Several readers have written to The Connexion regarding unexpected levies of VAT or customs duties on parcels sent between the UK and France.
One reader stated, for example, that she sent a gift valued at under €50 from France to the UK, believing that ‘customs was included’ in her postage charge but that the recipient in the UK had to pay a €20 customs fee on receipt.
Another reader in France told us of having to pay €19 to collect a parcel containing a “small packet of cards”, purchased from the UK.
Here we recap the rules, especially in view of the festive season ahead when more families are likely to be using parcel post.
Firstly, as of January 1, with the UK having fully left the EU, new rules came into force. In addition, since July 1, a previous VAT exemption for low-value items bought from outside the EU (so including the UK) and sent to France also no longer applies.
Note that VAT, and in some cases customs duties, may be payable on items bought from the UK and sent to France (or vice versa) but there should be no VAT or customs duty applicable in either direction for low-value gifts (up to £39 for the UK; €45 for France).
Sending a gift to the UK
The key point for sending gifts to the UK is to ensure that you complete the correct customs paperwork, including the value of the item being sent, and state clearly that it is a gift.
The paperwork required can be printed off on the website of La Poste if using its Colissimo service. This can save time and give extra convenience, as opposed to completing all the papers at the post office, which usually involves inputting information into a self-service machine.
The postage to the UK, or other non-EU country, will not in itself include any charges for VAT or customs duties.
As long as the gift is correctly marked as such, it should not incur any charges in the UK if it is valued at £39 or less (around €46). The UK states this applies where there is no trade/commercial element (ie. no one in the UK paid for it and it is not for resale) and it is an ‘occasional’ gift, such as for a birthday.
Above this, then UK VAT (usually 20%) is applied on the whole value of the gift. Customs duties may be payable on goods valued above £135 (around €159).
The UK/EU trade and cooperation agreement states that items made wholly or mostly in the EU should not incur customs duties, which are an additional levy that may be applied on top of VAT and are variable depending on the nature of the goods.
However where this is not shown to be the case, then customs duties may also be levied on the whole value of the goods and they will be payable by the recipient in the UK.
Sending a gift to France
Similar rules apply in the other direction, if a gift is being sent to France from the UK.
In this case, gifts valued no more than €45 are free of any VAT or duty. The sender will have to give the value when completing the paperwork; it is possible customs officials in France could choose to open it to check the value given is plausible.
There are examples of French customs duties at this website.
If you have to pay VAT or customs duty in France on an item from the UK, then you can do this online while waiting for the delivery or pay when you collect your parcel or have it delivered by the post worker, in which case some additional service costs may apply.
You should remember that in both directions, it is banned to send certain kinds of goods, such as meat and dairy products to France (the same rules apply as if bringing items with you in person), and that in both directions there are specific limits by quantity on items such as tobacco, alcohol and perfume before taxes apply.
The latter are different for posting as opposed to when you bring the items with you in person. Also, note that the UK states in its import rules that one specific tax, excise duty, is payable on alcohol, regardless of the amount and even if it is a gift.