Customs procedures for goods posted to the UK

Goods posted to the UK from abroad for personal use are checked by customs officials for any banned or restricted goods. In addition, the Customs Declaration on goods arriving from outside the European Union (EU) is checked to work out how much tax and/or duty is payable.

On this page:

When goods arrive in the UK from abroad

When parcels arrive in the UK from abroad, they are checked by customs officials.

Customs checks on parcels from the EU

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) carries out selective checks on parcels from the EU to check that no prohibited goods such as illegal drugs, indecent or obscene material, offensive weapons etc are received in the UK. Find out what goods are banned or restricted by following the link at the end of the next section.

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

Customs checks on parcels from outside the EU

Customs officers examine packages arriving in the UK from outside the EU in order to:

  • check for prohibited or restricted goods - such as illicit drugs and meat and dairy products
  • confirm that the description and value stated on the Customs Declaration is correct - see next section
  • check the Customs Declaration to determine if Customs Duty, Excise Duty and/or Import VAT is chargeable

Customs officers sometimes need to examine the contents of a package - particularly when the sender has not completed the declaration fully. In such cases the opening, repacking and resealing of the package is carried out, under UKBA instruction, by Royal Mail staff.

The cost of these checks is often passed on in the form of a handling fee, payable on delivery of the parcel along with any tax and/or duty. See the section 'Delivery of goods'.

Banned or restricted goods

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Completing a Customs Declaration

All goods arriving in the UK from outside the EU by post must have a Customs Declaration fixed to the package. The declaration, completed by the sender, should be one of the following:

  • a CN22 - for goods and gifts up to £270
  • a CN23 - for goods and gifts over £270
  • a Parcelforce Worldwide Despatch pack (incorporating a CN23)

You can get the above from any Post Office in the UK or abroad.

The declaration should include:

  • a description of the goods
  • their value
  • whether they are gifts, commercial or personal items

Read about Customs Declaration information on the Royal Mail website (Opens new window)

Who is responsible for the information on the declaration?

If you are ordering or sending any goods from abroad, you - as the importer of goods - are legally responsible for the information on the Customs Declaration and for any charges due.

If you're ordering goods remotely, for example over the Internet or by mail order, it is in your own interest to make sure that the sender abroad makes a complete and accurate declaration.

If you're sending goods from abroad to the UK, then the recipient is legally responsible for the information on the Customs Declaration.

If no declaration is made, or the information is inaccurate, the package may be delayed whilst the UKBA makes further enquiries, and in some cases, the package and its contents may be seized.

What to do if you have something seized by Customs

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Goods from outside the EU - what happens before delivery

If the value of the goods is £2,000 or less

Customs officers work out the amount of any tax and/or duty payable by the information shown on the CN22 or CN23. The parcel is then passed to Royal Mail/Parcelforce who pay any tax and/or duty on behalf of the recipient.

If the value of the goods exceeds £2,000

As the recipient, you'll be sent a customs form C88 'Single Administrative Document' to complete and return to the postal depot before your package can be delivered. Once this is received, the amount of tax/duty to pay is worked out and then the package is passed to Royal Mail/Parcelforce who pay any tax and/or duty on your behalf.

For information on how to complete form C88, see link below.

Read about Trade imports by post: how to complete customs documents in Notice 144

Receiving personal goods

If you're receiving personal items belonging to you, you'll be asked on delivery to complete form C3 'Bringing your personal belongings to the United Kingdom from outside the European Union' - to confirm that you are the owner of the goods.

Sending personal goods back to the UK from abroad

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How to pay tax and/or duty to Royal Mail/Parcelforce

Once your parcel has been cleared through customs, Royal Mail/Parcelforce will let you know in writing that you have a parcel for delivery, how much you'll need to pay and the methods of payment.

You can find out more about how you pay tax and/or duty, any handling fee and how to query a customs charge in the guide below.

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

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Getting more help and advice

If you need more information about customs procedures for goods posted to the UK, you can contact the Customs, International Trade & Excise enquiries.

Contact details for Customs, International Trade & Excise enquiries

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More useful links

Customs Duty, Excise Duty and Import VAT: introduction

Tax on goods ordered from or bought abroad

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

Tax on personal items when moving to the UK

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