Among the more than 100 people who responded to our survey, 97.3 percent said that they had been hit by duty fees on packages sent to France.
For some readers, these unexpected costs came as a nasty surprise.
Jane Vallet had to fork out €7.50 to pick up a birthday card and bar of chocolate from the post office.
Graham Hilton had to pay €650 to receive a set of alloy car wheels which he had already purchased for more than €1,300 (postage included), while Bryan Woy had to splash out €10 for a free tote bag sent to him as a reward for taking out a magazine subscription.
Many readers of The Local have reported having to pay customs duties that often work out as being at least half the cost of the value of the package itself.
This has put many off postage altogether. “Don’t send anything!” wrote Jill Brown.
“We have now asked friends and family not to send gifts from the UK because of the duty imposed,” added another reader.
For people receiving packages from the UK (close to 70 percent of those surveyed), this is a relatively new phenomenon.
Before Brexit, duty fees did not apply because the UK was part of the EU.
Now, as well as having the appropriate postage, all items apart from documents sent from England, Scotland and Wales to the EU need an extra customs declaration form attached.
This form asks for the sender and recipient’s details, whether the item is a gift or an item sent for sale (which affects the level of duty for some countries) and a detailed description of what is in it – so birthday or Christmas parcels slightly lose their element of surprise. The form is available to download here.
Outside the UK
People sending packages from other non-EU countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, have always had to deal with duty fees and customs declarations, but several American readers also reported being hit with unexpectedly high fees.
From July 1st 2021, all goods shipped to the EU from all non-EU countries were subject to VAT. Before this, such a rule only applied to goods worth €22 or more. Officially, this rule does not apply to commercial goods. According to La Poste, you can pay any VAT fees before or upon delivery.
In theory, if the parcel is marked as a gift with a value of less than €45 (excluding VAT), you will not have to pay customs duty. Goods purchased from online retailers and sent from outside the EU with a value of less than €150 should also not require a duty fee.
In reality, many of our readers say they are still being hit with these extra costs.
When it comes to saving money on duty fees, this was your advice:
Get visiting friends or family to bring goods in person
Judy Lindsay outlined the most obvious way to avoid paying customs duty on packages.
“Have friends bring you what you need in their suitcase when they come for a visit,” she said.
Any traveller over the age of 15 coming to France from outside the EU or EU customs area by sea or air has the right to bring €430 worth of items purchased as goods or received as gifts, without paying any duties.
Multiple people cannot group together to pool their allowance to bring a single expensive item exceeding a value of €430 into France without customs charges. Personal belongings do not count towards this €430 limit.
Bear in mind however, that items such as foodstuffs (including chocolate) cannot be brought into the EU from non-EU countries.
Use EU websites for online shopping
Another key way to avoid paying duty fees is to only order goods from EU-based retailers, such as Irish firms.
“If you reside in France don’t buy anything from outside EU,” said Chris Hebden.
This is because are no duty fees on packages sent between countries that form part of the EU customs union.
“Use the local Amazon or other web delivery service,” wrote Elizabeth Nicolet.
Be careful though, some EU websites have suppliers that are based outside the customs union in places such as the UK. In this case you will potentially be landed with a duty fee. If possible, always check where your package will ultimately be posted from before ordering.
Obviously it is impossible to predict if or when a friend or family member is planning to send you a package in France. However, if you have a suspicion that they intend to send you a gift (perhaps a birthday is coming up for example), you could always ask for them to order you something from a French or EU website.
The duty you pay is based on the value of the item listed on the customs declaration form.
While it might be tempting to undervalue the parcel, it is actually illegal – you are effectively evading tax. Your package could be confiscated and the sender might end up with a €1,500 fine.
Unfortunately, the ubiquity of customs fees has also lead to an explosion in scams where people receive an email or text informing them that their item has arrived but has a duty fee which can be paid by opening the link and putting in your credit card details. Do not do this, only pay fees to La Poste or to a company when ordering items online.