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10 Facts about UK Customs Regulations for Gift Givers

Quick Guidelines for Sending or Bringing Gifts into Britain


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Knowing all the facts about UK customs regulations is vital if you are sending or bringing holiday or celebration gifts into the UK. A fine, a levy for duties and taxes or, worse, a confiscated package are probably not tops on your gift giving list. Before you bring or send holiday food products, have a look at the very detailed Personal Import Rules Database. Here are 10 relevant facts that will help you avoid more of the pitfalls.

1. Definition of "gift"

Not as silly as you might think. For purposes of excise duties and VAT, a gift must be sent from one private person to another private person, with a completed customs declaration, for use by the recipient or the recipient's immediate family. So, if you're thinking of letting a shop ship your present to Aunt Felicity in London, the tax man won't consider that a gift. The same is true if you send someone a gift purchased on the internet.
There is one way around this if you like to shop on the Internet and have presents shipped. Use one of the large, international online merchants - like Lands End or Amazon - and shop with your credit (not debit) card on that company's UK website. The shipment then becomes a domestic shipment, with taxes and VAT already included in the price so no additional duties are required. You can tell you're in the right place because the goods will be priced in pounds sterling.

2. Duty free allowance on gifts mailed to the UK

Duty is due on gifts worth more than £135 being sent from outside the EU. Exceptions apply to alcohol, tobacco products, perfume and toilet water for which there are separate duty free allowances. Duty is waived if the total due is less than £9.

3. Rate of duty on gifts mailed to the UK and who pays.

If the value of your gift exceeds the duty free allowance of £135, the recipient pays the duty after the goods arrive in the UK but before they are delivered. Duty is waived if the amount due is less than £9. It's impossible to give a general figure for the rate of duty as, unbelievably, there are 14,000 different classifications of goods with different rates of duty for each based on their country of origin. The average is between 5% and 9% of the value of the goods but it ranges from 0% to as high as 85%.

4. VAT on gifts sent from outside the EU

VAT is due on gifts worth more than £40 per individual mailed from outside the EU. This is a more generous allowance than goods you order from abroad for yourself which are subject to VAT if worth more than £15.

5. Gifts to more than one person can be sent in the same package

As long as each is individually wrapped, addressed and listed on the customs declaration, then each gift can benefit from the Import VAT £40 gift allowance. Similarly, each correctly identified and declared gift benefits from the £135 duty free allowance. So - if you sent five gifts worth £30 each, for five different people in one package, as long as you wrapped them, addressed them and listed them separately on the customs declaration, no tax or VAT would be due on the whole package. If those five gifts were worth more than £40 each but less than £135 each, VAT would be payable on each gift worth more than £40 but customs duty would not be required.

6. Completed customs declarations prevent delays, potential damage and extra costs

Customs and Excise officials regularly spot check packages arriving by post from outside the EU - even during the busy holiday periods. If you don't fill out the customs declaration - that lined bit of green paper glued to your package - they may open your package to inspect what's in it. Even though packages are opened by Royal Mail employees operating under strict guidelines, and even if everything is completely above board, the recipient will be charged a handling fee before the package can be delivered and the present could be damaged.
What if you don't declare banned or restricted goods? Or try to conceal real value on your customs declaration? If you declare banned goods they will be destroyed. But, if you don't declare them and they are discovered, they will be destroyed and you will face a criminal prosecution and potentially hefty fine. So is it going to be your lucky day? Probably not.

7. Cheese and meat products are banned

Surprisingly, this is a question that pops up every year. Visitors from the big dairy producing states in the USA always want to know if they can bring their local cheeses or specialty cured hams to friends in the UK. That's a quick no. All dairy and meat products, fresh or prepared, from outside the EU are forbidden.

8. Counterfeit and pirated goods are regularly confiscated and destroyed

You know that cute little fake Chanel handbag you bought from the street trader outside Penn Station? Maybe your cousin Bianca in Liverpool would love it but if you are mailing it as a gift from outside the EU, there's a good chance it could be found in a spot check, Besides being destroyed, you - or more likely your poor innocent cousin Bianca - could be prosecuted.

9. It pays to read a copy of the rules...

...because some surprising things are banned: fresh chestnuts, for example, though other nuts are not. Potatoes are banned but sweet potatoes and yams are not. And "non-manufactured" bark free wood is banned from outside the EU and restricted to five pieces from within. If you're scratching your head over this, think driftwood and the sort of driftwood and pebble art you can pick up at craft fairs. Sniffer dogs are really good at finding that kind of stuff in the post.

10. Weights and measures really matter

Some items, particularly certain fresh fruits and vegetables, are only allowed into the UK in restricted quantities. Exceed the limit and all the products will be seized and destroyed. So don't think it'll be all right to send 2.5 kilos of apples instead when only 2 kilos are allowed, or the six packets of commercially packaged seeds instead of the allowed 5. Customs officers don't play pick and mix. If you're over the limit, the whole lot get's thrown away.

Find out more about UK Customs Rules and Regulations

Find out how to use the Personal Import Rules Database

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