Importing to the UK (Customs and Freight)

Started by Sebastian K. Hickey, September 25, 2011, 07:42:56 AM

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Sebastian K. Hickey

I'm going to import several hundred decks of cards from India to the UK.

I have no idea what I'm supposed to look out for. Can someone help me?

If you know about any of the following, please advise:

* UK Customs Levy
* VAT (Will I have to pay it if I am processing the goods for distribution in the US)?
* Freight (What do I look out for when I approach a foreign supplier?)
* Scams (Are there any freight scams to look out for? Is there a way that can get shafted if I'm not careful?)

If I answer any of these questions myself, I will post the information here.


Eero Tuovinen

I recently freighted some stuff from the US to Finland. We ended up using an international freight company with a solid presence in Finland, as the price quotes weren't that different from different sources, and it's much easier to deal with payments, paperwork and any problems if they have a presence in your own jurisdiction. On the basis of that experience it seems to me that many of the expenses involved are either extremely static (cost of entering the Panama Channel, say) or so optimized that there's not much of a meaningful difference between the prices of different companies. This being the situation I'd favour reliability over small differences in costs.

I recommend getting your freight insured (this might or might not be offered by the freight company as a service). It is entirely possible that your pallet will be put on the bottom of a sea-freight container with something much heavier on top, which well might end up with your card decks crushed pitifully. (This particular scenario happened to a Finnish colleague when shipping from China.) It doesn't cost much to get some insurance for these situations, and the liability of the freight company is pretty limited.

I've no idea how the UK VAT and customs systems differ from the Finnish equivalents, but if it's at all the same, then you will have to pay VAT on your shipment (and the freight expenses!) in customs; special arrangements in this regard are available to large regular "customers", but neither you nor me are nearly there. For customs you should make sure that the shipment has appropriate documentation for determining its value; you're probably better off not letting the customs officials just invent numbers for this purpose, better if you do the inventing yourself. At least in Finland this process is overall shallow and formalistic, the only thing that matters is that there's a piece of paper within the shipment that says something half-way believable about its customs value.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Sebastian K. Hickey

Thank you Eero.

I managed to talk to a logistician this afternoon, who advised that I try to arrange the delivery by DDP (delivered duty paid). That person also advised that I get insurance, and, like you said, that it comes as an option with most reliable freight suppliers. Furthermore, I was advised that I won't have to pay a customs levy because of the nature of the goods (listed as a children's colouring book), and that I would only be charged VAT on the cost of the goods (determined to be raw materials until they reach the shops).

I was advised that I should be specific about the cost listed on the customs invoice so that the supplier could provide the right documentation, that, is I couldn't get DDP, that I should arrange to pay the VAT before the goods were shipped and that I should make sure the receipt code for that payment was labelled prominently on the consignment.

I was also advised that I could reclaim VAT back on any goods that I shipped onward (to the US, for example) for reselling, as these would be classified as reprocessed goods. I'd still have to pay the US customs on those, however.

That's all for now.

Larry L.

You should consider splitting your shipment into boxes which are small enough to go by parcel service, which you can probably do if it's decks of cards. I can vouch that UPS is generally pretty excellent about obtaining customs clearance for worldwide shipments, this is built into their prices.

Setting up freight service for a one-off shipment is kind of a huge PITA and is probably not the first option you should explore. For freight, you should expect to establish a relationship with a trustworthy logistics company to handle the legwork on your behalf. You can also expect to have to negotiate for the rate you can get, it will not be the same for everyone. These things get... complicated and are not really set up for individuals to deal with. If you're getting on the phone and talking to someone, it sounds like you've got the right idea.

Eero Tuovinen

Actually, I agree with Larry: the whole international freight system hasn't really evolved with small-timer occasional shippers like us in mind. It's about doable within Europe, but I got the distinct impression with our cross-continent pallet that nobody in the process really knew how to handle somebody who just wanted a one-off pallet to get from San Francisco to Helsinki. The freight company gave us weird static a few times in email, for instance, and the customs office actually took four and a half hours merely figuring out how to do something that should take just a minute, simply because they're so used to dealing exclusively through these freight companies and it took the official ages to figure out where our pallet even was stored when it came to the country. Definitely seemed like this was an unusual and difficult process for many of the people in the logistics chain, even as they were happy to help us get it done.

I don't know how it is with India, but when shipping from the US my experience was that parcel shipping would have been insanely over-priced (like, ten to fifty times the price we ended up paying), and the usual American courier companies (UPS, USPS, etc.) aren't really geared for doing cross-Atlantic shipping on several hundred bounds of various articles. Leasing a single pallet directly was much cheaper (probably because the American couriers only do air mail nowadays, or something like that - no idea). Still, if it happens that you only have a couple hundred decks of cards to ship, that sounds to me like it might be more of a parcel shipment than an efficient pallet. The weird thing here is that the actual real-world logistics are exactly the same (your boxes are still going to go on a pallet somewhere, and still going into a ship); I don't even pretend to understand it, logistics is a business of its own full of undocumented practices and procedures.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.