Thursday, June 26, 2014

Buying from Home and Abroad

If you’re in the UK/EU, buying from other countries can be a minefield. What starts out looking like a great bargain, can sometimes end up being more costly than purchasing the item in your own country. I have seen lots of comments on Facebook and Etsy about how people have been caught out by these charges, or by sellers upset as buyers thought their purchase included customs fees.  So living in the UK/EU myself, I thought I’d use my post today to discuss what to expect and what they mean for you as a seller and a buyer. I am writing from a UK point of view, but I hope this will be helpful to all countries to find out how we do things over here and what questions could arise from buyers in the EU.

The EU have trade agreements in place between each of it’s member countries. The countries are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The agreements mean that all goods within these countries are classed as freely available and aren’t subject to additional charges.

Depending on your purchase, buying from countries outside the EU means your parcel could be liable for fees and charges by HM Revenue & Customs and the shipping handler in your country. 

The current threshold for items imported into the UK is £15 (about $25) including the postal charge and for items sent as a gift the limit is £36 ($60) 

When you place an order over this value, it will be held in customs until any fees are settled. This is where it gets complicated, and potentially expensive, but if you shop smart, you can work out how to make the most of your orders.

As an example… if you order an item from the US to be sent to the UK with a value of £100 (about $170) with a shipping cost of £20 ($34) Customs will value this purchase at £120 ($203) There is a charge of 20% Import VAT - £24.00, and an additional charge of £8 ($13.50) as a clearance fee (If using Parcelforce or Royal Mail, charges vary depending on carriers, so check with the seller before you purchase). Your total imported cost will be £152. 

If your item is over £135 ($230) you are liable for duty charges as well. The duty is different for each item, for example, glass beads have a 7% rate. So an order of £140 ($240) with a shipping cost of £20 ($34) will be valued at £160 ($274) by customs. VAT will cost an extra £34.24 ($58), plus the handling rate of £8 ($13.50) and a duty charge of 7% - £11.20 ($19). This means that your original £140 order will come to a total of £213.44 ($364). That’s quite a chunk added on to your bargain!

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It is the buyers responsibility to pay any charges for their country, and it’s a good idea as a seller to put this in your terms and conditions. This can easily solve any disputes that may arise. 

Although it can sound daunting to purchase from outside the EU, don't let this put you off. You need to consider that you will be paying more for your goods, but there are some beautiful and original beads & components available from foreign sellers, and buying items from countries outside the EU is a simple process. 

You shop as you would anywhere else and the seller will wrap your parcel and attach a customs declaration to the front of the package. This labels the item with the contents, value, weight, date and sellers signature to confirm all the details are correct. On arrival in the UK, it will usually be dealt with by Royal Mail or Parcelforce. They organise all the details and pay fees on your behalf and will write to you when the item has cleared customs with details of how much duty you owe. You simply pay your fees online and your purchase will be delivered to your address. 

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Here comes the postie with beads!!!

I hope this has helped to clear up any confusion about buying abroad, and also explained our crazy rules for buying and selling! 



  1. Great explanation that both buyers and sellers need to be aware of - thanks Caroline.

  2. Wow. Thank you so much for this informative article! I really have no idea. I would love to have more international buyers, and have loved the ones that I have had. I will be bookmarking this to reference again. Enjoy the day! Erin

  3. Holy crap! That's a lot of fees! What a shame. The threshold is so low as to be meaningless when you have to include shipping. I have never had to pay any kind of duty or VAT when I buy overseas, and I've bought a lot of beads from overseas sellers. Granted, I didn't spend a fortune, but apparently our import scenario here in the US is pretty liberal, comparatively.

  4. Now I am glad that I am in the US because I do tend to purchase a lot of beads from overseas. I haven't gotten nailed for custom charges on this end yet.

  5. It's always spending 5 minutes doing the maths on this issue! Sometimes I have found splitting orders up and paying 2 or 3 lots of shipping and keeping it under the threshold limit is actually more beneficial than buying in 1 go and having to pay the fees and charges! Daft isn't it?!


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