Mainly Amazon, but also the likes of John Lewis, even Fortnum and Mason and online pharmacies. There was no duty or problems, and most carriers delivered in a matter days. Since Brexit everything has changed, and worst of all, what EU rules that are there seem to just get ignored.

Just to give a personal example. I ordered vitamins from the UK from Healthspan, a popular vitamin and supplement supplier. Taking care to keep to what I believed were ‘the rules’, I kept the order well under €150. About half of the order was delivered with no charges, the other half was returned to the supplier. No explanation. Healthspan returned these undelivered items in single packs. CTT demanded an invoice, which was supplied.

Interestingly they were all posted from the Netherlands, which from memory is still an EU member. Total order value €62.80, well under €150. One of the packs was returned to sender, no explanation given. The others were charged at €97.70 for customs and clearance etc.

Many people have reported similar occurrences. What seems clear is that CTT and customs make up the rules as they go along. Trying to find the regulations is quite a challenge, but The Guardian newspaper in the UK recently reported “Goods ordered from and manufactured in the UK should not attract customs duty, but products ordered from the UK worth more than that €150 and shipped from outside Britain will”.

Direct Transport, a popular transport company who have delivered UK shopping for years, now have on their website: “Thank you for your interest in our online shopping service. Unfortunately, due to regulation changes on imports from the UK, this service has been suspended due to high customs charges”.

New services on the horizon

Algarve Removals told me that the rules are far from clear and they are not aware of the under €150 rule. They did tell me that importing to the UK from the EU is free for goods under 135 Pounds Sterling. Seems remarkably near to €150, so the limit seems to work if you are importing from the EU to the UK, but not the other way around. Algarve Removals did reveal that they plan to shortly announce a new service at a very economic fixed price for delivering small personal purchases from the UK. With the problem of buying small UK items this should prove to be a very popular service. Call Algarve Removals for details. As most companies offer free delivery within the UK, the cost Algarve Removals plan to offer will be competitive with what we have paid to ship from the UK, and no nasty surprises. Expect other shippers to follow with similar offers.

Another person told me that they wanted to give a gift of a chalice to a local Church. The goods were ordered from a UK company, but unknown to this person, they were manufactured and shipped from Italy. Huge customs charges were made. The gift then had to be shipped to Portugal, and again charged substantial customs duties, for goods that originated in Italy. Appeals to either customs authority were ignored.

DECO said they did not know about this free of charge import rule, but sent information about the rules on VAT. Purchases of a value of less than €22 are exempt from VAT.

Sometimes faced with unpleasant surprises - EU

New VAT rules were implemented on 1 July. On the EU website you will find this statement. “E-commerce - buying and selling of goods and services online - has seen a huge increase in recent years and is only set to continue growing. There are many obvious benefits for consumers, but sometimes consumers can be faced with unpleasant surprises, for example when buying goods from outside the EU and need to pay taxes or charges at importation”.

It goes on to say: “Due to lack of transparency, you, as the consumer, were sometimes faced with surprise costs or charges to be paid at customs on imported goods. Since 1 July 2021 though, the price you pay can be the final price, with no further calls at importation for VAT or other charges. This is only when you buy goods from a seller or an electronic interface registered in the IOSS.”

What becomes clear is that the EU is well aware of the problem and is passing legislation to try to ensure each EU country follows the same rules and makes the same import and VAT charges for imports from outside the EU. However, the general opinion from both shipping and transport professionals and readers is that CTT are making up the rules as they go along. There is no clarity and no certainty what you may, or may not, be charged if you buy online from the UK (which many of our readers do).

Don’t buy from the UK?

One argument is that we should find what we need within the EU and not import. As a firm believer in free choice that’s not an argument I can support. There are some products that are only available in the UK or they are products we have found meets our needs. Several people have reported that they get medication from the UK which is free of charge from the NHS, but in one case, costs over €3,000 in Portugal. What we all need is clarity. We need to know what it will cost to buy from the UK, then we can make an informed decision.