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"Opinion on customs fees?" Topic

22 Posts

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1,001 hits since 11 Oct 2017
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ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 7:09 a.m. PST

After about 13 years in business (PaperTerrain) I've got a situation I've never faced before. I sent an order to the UK recently and I handled it just like the hundreds (thousands?) of other orders I've sent there. The package was large enough that US postal regulations required me to put a customs form on the envelope stating the contents and their value ($30.00). Yesterday I got an e-mail from the customer stating that he had to pay a fee of about $21.00 USD to get the package from customs. That seems rather outrageous to me, but what do I know about UK customs procedures? Anyway, this fellow is annoyed (understandable) and expects ME to pay the $21.00 USD fee. Somehow I don't think that's fair, either. He seems to blame me for not warning him about the customs fees beforehand. I don't think that's my responsibility. They are the laws of his country, after all, not mine.

I do try to keep my customers happy, but this seems to go above and beyond.


Dynaman878911 Oct 2017 7:15 a.m. PST

HE is the one who has to pay the fee. He doesn't like it he can take it up with the UK government. He should have known about it, everyone I'm in contact with in the UK certainly does, you can tell by the constant grumbling…

Scott MacPhee11 Oct 2017 7:17 a.m. PST

I too have sent many packages to the UK, and in my experience, it seems rather random whether it triggers a customs fee or not.

I would not pay the customs fee if it were me, but I am not relying on customers to keep me in food and shelter.

Did the customer ask for any special handling? Is it just that the US Post Office required a customs form that triggered the UK customs?

Mick in Switzerland11 Oct 2017 7:27 a.m. PST

I suggest that, for the future, you define the prices according to Incoterms 2010 on your price list.

I suspect your prices are already FCA (Free Carrier), even if you do not say that. It means that the goods are packed, addressed, and ready for shipment and that you provide the required documents (e.g. packing list or invoice).

FCA means that the customer is responsible to pay for the shipping and customs duty.

This would stop the argument in the future.

In this case, I think that the buyer is also acting as the importer and is therefore responsible to know if customs duty is due.The importer should have allowed for this in their purchase decision.

(I live in Switzerland, so I have to take care with this. Shipments under about US$ 50 are duty free. If the value is more than US$ 50 including the postage, then the Swiss customs duty is only 8% for the VAT but the Administration fee is US$ 20 per shipment. That stings)



Earl of the North11 Oct 2017 8:01 a.m. PST

As I Brit, I'd say it isn't your responsibility I don't personally buy much of anything from outside of the EU (and that will be down to the UK only soon) because I don't want to be hit by custom fees + Royal Mail charges. If I do its at my own risk and blaming the retailers seems a little strange to me.

dwight shrute11 Oct 2017 8:19 a.m. PST

The £8.55 GBP ish handling charge imposed by the post office is a real pain … seems to happen to everything we buy from the USA :-(

Ironsides11 Oct 2017 8:25 a.m. PST

When I buy outside the EU I expect to have to pay custom duties and the fee they demand for doing the work of asking for the custom duties in the first place. The fun part is the duties might just be 1 usd but the fee 20 usd., and I don't blame the sender, it is part of doing business.

The Wargaming Company11 Oct 2017 8:26 a.m. PST

Custom's fees are an unfortunate part of doing international business. While businesses certainly will lose some sales because of the impact of customs fees on overseas purchases, it is a tax levied by a local government on their citizen, so quite literally it is not the responsibility of the seller.

It is a very good reason to work with regional partners. In the UK we work with Magister Militum who stocks our Napoleonic publications.


GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 8:43 a.m. PST


I'm in the UK and have had to shell out for this just recently. At $30 USD it is over the threshold for import VAT (16 I think) and thus it is his responsibility. If he didn't know that – tough, ignorance of the law is no defence.

Find a way of nicely telling him he's an idiot for buying abroad without checking how it works.

If this is the first time you have come across this then it is probably because your items generally come in an envelope and Customs don't expect them to be worth much.

PaddySinclair11 Oct 2017 9:02 a.m. PST

Yup, entirely on the buyer. He could appeal the fee, if it was printed matter then it shouldn't attract any import VAT for instance.

I've been on the receiving end of "unexpected" customs fees in the past, it's always unpleasant :(

At a former employer, we had a situation whereby we were receiving games development kits from our US based publisher on loan for a project, and someone in the US filled the custom forms out wrong (indicating that they were being imported rather than loaned) and Customs and Excise were holding them ransom until we paid the £20,000.00 GBP import fees… It eventually got sorted but held things up for a while :(

Personal logo Andrew Walters Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 9:33 a.m. PST

Yes, it's the customer's responsibility, but then there's the "customer is always right" idea. The whole thing is pretty egregious.

