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€30 customs/VAT fee for US gift sent to me in France: What can I do?

If the package is clearly marked as a present and is worth less than €45 no import VAT and customs duties should be applied to it

A reader asks why they were charged a €30 VAT/customs duty fee for a low-value gift sent to them from the US Pic: giggsy25 / Shutterstock

Reader Question: I’m an American and I’ve been living in France for the past 20 years.  My parents have always sent us packages, valued under $50 and labelled as a ‘gift’, and I’ve never been required to pay a customs fee. 

Today I picked up a package at La Poste and had to pay a €30 fee. Same type of package! No one was able to explain why. Do you know more?

Parcels containing gifts, sent from outside the EU and costing less than €45 should not incur any French import VAT or customs duties. 

This means that when filling in customs forms for this type of parcel the sender must give a clear indication that it is a present – as your parents did – the nature of the item, and that it is worth less than the charge threshold.

If an item is worth more than €45, an additional 20% VAT charge will probably apply [to the whole amount], plus duties at around 0-22% depending on the category of item.

In addition, where La Poste, or another delivery service, incurs costs in advancing VAT/duties at the border, they often bill the recipient an admin fee as well as reimbursement of the taxes they paid.

However, if the gift your parents sent was worth less than €45 and this was clearly marked on the package, it would appear that La Poste has made an error. 

Taxes and fees being mistakenly applied due to new EU rule

A spokesperson for France’s customs service has previously told The Connexion that taxes and fees may mistakenly be being applied to parcels because of new EU rules which came into force on July 1, 2021, which removed a VAT exemption on all commercial items coming from outside the EU valued under €20. This does not apply to low-value gifts.

This means that most parcels do now come with extra charges and so this becomes the default procedure. Charges will be applied accidentally to some gifts if the postal service fails to correctly declare their nature to the Douanes, the customs service said. 

The Douanes added that there can also be situations where customs officers check an item and are not convinced by the declared value (especially where the apparent value is blatantly different from that claimed), but in this case you would usually hear from them, rather than being billed fees by La Poste.

We have heard from several readers – especially those receiving gifts from the UK since it left the EU – about similar incidents over the past year 

Read more: ‘How I got €37 postage fee refunded for £3.50 book delivery to France’

What to do now and how to get a receipt

If you believe you have been wrongly charged, you can contact the La Poste helpline on 3631. It is also possible to contact Douanes Info Service on 0800 94 40 40, although La Poste should be your first port of call.

If you are asked to pay fees on a parcel delivered from abroad, you can also request a receipt for the charges by logging your details on this page, or perhaps asking your postman/woman to do it for you.

Obtaining this facture should help you claim back any erroneous taxes or processing fees. It may also be useful to keep the packaging in which the gift was sent.

Related articles 

High tax and customs fees on gifts sent to France from outside EU

Post-Brexit tax rules recap: How to send gifts between UK and France

La Poste claims improvement to custom charge issue for foreign parcels

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