Do I have to pay import duty or VAT when I ship a computer to the UK?

A relative of mine wants to send a laptop (Asus Eee PC 2G Surf – Intel Mobile CPU, 802.11b/g Wireless, 512MB DDR2, 2GB SSD, 7? WVGA, Linux) to a friend in the UK (I believe the town is East Bolden). I have been trying to help my relative by researching VAT, duty, etc, and am hopelessly confused. How do I find out what all the fees will be? Come to think of it, is it wiser for my relative to buy the computer in the US, and send it out, or should she send the money to the friend and let them buy it locally?


I got this question from Dana who runs a Wonderful and Wacky Weblog, asking about what sort of import duties and/or tax would be likely when something is shipped to the UK. Now, first of all, I’d just like to point out that I’m not an expert in this subject, but I have occasionally shipped items around, so I can give a few pointers.

  • Import Duty: As far as I’m aware, there is no import duty on computers even if they do originate from outside the EU. I stand to be corrected on this one, so if anyone knows otherwise, please leave a comment.
  • VAT: One thing you WILL be liable for is VAT at 17.5% on the cost of the item being shipped. I don’t know if you can avoid this on the basis that the computer is a gift and therefore the UK party is not purchasing it; this might be worth investigating.
  • U.S. Sales Tax: One thing you should be able to do is reclaim any Sales Tax you pay on the item you are purchasing. As far as I’m aware, Sales Tax is payable if you are shipping the item to the state where the business is run, but as this is out of the U.S. you may be able to avoid it.

I do suspect that if you can get a grip of the points above, you might be able to get a cheaper deal if you send the maching from the U.S. The dollar is particularly weak at the moment, especially with all the mortgage lenders woes at the moment, so it will cost you quite a bit to send money to the UK and buy the computer locally. Do keep in mind you need to budget for freight and insurance as you send the item across.

One thing to keep in mind is that buying your computer from the UK means you get a local warranty and support for the machine if anything goes wrong. It’s an important intangible factor to keep in mind when buying a computer, as sometimes the peace of mind is worth more than any potential savings you might have.

As I said, I’m not an expert, but hopefully these points will help you. Please keep us posted on how it pans out.

3 thoughts on “Do I have to pay import duty or VAT when I ship a computer to the UK?”

  1. One other small thing to consider in such cases is whether the laptop’s power supply (auto)switches to 240 volts (as they use ~120 over there). It is quite likely that one bought over in Europe would switch to USA volts happily, but I’ve no experience with American-market laptops, so make sure you’re not going to get a smoking PSU or worse 🙂

  2. @ChrisM: That’s actually a pretty valid point. I’m pretty sure most of them will switch, but something as simple as your plug being the wrong type can be a pain in the neck.

  3. @ Owen, thanks so much for your help. Based on your post, we went to Amazon.co.uk and picked out a Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop. Even though I think a warranty is crucial, I didn’t even consider it till you mentioned it. Thanks so much for all your help, it is truly and deeply appreciated.

    @ChrisM: I am glad you mentioned the voltage aspect because many people aren’t aware of it. Thanks for your comment.

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