 litres of spirits
- 20 litres of fortified wines,
- 800 cigarettes,
- 200 cigars,
- 400 cigarillos or
- 1kg of tobacco

in order to establish these quantities of goods are genuinely for your own use.

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