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EXPLAINED: How to deal with fees on international postage to France

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How to deal with fees on international postage to France
A French customs officer checks postal parcels (Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP)

Been hit by unexpected charges when receiving a parcel in France sent from abroad? Here is how to calculate what you should be paying, and how to appeal if you think you have been charged incorrectly.


Many readers have described being hit with unexpected charges when receiving parcels sent from outside the EU, whether this is a birthday gift from a family member or an item purchased online.

So here's a look at what you should expect to pay.

Sending a parcel

If you are sending a parcel to a country outside the EU then you will need to fill out a customs declaration form explaining what is in your parcel and whether it is a gift or not.

Many post offices have automated kiosks where you can fill out and print off these forms. 


In addition to standard postal charges, you may also need to pay customs duties, depending on the value or your parcel and whether it is a gift or not.

There are three types of charges - postal charges, droits de douanes (customs duties) and TVA (value added tax or VAT). Depending on the country, as the sender you may or may not be able to pay these in advance.

Keep in mind that different countries have different the rules regarding what can and cannot be sent by post.


Receiving a parcel

The sender should always pay the postage fees, but when receiving a parcel you may have to pay import charges, if the sender has not already paid these, and VAT if it has not already been paid. You may also be liable for extra charges if the sender has not filled out the declaration correctly.

There are also certain items that cannot be sent by mail to France, so it's possible that your parcel will be impounded at the border if it contains banned items (which include certain foodstuffs, weapons, certain types of chemicals or medications that are not permitted within the EU).  

What are these extra charges?

In addition to the shipping or postage charges, there are also customs duties (Droits de douane), value-added tax (VAT, or TVA) and handing fees (frais de gestion) to consider.

Customs duties typically range from between zero to 20 percent of the item's total value, and they depend on the item itself. For example, the duty charged on perfume is different than that for shoes. If the parcel is marked as a gift with a value of less than €45 (excluding VAT), then a customs duty should not be applied.  

Similarly, if the item has a value of less than €150 (excluding transport and insurance costs) then it should not incur a duty fee, though this depends on the nature of the product.

Since 2021, Value-added tax (VAT or TVA in French) applies to all goods and items imported into France from a non-EU country. The standard rate is 20 percent, although reduced rates apply to certain products, such as books.

Handling fees - these are the additional charges incurred by La Poste to process your item. They range from ranging from €2 to €8 depending on whether they are paid online or in person. 

Why would I be paying these charges as the recipient?

The thing that frequently baffles and frustrates people is that the charges seem inconsistent - you can receive one parcel and pay nothing and then receive another parcel of similar value and have to pay a fee. This is particularly annoying if the item is a gift, as you end up paying to receive your own birthday or Christmas gift.

The basic rule is that all customs duties and VAT must be paid - and if the seller hasn't paid them, then you as the recipient will have to.

But in practice whether the fees have been paid by the seller depends on various things such as who is sending the item, where they're sending it from and which courier they have used. 

If you're buying items online then large retailers with an international presence, such as Amazon, may include duty and VAT in the overall bill, but small companies or shops without experience shipping internationally may not offer this option, meaning you will have to pay when the parcel arrives. 

It also depends on the courier firm used - for example, DHL's policy is that the sender must log-in to a DHL account to pay duties and taxes. In contrast, the UPS policy is that if the sender does not have a UPS payment account and simply paid using a credit card, then the transaction will default to "DDU" (Delivery duty unpaid) which means the receiver will need to pay. 


If the sender arranged to pay import fees in advance, it is also possible courier may have charged them an estimated amount, as Fed-Ex explains, but once the item was processed by French customs authorities, the final charge may have been different. This could lead to the recipient being left to pay the difference.

Finally, there are different policies regarding paying import fees in advance based on the country's national postal service. For instance, it is possible for the sender to pay duty and VAT via the UK's Royal Mail service. In contrast, the United States Postal service's policy is that "Customs, duties and other fees assessed by the destination country for an item can NOT be paid when the item is mailed. The recipient must pay customs fees". 

How can the recipient avoid paying import charges?

There are a few ways to help you avoid getting unexpected charges when an item arrives.

If you're shopping online, try to use an EU-based site if possible - for example use rather than Many large clothing retailers will also have a European website domain and often it's possible to find a similar item at a store or website based within the EU. 

If your item is only available from a non-EU company, you can look over your online bill and check to see whether the charges were included. If you are not sure if the final price includes import fees, you can calculate the total cost using the steps below.

If it's an item being sent by mail from friends or family members then the best thing to do is communicate with them about how to correctly fill out customs declarations and pay import fees. 


One of the most obvious ways to avoid paying heavy import taxes and custom duty is by asking a friend to bring the item with them when travelling.

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. 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.

