Hauling through the Holidays

Tis the season of spending and spending excessively, but when you live in the UK there are limits to what you can order from outside of the EU without running into additional fees. When I see bloggers in North America order huuuge hauls like, I feel like there should be a big warning sign for people in the UK to say, “Do Not Try This At Home!” Seriously, because if you do you may run into Tax and Duty fees that you haven’t budgeted for.


When people say customs fees, they usually mean VAT as VAT is the fee you’re likely to be hit with the most. We pay it on pretty much everything in the UK, but we don’t notice it because it’s always included in the price of the items. Currently VAT is 20%.

For importing purposes, we pay VAT if receiving:

  • a gift worth more than £34
  • goods worth more than £15
  • alcohol, tobacco products and fragrances (eg perfume, eau de toilette and cologne) – of any value

VAT is charged on the total cost of everything! That includes shipping as well as the cost of item and weirdly enough any other fees you have to pay on top.

For your purchase to be considered a gift, it needs to be marked as such on the declaration form, you can’t just claim your purchase is a gift! If your seller is willing to mark your purchase as a gift, you must be warned that doesn’t mean you can order whatever you want because you still have to not only think about the value of the items, but also the total cost and the content of your parcel as any alcohol, tobacco or fragrance will be subject to VAT.

HMRC have a set exchange rate for each month, so you can work out the value of your parcel and estimate the VAT charges.


Customs Fees are simpler to navigate, as long as your purchase is below £135 you won’t be hit with any customs charges. If your purchase total (that is your actual purchase, plus any shipping you pay and any other VAT costs) is higher than £135, but your customs works out as below £7 then the fee is waived.

Shipping and Handling

EMS shipping will incur a £13.50 handling fee from Parcelforce. So you know how you thought you were being smart in paying for the express option? You have to pay even more, and apparently from the experiences of my friends (I’m always too poor to afford EMS) anything other than standard (that includes small packet) ends up being slapped with more fees if the seller hasn’t filled out the declaration correctly. It comes down to, how badly do you want what you’re ordering!

Oh, if you get hit with VAT charges and Royal Mail has to handle it? Well that’s an £8 handling fee for your troubles.

Some retailers like Sephora allow you to pay for all taxes up front, which is good because you know exactly how much your order costs. But not every retailer does this, so you have to be super careful.

Purchasing outside of the EU Checklist

  1. Keep your total purchase below £15 if it won’t be marked as a gift to avoid VAT.
  2. Keep your total purchase below £34 if it will be marked as a gift to avoid VAT.
  3. Keep your total purchase below £135 if you don’t want to pay Customs fees.
  4. Don’t order any alcohol, tobacco or fragrances if you’re not prepared to pay VAT and Excise fees. You must also check they are compliant with current EU health and packaging laws or they will be seized and destroyed.
  5. Only use EMS or other priority shipping if you are willing to pay extra Parcelforce fees and have your package scrutinised by customs.

I’m sure there is stuff I’ve missed, but this is pretty much the guide I use when I’m trying to order online. Hope this helps someone!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. csaur13 says:

    Oh my gosh, I never realised how this stuff *actually* works, thank you for the guide! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. adoredee says:

      Right?! I had no idea we had to be so careful, all I ever see are huge haul posts by US bloggers so I thought it was the same for us. It so is not! I’m glad this is useful! I’m waaaaayyy too broke right now to be dealing with fees I hadn’t planned for so I’m always extra careful! :p


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