I want to do some of my Christmas shopping on American websites. What are the rules about VAT and customs duties when shopping outside the EU?
In general, when goods are imported into Ireland from a country outside of the EU, they are liable for import charges. These include VAT, customs duty and excise or other duties where relevant. You are importing goods if you buy items online from abroad or from a mail order catalogue. You are also importing goods if you get a gift sent from abroad. In some cases, you can get relief from import charges.
If someone sends you a gift from outside the EU, and it is valued less than €45, you do not have to pay customs duty or VAT. To qualify for this relief, the gift must be of an occasional nature and sent from one private individual to another.
You don’t have to pay VAT on certain goods from outside the EU if they are valued less than €22. The value is calculated as the full value of the item, plus postage and duties. This is also the value that is used to calculate VAT, if it is payable. If you buy goods from outside the EU valued at more than €150, you will have to pay customs duty as well. Customs duty is normally calculated as a percentage of the full value of the goods including the cost of postage, packaging and insurance. VAT, customs duty and excise duty are always charged on excisable products (such as alcohol, tobacco and perfume) from outside the EU, whatever their value.
All packages received from outside of the EU require a customs declaration, which is usually completed by the sender. The declaration should include a description of the goods, the value of the goods and whether they are gifts or commercial items.
Some websites offer to undervalue your goods to avoid import charges. This is illegal. You, as the importer of the goods, are responsible for ensuring that the information provided is accurate and that all duties and taxes are paid. Some websites may also promise delivery from within the EU, which would eliminate any import charges, but they are in fact shipping their products from outside the EU. If this is the case, you are liable for duties and VAT.
Further information is available from the Citizens Information Centre below.