How to calculate the charges

If you do end up getting charged, you will also want to check that the bill is for the correct amount.

Here is how to estimate the total cost of an item including import charges:


Step 1: Get the customs (douane) duty value

When it comes to customs duty, first take the value of the item you purchased and add transport and insurance costs. 

Let's say you bought something on a non-EU website for €175, plus €5 for transport and insurance. That's a customs value of €180 and this is what you base your calculation on.

If you purchased in a foreign currency, add the value, transport and insurance costs together first and then do the currency conversion to see the value in euros.

Step 2: Apply the duty percentage

Go to the French customs website Douane.Gouv.Fr

There is a drop down menu with the different duty percentages for individual items. Imagine you are buying knitwear - the duty applied is thus 12 percent (typically duty fees fall between zero to 20 percent).

Multiply €180 by 0.12 to get your duty fee (Droits de douane au taux applicable sur ce produit) which equals €21.60.

Step 3: Add it up to get the tax base

Take the total value of the item (cost, transport and insurance), which in this case is €180, and add the duty fee, which is €21.60, to get €201.60.

Now you have the base imposable, or the tax base, for the VAT to be applied. 

Step 4: Find the VAT

To get the VAT, find 20 percent of €201.60 - which equals €40.32. 

Step 5: Figure out how much you owe La Poste

The final thing to consider is the frais de gestion (management fees). These can be paid either online or in person upon delivery. When paid in advance online, the frais de gestion fall between €2 to €5, in contrast to €8 when paid upon delivery.

Paying online in advance via La Poste's secure site enables you to access reduced customs clearance fees. To do this, you’ll need a consignment number or delivery notice. 

Let's say for the hypothetical that you pay upon delivery, so you owe La Poste another €8 on top of everything.

Step 6: Add the duty fee, VAT and frais de gestion 

Take your duty fee (€21.60) + the VAT (€40.32) and frais de gestion (€8) and add them together to get: €69.92.

This is the total amount you will owe in addition to your purchase.

For certain items, you can try using the French customs' simulator prior to purchase, such as shoes, smartphones, costume jewellery, and perfume.

What do I do if the amount I am charged is incorrect?

If the amount appears to be exorbitant, or does not match the rules stated above, first check to be sure that you converted the currency and verify what the exchange rate was at the time of purchase.

To contest the duty and fees applied, start by contacting La Poste's customer service line at 3631, open from Monday to Friday between 8:30am and 7pm, or Saturday from 8:30am to 1pm. 

The international number is 0 810 821 821.


You can also send a letter (it is best to do this by lettre recommandée) by post to "Service Consommateurs" at 99 999 LA POSTE, Médiateur du Groupe La Post.

Additionally, you can request a refund on duty charges by filling out this form. The request must mention the tax concerned; contain a presentation of your pleas and conclusions; bear your signature. You must file this request within three years of receiving the item.

It should also be accompanied by any additional documents demonstrating the amounts claimed in the reimbursement form.

To get assistance with the form, you can contact the Douane helpline at 0 800 94 40 40.

If you believe you made a mistake when filling out the original customs declaration, then you can send a correction form.

How do I pay duty and VAT if it was not covered by the sender?

You can pay online on the website of La Poste by credit or debit card. You will need the consignment number.

La Poste may send you an email or SMS with a link to pay on their secure site for customs duties and import taxes - be careful of scam emails or SMS claiming to be from La Poste, see below.

You can also pay with the postman when the package is delivered, either by cheque or cash. If you were not home at the time, then a note will be left in your mailbox to pick up the package at your nearest postal office. 

If your fees exceed €800, then the item will go directly to the post office rather than being delivered.

Finally, you can pay directly at the Point Relais or La Poste, with a card, cheque or cash.


A common scam is receiving a text message or email stating that you have a parcel but need to click on a link to pay fees. 

Only open a link if it comes from the email address <[email protected]> or by <[email protected]> the link should take you directly to the La Poste website, if it is any other site - close it down and do not enter any payment details.

These scams are particularly common at Christmas.

Useful vocab

Colis - parcel or package

Taux applicable - percentage applied)

TVA - VAT or Value Added Tax

Frais de gestion - handling or management costs

Coût total - total cost

Valeur en douane - customs duty value

Valeur de la marchandise - Product cost

Frais supplémentaires - Additional costs


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
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Tony Allen 2023/08/10 12:04
One thing to bear in mind here is that if something is exported, say from the UK, then the seller should not charge you VAT. I regularly buy items from the UK from two or three companies who do not charge the VAT. I have found that the customs / VAT charge that I pay to La Poste is less than the VAT I would have paid in the UK. (not entirely sure why...but it often is!!) Therefore, I end up paying less than I would had I been in the UK!

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