Tax on goods ordered from or bought abroad

If you order goods from abroad for your own personal use, including over the internet, or buy them abroad and send them to the UK, Customs Duty, Excise Duty and/or import VAT may be due.

On this page:

Customs Duty, Excise Duty and import VAT: basics

If you're ordering goods from abroad, or buying and sending to the UK goods from abroad for personal use, you may have to pay Customs Duty, Excise Duty or import VAT. What's due, if anything, depends on the type of goods and where they come from. See below for what applies in different circumstances.

Note that this guide only deals with goods bought for personal use. If you're buying goods for commercial purposes the rules are different. See link below.

Find out about tax and duty on commercial imports on GOV.UK website (Opens new window)

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Tax and duty on goods bought from within the EU

Alcohol and tobacco

  • there is no Customs Duty payable
  • there is no import VAT payable, unless the goods are purchased or sent from a European Union (EU) 'Special Territory' - see below
  • UK Excise Duty must have been paid regardless of the quantity and even if the goods are a gift

It is the responsibility of the person that you're buying the goods from to ensure that UK Excise Duty is paid before they send you the goods. You should therefore expect the price you pay to reflect the payment of UK duty. If the price is very low, UK duty has probably not been paid.

If the person you're buying the goods from does not pay UK Excise Duty before they send them to you, the goods can be seized by customs on arrival in the UK and you may not be able to get a refund on their value. It's therefore a good idea to check with them whether Excise Duty has been paid.

In addition, cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco must bear UK health warnings and fiscal marks, and containers of spirits that are larger than 35cl must bear a UK duty stamp.

All other goods

If you're ordering or sending purchased goods (other than alcohol and tobacco) to the UK from another EU country then it's just like shopping in the UK:

  • there is no Customs Duty payable
  • there is no import VAT payable, unless you're ordering or sending purchased goods from one of the EU 'Special Territories' and if the value of the goods is £15 or more, however from 1 April 2012 all merchandise sent to the UK from the Channel Islands is subject to VAT - see below
  • there is no Excise Duty to pay

EU 'Special Territories'

The EU 'Special Territories' are The Aland Islands (Finland), The Canary Islands (Spain), The Channel Islands (UK)*, The French Overseas Departments of Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique and Reunion and Mount Athos also known as Agion Poros (Greece).

Read about which countries are in the EU in A guide for international post users Notice 143

Customs Duty, Excise Duty and import VAT: introduction

*From 1 April 2012, all mail order goods sent to the UK from the Channel Islands is subject to VAT at import.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) operates a scheme with the Channel Islands for the prepayment of import VAT, and all mail order businesses based in the Channel Islands are entitled to apply to join. Goods sent this way do not incur further customs charges in the UK, and do not incur the Royal Mail/Parcelforce handling fee.

If exporters choose not to send goods using this facility, they will be subject to the customs charging process in the UK, which will inevitably mean a longer processing time before they are delivered to the customer. Items sent outside this scheme will also be subject to the Royal Mail/Parcelforce handling fee.

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Tax on goods bought from a non-EU country

If you're ordering or sending goods from a non-EU country to the UK, you may have to pay Customs Duty, Excise Duty and import VAT.

Please note that where the guidance below refers to 'purchased goods' it makes no difference if the goods are new or used, for example goods bought on an auction site. And it doesn't matter if you buy them for yourself or to sell on.

Alcohol and tobacco

If you order purchase goods of alcohol or tobacco you have to pay:

  • Excise Duty on the whole consignment
  • Customs Duty on the whole consignment
  • import VAT on the whole consignment

Cigarettes and hand rolling tobacco must bear the appropriate and recognised health warnings and fiscal marks and containers of spirits that are larger than 35cl must bear a legal duty stamp.

Perfume and toilet water

If you order or purchase perfume or toilet water in person or over the internet from a country outside the EU then you have to pay:

  • Excise Duty on the whole consignment
  • Customs Duty on the whole consignment
  • import VAT on the whole consignment

All other goods

If you order or purchase goods other than alcohol, tobacco, perfume and toilet water from a country outside the EU then you have to pay:

  • Customs Duty on goods with a value that exceeds £135
  • import VAT on goods with a value that exceeds £15

Note that on all goods from outside the EU, Customs Duty is waived if the amount of duty calculated is £9 or under.

Customs Duty, Excise Duty and import VAT: introduction

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Gifts sent from outside the EU

If you're receiving a gift from outside the EU, then you have to pay:

  • Excise Duty on any alcohol or tobacco products
  • Customs Duty and import VAT is payable if the value of the gift exceeds £36

To qualify as a gift:

  • it must have been sent from a private person outside the EU to a private person(s) in the UK
  • the Customs Declaration must be completed correctly – see guidance on the customs procedures for goods posted to the UK link below
  • it must be for the personal use of either you or your family
  • there must be no commercial transaction or trade element involved and it must not have been paid for by the recipient either directly or indirectly
  • it must be of an occasional nature only - for example for a birthday or anniversary
  • if it includes tobacco products, alcohols and alcohol beverages, perfume or toilet water, then it must be within the permitted allowances – follow the link below ‘Travelling to the UK.. If the allowances are exceeded then charges apply on the excess

Travelling to the UK (PDF 425K) (Opens new window)

Customs procedures for goods posted to the UK

Gifts ordered over the internet - UK tax and duty still due

Ordering and paying for goods over the internet to be sent to someone other than you, doesn't count as a gift - this is considered a commercial transaction. The recipient will be liable to UK duty and tax.

Buying from abroad on the internet - what to look out for

Packages with gifts for more than one person

If one package contains several gifts for different people, perhaps for different family members, then each gift can benefit from the £36 gift allowance in its own right if it is imported separately and has also been individually:

  • wrapped
  • addressed to a recipient
  • listed on the Customs Declaration

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Who pays the tax and/or duty and when

Excise Duty

If you're ordering or buying alcohol and/or tobacco from an EU country, Excise Duty must have been paid by the seller or sender before the goods are sent otherwise they can be seized by customs on arrival in the UK. Payment is made using the 'distance selling' procedures - see commercial importers and tax representatives: EU trade in duty-paid excise goods in Notice 204B.

If you're ordering or buying alcohol and/or tobacco from a non-EU country, Excise Duty must be paid by the recipient once the goods have arrived in the UK but before the goods are delivered.

Customs Duty

If you're ordering or buying goods from outside the EU, any Customs Duty must be paid by the recipient once the goods have arrived in the UK but before the goods are delivered.

Import VAT

If you're ordering or buying goods from outside the EU, import VAT must be paid by the recipient once the goods have arrived in the UK but before the goods are delivered.

In addition, there may be a handling fee to pay to the carrier. Follow the link below to find out more.

Goods posted outside the EU: tax payments, queries or refunds

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Banned or restricted goods

There are certain goods that you are not allowed to send or have sent to the UK under any circumstances, and some goods are restricted. This is to protect the UK from crime, pests and diseases.

Read more about banned or restricted goods

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Getting more help and advice

If you need more information about ordering or buying goods abroad to post to the UK, you can contact the VAT Helpline or the Customs, International Trade & Excise enquiries.

Contact details for the VAT Helpline

Contact details for the Customs, International Trade & Excise enquiries

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More useful links

Sending personal goods back to the UK from abroad

Read about Commercial importers and tax representatives: EU trade in duty-paid excise goods in Notice 204B

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