One of the many reminders that you're living in a different country than your family and oldest friends is when they send you gifts and they wind up being held in a warehouse somewhere instead of on your doorstep. I'd certainly developed a (not entirely positive) relationship with the Zollamt while in Germany, but for some reason it still came as a surprise to me when the gift D ordered for me from the US came to a grinding halt in customs after crossing the ocean. Oh...that's an import? Boo.
I know what the present is (FLUEVOGS!) so I was tracking it a little obsessively when it ended up in customs. After a day and no movement I googled how long this usually takes, and the answers were given in weeks! Nooo.... but when we came home last night after a couple of days in Germany, there it was on the floor inside the door: a letter from an entity called Parcelforce.
Parcelforce pays the customs duties and taxes on your behalf, then mails you a request to pay them back plus another fee. After they receive payment, they'll deliver your package on the day of your choosing. (That's the best part! No taking half a day to find the customs office in some remote back alley maze!) If you don't pay within 20 days, they send it back to the sender.
Of course, this item is a gift and it's weird to have to pay to import something I didn't actually have any say in importing, but it turns out the tax-free limit on gift value coming in the UK is something really low like £36. Also, it can't count as a gift if it's been shipped by the company instead of an individual. Shipping is apparently included in the value, so good luck staying under that line if you're shipping from abroad!
The charges are ugly. The import value added tax alone is 27% of the price of the shoes (remember shipping counts so it's actually a lower percentage, but why should shipping count?!), and on top of that there's a customs duty of nearly £15 and then the Parcelforce's special handling fee (a "clearance fee") of £13.50. All in all, I could have bought a whole other pair of less-good but still pretty decent shoes with the money I have to spend on importing them.
Please note, this is not a complaint against the sending of gifts from abroad. These shoes are a gift for which I am very, very grateful and they are going to be awesome. But I do find it a little unfair to pay so much for something someone tried to send me as a present. What if I couldn't afford the duties and taxes? (Damn near can't, really!) Someone was just trying to do something nice for me. I know there's not really a good alternative to this system since anyone could just claim gifts for everything they send if it were so easy. Still. Argh.
In this case there was no way around it because there is no EU source that supplies this particular pair of shoes. If you plan to buy for someone abroad, where possible consider buying it online from a supplier in their country of residence to avoid both high shipping costs for you and the possibility of high import fees for them. :)