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There are special rules for charging, collecting, and paying VAT on low value goods which are imported into the UK. It can get a bit complicated, so we’ll explain what’s classed as a low value import for VAT purposes, and what your responsibilities are.

What is a low value goods import?

For VAT purposes this refers to goods imported into the UK with a value of £135 or less. The value is worked out based on the total consignment of goods, rather than the value of separate individual items within it.

Who collects the VAT on low value imports?

The rules for collecting VAT on low value shipments coming into the UK depend on whether the buyer is a business, or a regular consumer. There are different rules for selling through an online marketplace.

  • B2B (business to business) – where businesses sell to other businesses
  • B2C (business to consumer) – where businesses sell directly to the end customer

Low value imports by UK customers (B2C)

B2C imports are where the end customer buys goods from overseas for their own personal use. Under the low value import rules, these customers should pay VAT at the point-of-sale if the shipment’s value is less than £135.

Point-of-sale means exactly that, the point at which the sale is made. This means that the seller is responsible for charging UK VAT on the sale.

Does the seller need to register for UK VAT?

Yes, the seller (or their postal service) must register for UK VAT in order to charge it to the UK customer, and the customs invoice will need to show VAT has been paid so the goods can enter the UK. Sadly, this extra work sometimes means sellers won’t ship to UK consumers.

Watch our introductory video to UK VAT if you need to know more about this, or carry on reading below.

What if the shipment is worth more than £135?

UK customers won’t pay VAT at the point-of-sale if the shipment’s value is worth more than £135. Instead, the customer will pay import VAT and duty at the border as usual.

The seller won’t have to register for UK VAT, and they won’t need to show VAT on the customs invoice. It does mean that the customs invoice must show the shipment’s value is higher than the £135 threshold.

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Low value imports made by UK businesses (B2B)

If the buyer is a UK business, (so it’s one business selling to another, rather than selling directly to a customer who is buying something for personal use), then the seller doesn’t need to charge VAT on the sale as long as:

  • The buyer is a UK business
  • The goods are bought from another business which is overseas
  • You import those goods into the UK
  • The shipment is worth less than £135

How will I pay the VAT?

If your business buys low value goods from a business overseas and you import these goods into the UK, the way that you pay the VAT depends on whether or not you’re VAT registered.

  • VAT registered: Account for the VAT as a reverse charge on your VAT return
  • Not VAT registered: Pay the import VAT at the border

You might also find it useful to learn more about the way VAT registered businesses can account for import VAT using postponed accounting.

VAT on imports bought through an online marketplace

A UK customer buying goods from overseas through an online marketplace (such as Etsy or Amazon) will pay VAT at the point-of-sale. The difference here is that it’s the marketplace which must register for UK VAT, not the individual seller using the platform. This is true whether the goods are for a business (B2B), or for personal use (B2C).

Many online marketplaces have options for sellers to print off customs invoices where goods are being shipped overseas. This will show that VAT has already been paid by the customer, which will help shipments avoid delays at the border. You might be asked to confirm your VAT status by the platform.

Learn more about our online accounting services. Call 020 3355 4047 to talk to the team, and get an instant online quote.

About The Author

Elizabeth Hughes

A content writer specialising in business, finance, software, and beyond. I'm a wordsmith with a penchant for puns and making complex subjects accessible. Learn more about Elizabeth.

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