ukulele import to the eu

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brexit has put a customs border between some well-known british ukulele suppliers and many of their customers – as a result, many people now have to consider customs duties when buying stuff from the uk.

as a rule of thumb one could add ~25% to the foreign invoice amount equivalent in € for all charges. precision lovers find the exact calculation below; note that all of this is only valid for ukuleles coming by mail etc. where the invoice amount exceeds 150€. ukuleles purchased abroad and brought back home in person (as personal effects or souvenirs) are exempt from all customs charges up to an instrument value of ~500€ per person. beware that instruments always count as one and cannot be shared: a couple can bring back 4 ukes worth 250€ each or two for 500€, but not one for 750€. any whole instrument is always assigned to a single person.

calculation logic

customs value = goods value + shipping

import duties = 3.2% of customs value – unless the instrument originates from the uk or vietnam (and probably some more countries, see the full list here)

import sales tax = local vat on sum of customs value + import duties

service fees of the transport company might come on top or not, that depends….

sample calculation (import to germany):

200€200£instrument price (excl. foreign vat)
50€50£shipping cost
250€250£total invoice amount
250€290€customs value in Euro
(sample exchange rate of £1 = 1.16€)
8€9.28€import duties (3.2% of 250€)
49.02€56.86€import sales tax (here: 19% for germany)
307.02€356.14€total price payable
= 123% of customs value in €
= 142% of invoice amount in £

here is what you could key into your calculator after grabbing the exchange rate from e.g.
(((total invoice amount) * exchange rate(*1)) * 1.032(*2)) * (1 + import sales tax rate(*3)) = total price payable

*1: exchange rate is the amount of Euro per foreign currency unit
*2: use “1” instead of “1.032” if no import duties are due (check origin here)
*3: import sales tax rate is in % and usually equals your local vat

disclaimer: all of the above is based on my own research and knowledge, it is by no means legal advice or legally binding. before relying on the above please doublecheck with your local customs authorities – they have the final word in any case.

feel free to leave a comment below about any error i made above 🙂

that’s the theory, but how is it in real life?

i recently received a payment request from a parcel carrier for a ukulele i had ordered in england – and to my great surprise the invoice did not really match the above. and i doubt that this was only due to the fact that their import clearance took place in the netherlands as first touchpoint in the eu.

they charged me:

  • 3.2% customs duty on the ukulele value (without shipping costs)
    and they had it declared as guitar (which doesn’t make a difference in the customs tariff, but still)
  • 21% import sales tax (standard rate in netherlands) on ukulele + customs duty
  • 5€ service fee + 21% vat

which was in total less than i had expected, so i did not question it too much 😉

update: ioss

since summer 2021 a new portal for e-commerce is live: the import one-stop shop, short ioss. registered uk vendors are able to handle all vat and customs clearance for sales into the eu via that portal, provided the goods value is less than 150€. above 150€ the usual vat and customs rules apply, i.e. buyer is liable and must pay all inbound duties. under 150€ the online shopping experience is (resp. could be, seel below) as smooth as before brexit

but be warned: as of summer 2022 only very few customs branches in germany are already connected to ioss – you might well have to pay your import duties on delivery even though the uk vendor is already using ioss (happened to me already).

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