Buying Fabric from outside UK

By Judith on February 21, 2017
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If you aren’t a regular at buying fabric from non-UK online fabric stores, you may get a shock when you place an order, and then take delivery of a grey Customs Card from the Royal Mail, instead of your much anticipated bundle of fabric goodness!



And to add insult to injury, not only have you been hit with a customs charge, but another £8 Royal Mail handling charge on top!


That great deal you thought you got on your fabric doesn’t taste so sweet all of a sudden!


I’ve purchased fabric from America approx. 10 times and I’ve never incurred a customs charge.  But I’ve been lucky.  Your expectation should be that a charge will be incurred, and here’s why:


Anything that is ‘imported’ into the UK is subject to Border Force checks, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).


Those checks may result in the following charges being applied:


Customs charge (based on the value of the item, where the value is over £135)

VAT (a consumption tax applied to EU countries)

Excise tax (a tax applied to purchases of alcohol or tobacco)

Some products are ‘duty free’ but fabric isn’t one of them!



There is excellent information on both the Royal Mail and HMRC websites but here are the rules in a nutshell:


Buying fabric from inside the EU: no charges


Buying fabric from outside the EU:

If the total value* of your package is less than £15, there are no charges.


If the total value* of your package is between £15 – £135, there will be Import VAT to pay. This is calculated as a percentage of the total value of your package.


If the total value* of your package is over £135: Import VAT and Customs Duty is charged


*this includes cost of the items, shipping and any insurance costs.


For example, if you purchased 5m of fabric from America totalling $40 ($8 per metre) and the shipping costs you $25, Customs calculate the total value of the package as £51.89 and the import VAT as £10.35. Royal Mail will then apply a handling fee of £8 on top of this, bringing the total cost of your fabric parcel to £70.24. This makes my fabric cost just over £14 per metre, which is an average price in a UK store.


So while you might think you are bagging an $8 per metre bargain, unless it is a design or collection you can’t get in the UK, it might be worth trying to purchase it locally.


If you want to find out how much customs duty you might pay, before making your purchase, use this nifty calculator.



All the above information is based on non-gift purchases.  The ‘no charge’ threshold for gifts are higher,  but there are clear and definite boundaries on what can be considered a gift. If you are making a private purchase from a fabric store, this is not considered a gift.


There are a few non-EU countries who have an ‘Import VAT Pre-paid’ arrangement with HMRC, which means you won’t incur any additional charges on delivery of your package. These countries are Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and The Channel Islands.


I hope this article has better informed you about purchasing fabric from other countries.  It is not my desire to put you off purchasing from abroad in any way. However, with adjusted expectations and informed choices, you can still enjoy your purchases without those nasty shocks!


I would love to hear about your ‘purchasing experiences’. Drop me a comment below!



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