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Shoppers warned to know their limits at Christmas

Shoppers warned to know their limits at Christmas

Category: Money

Updated: 07/11/2013
First Published: 07/11/2013

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This article was correct at the time of publication. It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

With the Christmas shopping season about to hit full swing, a lot of consumers will head abroad, either literally or online, in order to track down some festive bargains. But, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has warned bargain-hunters to be on the lookout for unexpected charges that could add to the bill.

Those heading abroad or buying online from non-EU countries might find themselves subject to paying customs duty or import VAT if they're not careful, with strict limits being in place as to the type, value and quantities of goods brought back into the UK

Those cheaper prices might not be so cheap if you've got a hefty VAT bill to pay, so make sure to know your limits before you make your purchases:

  • If you're buying goods online from a non-EU country, you'll have to pay VAT on the full value if the package is worth over £15 (the only exception is if you're being sent something as a gift, i.e. where no money changed hands between private individuals, in which case the value of the package can be up to £36 before VAT is applied).
  • If the goods are above £135 in value you might have to pay customs duty as well, with the amount depending on what they are and where they came from. However, if the amount of duty due is less than £9, you won't be charged.
  • Excise duty is always due on all tobacco or alcohol products bought online, regardless of the value or where from.
  • If you're travelling to a non-EU country and will be arriving back in the UK via commercial sea or air transport, you can bring up to £390 worth of goods for personal use without being subject to VAT or customs duty (excluding alcohol or tobacco products which are subject to strict allowances – details can be found online). Any item (or combination of) worth above the £390 duty-free limit will be subject to duty and/or tax.
  • If you're hopping across the Channel to replenish your Christmas drinks cabinet, you'll be pleased to hear that there's no limit on the amount of duty and tax-paid goods that can be brought back from an EU country, as long as they're for your own use (within reason – you'll probably be asked questions at the border if your quantities seem excessive).

Shoppers should always be aware of the limits unless they want to be hit by an unexpected bill. Head of customs policy at HMRC, Angela Shephard, has this message for consumers:

"We know that many people like to go abroad at this time to buy their Christmas gifts, or buy online from non-EU countries, and think that the 'cheaper' price they see is always the price they finally pay.

"This is a reminder to everyone about how much they can actually bring back from abroad or buy from an online seller without having to pay customs duty or import VAT."

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