Christmas shoppers and buying from overseas

With less than a hundred days to go until Christmas, HMRC is urging shoppers to ensure they don’t get caught out by unexpected charges when buying from overseas traders.

Changes introduced on 1 January 2021 mean that some UK consumers buying presents for family and friends from EU businesses may now need to pay customs charges when their goods are delivered.

In the same way that consumers have previously had to pay charges when buying certain items from non-EU sellers, the same rules now also apply to goods being bought from the EU.

How the rules are applied

Shoppers buying stocking fillers or small items don’t need to worry about the changes. Only those buying excise goods - tobacco or alcohol - or ordering luxury items or presents in consignments worth more than £135, before discounts are applied, should be affected.

VAT will still apply on purchases made in consignments worth less than £135 but should be charged by the seller at the point of sale.

But anyone buying a more expensive product from abroad may need to pay import VAT, customs duty and/or excise duty when they receive their order. The amount due will depend on a range of factors, so to avoid surprises consumers should check with their seller to ensure they don’t end up over budget this holiday season.

Help and support

HMRC have provided the following diagrams to explain some example scenarios when buying from the EU:

  • Example 1 - buying wine produced in France and New Zealand from a website based in France
  • Example 2 – buying a coat made in China from an Italian seller
  • Example 3 – buying a phone cover from a German seller

You can also find out more about the new rules on GOV.UK, together with information on what may be required when sending or receiving items from friends and family living abroad.


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