Can he reject the package, and then you resend it? Maybe it doesn't catch, or maybe you send two packages of smaller value?

Prince Rupert of the Rhine11 Oct 2017 10:04 a.m. PST

yep there is a reason I don't buy outside the UK. Between overseas postage rates, customs fees, VAT charges and the post office charges I just can't be bothered with it. Some nice stuff in the US and elsewhere that I won't ever own unless there is a UK distributor.

As for your case its the customers problem everyone in the UK knows (or should know) about this stuff.

shaun from s and s models Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 11:04 a.m. PST

i have got various things from overseas and have had to pay an import fee on only a few, on some the fee was way higher than it should have been but you win some & you lose some.
i doubt you will be claimed against especialy being in another country.
you could offer a partial refund or a discount on the next order, then he can get stung again!

Vigilant11 Oct 2017 11:15 a.m. PST

Paper terrain doesn't qualify for the relief from VAT as printed matter. It has to be something like a book or magazine where the bulk is written information rather than pictures. Any charge for importation is down to the customer, not the sender. There seems to be no way to predict what will get hit, though if it is going through normal post rather than parcel post my experience is that it will get picked out more often (I suspect that is so that the Post Office can charge their ridiculous add on). I've bought kits from Japan on many an occasion and never paid VAT, whilst everything from the US or Canada has been caught. After 32 years working in Customs and Excise I don't expect logic.

steamingdave4711 Oct 2017 11:41 a.m. PST

Very naive customer IMO. I am in UK, occasionally buy from outside and, on odd occasions have had to pay the VAT plus Royal Mail charge, but I have always ordered knowing it might happen, so have compared prices beforehand to check it is worth it. I sell odd lots on EBAY and always put a disclaimer about it being customer's responsibility to pay any local taxes and duties.

Cornelius Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 12:07 p.m. PST

If you appeal a UK custom fee and win, the fee is refunded but not the Post Office fee – my wife found this out recently.

Personal logo PrivateSnafu Supporting Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 2:12 p.m. PST

So much for free trade. I've ordered from all over the world and have never paid an extra fee to import to the US. I agree with people who say trade deals have not been fair for the US. We are getting screwed.

Nick Bowler11 Oct 2017 2:21 p.m. PST

I have been burnt before myself. The rule is customer pays.

Right now my rules for purchasing by mail are:
- only ever use official mail services (USPS, Royal Mail). Other services have even bigger hidden charges / customs fees.
- only place large orders with US based companies. US postal charges to the rest of the world for a small packet are outrageous. The order needs to be large enough that lower postage charges come into play.
- try to use larger companies that stock many brands. That way I can place a larger order and reduce shipping costs.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 2:34 p.m. PST

Private Snafu

The VAT charged on direct imports is actually at a lower rate than that charged on most sales within the UK so the US sellers are not being screwed. In general US prices for the types of item I buy are not particularly competitive compared to UK products even before taking importation costs into account.
Taxation methods vary a great deal around the world and are designed to suit local requirements more frequently than to discourage international trade – even if they do have that effect sometimes.

Historique11 Oct 2017 2:34 p.m. PST

From the US to the UK, anything over $14.50 USD(ish) will incur and customs fee. I too learned this the hard way (as did my client). Nothing that you can do about it. Just make sure that on your payment terms and conditions that the buyer is responsible for all customs fees that they may incur.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Oct 2017 4:07 p.m. PST


Well, I'm slightly gobsmacked, but happy. The fellow sent me another e-mail before I could even respond to his last one. He said that he'd made some inquiries, discovered what all you folks have been telling me, and apologized! So, all's well that ends well--except he still has to pay. :)

Giles the Zog12 Oct 2017 1:47 a.m. PST

Good to see he has seen sense.

I've shipped goods all over the world, often well above rates that make customs charges kick in and never had such a complaint.

I've also imported goods, and been caught once or twice. I find the [physical] hassle of going to collect and pay for the goods more of a pain than the actual charge itself as I know the rules.

Which leads me on to your customer who should not have been surprised at customs charges being levied, it's been in the UK news outlets in the last couple of years because of the levels charged on Amazon operating out of the Channel Islands (i.e. they were getting away without a lot of taxes!) which put a crimp on some mainland based businesses.

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