Duty CalculationHS CodesImport

Dummies Guide to the International Post Rules – Part 1

By 17th January 2017 No Comments
Dummy Guide To Import Duty

The Government have recently published a comprehensive updated guide for International Post users; whilst very detailed, it is also a lot of information to try and take in with one read. With this in mind, here is our précised version of this very useful document, available in 2 parts in order to make the content easily digestible.

Part One

What is the guide for?

The guide provides comprehensive details for users of the international post service in the UK. It is aimed at items being imported/exported via Royal Mail or Parcelforce Worldwide.
Postal packages coming into the UK from outside the EU

In this case, the sender has to declare the goods using a form CN22 or CN23 which is then stuck to the package. It should show a brief description and value and whether a gift or commercial use. Because the goods are addressed to you, the law views you as the importer. If the declaration is missed or incorrect your goods may get held up in customs or even returned to sender or confiscated.

Will I have to pay import duty and VAT on the goods?

Yes, most goods from outside the EU are subject to Customs Duty, Excise Duty and import VAT unless they are goods below £15 in value (apart from alcohol, tobacco and perfumes) or a gift below £39.


Customs Duty kicks in when goods or gifts are more than £135 in value. A gift is something from one person to another, of no commercial value, not paid for by someone in the UK and that is sent infrequently. Gifts of alcohol, tobacco and perfume below £39 will qualify for import duty and VAT relief subject to the following quantities:

Tobacco – 50
Cigarillos – 25
Cigars – 10
Loose tobacco – 50 grams

Distilled beverages and spirits above 22% by volume; undenatured ethyl alcohol above 80% by volume over 1 litre or distilled beverages/spirits/aperitifs with a wine or alcohol base, tafia, saké or similar 22% by volume or less; sparkling wines/fortified wines – 1 litre

Still wines – 2 litres

When an amount of alcohol/tobacco is above quantity shown above, Customs Duty relief will only be given to the limits shown. Vat will still be charged. Excise Duty is always payable, even on gifts.

Note: Undenatured ethyl alcohol/alcoholic beverages above 24% above are prohibited in international mail.
Customs Duty/Excise Duty is not due on perfumes, although VAT is above £39 for the following amounts:

Perfumes – 50 Gms
Toilet water – 0.25 litres

Note: Perfumes with a flashpoint of less than 60°C is prohibited in international mail.

When gifts are packaged together for one family, the £39 VAT relief applies to each person as long as the goods are wrapped separately and addressed to them and detailed as such on the customs declaration form. If several packages are addressed to just one person, the values will be added together and if over £39 import VAT will be charged and if above £135 Customs Duty may be applied.

Examining packages

Border Force examine all postal packages. They will also check the customs declaration to see whether Customs Duty, Excise Duty or import VAT are due. If they have to open a package, this will be done by Royal Mail under Border Force instruction.

The three types of import charges

Customs Duty – For goods over £135 then Border Force will calculate import duty payable according to the CN22/CN23 customs declaration. This is charged on the cost of the goods including local sales taxes, postage, packing and insurance. The cost of postage will only be excluded if the sender used the Express Mail Service (EMS).

If gifts are valued at under £630 then a duty of 2.5% will be charged.

Excise Duty – this is charged on alcohol and tobacco in addition to Customs Duty according to the volume of alcohol and in some cases, whether they are still or sparking. This is also charged on cigarettes based upon the RRP along with a flat rate per 1000. Other tobaccos are charged at a flat rate per kilo.

Value Added Tax (VAT) – Import VAT is charged at normal UK rate for goods over £15 and gifts over £39. The value of the goods, postage, packing and insurance plus customs and excise duties will be added together and then VAT calculated. The cost of postage will only be excluded if the sender used the Express Mail Service (EMS).

Note: the same rules apply to used goods.

Paying your customs charges

Your postman will provide you with a card detailing amount due and how to pay. You can then collect from the sorting office or if paid online, ask for the package to be delivered. A label stuck on the package will show all of the fees. If it is valued at more than £873 you will need to complete a customs declaration form C88 or C160. You should then send this back to Border Force at the Postal Depot so that they can deliver. Do not send payment with this as you will have to pay later once charges have been calculated.

Prepaying import VAT on goods bought online

HMRC allow some overseas sellers to charge import VAT in advance. The countries involved are the Channel Islands, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. Goods offered for sale online will show ‘Import VAT Prepaid’ so you will not pay a Royal Mail handling fee upon delivery.

If you are VAT registered to buy goods for your business, keep the wrapper and invoice to support your VAT claim.