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Overseas bargains can be a taxing purchase - read this before you buy

If you buy goods over the internet or by mail order from outside the EU, you will have to pay VAT if the value of the package is over £15. Above that limit it will attract the full VAT rate on the full item value, not just the value above the allowance.

Since 1 April 2012, all mail order imports from the Channel Islands are subject to VAT regardless of their value.

If someone sends you a gift from outside the EU, import VAT will only be due if the package is valued at over £36. To qualify as a gift, the item must be sent from one private individual to another, with no money changing hands. If the value exceeds £36, VAT will be calculated on the full item value, not just the value above the allowance.

If the goods are over £135 in value, customs duty may also be due, although this will depend on what they are and where they have been sent from. Where the actual amount of duty due is less than £9, this will not be charged.

Excise duty is always due on all alcohol and tobacco products purchased online or by mail order.

Arriving in the UK by commercial sea or air transport from a non-EU country, you can bring in up to £390 worth of goods for personal use without paying customs duty or VAT (excluding tobacco and alcohol, which have separate allowances). Arriving by other means, including by private plane or boat for pleasure purposes, you can bring in goods up to the value of £270. Above these allowances and up to £630, there is a duty flat rate of 2.5%.

Detailed information on the non-EU limits for alcohol and tobacco products can be found on HMRC’s website at http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/customs/arriving/arrivingnoneu.htm

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Huge crowds as 'Black Friday' hits the South

Crowds fighting their way through the Tesco store in Havant Credit: Charlotte Negus

And the rush for Christmas shopping gets underway in earnest today as people take advantage of the US-Inspired sales bonanza that follows Thanksgiving.

Many retailers are introducing heavy discounts. Last year a quarter of shoppers bought an item in the so-called 'Black Friday' sales.

Oxford academics' 'It will be a tough Christmas for retailers'

Retailers this Christmas will find it a tough challenge to match last year's festive spending figure of ninety one billion pounds according to academics in Oxford.

They say changing shopping habits and low real wages rates will have a significant impact on shopping.

Christmas spending reached £91bn last year Credit: ITV Meridian

"We have found that overdoing the Christmas cheer with flashing bright lights and piping fast-paced music such as Jingle Bells into stores puts shoppers under greater pressure. Less harsh lighting, pleasant smells and gentler seasonal music such as The Nutcracker are far more likely to put us in the mood for spending."

– Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Professor in Marketing

Retailers expected to struggle this Christmas

Retailers this Christmas will find it a tough challenge to match last year's festive spending figure of ninety one billion pounds, according to research.

Academics from the University of Oxford say that changing shopping habits, continued economic uncertainty and low wage rates will have a significant impact on shopping this year.

Shoppers get their hands on some bargains. Credit: PA

We have found that overdoing the Christmas cheer with flashing bright lights and piping fast-paced music such as Jingle Bells into stores puts shoppers under greater pressure. Less harsh lighting, pleasant smells and gentler seasonal music such as The Nutcracker are far more likely to put us in the mood for spending.

– Nancy Puccinelli, Associate Professor in Marketing, Saïd Business School

The research also showed that poor selling techniques, extravagant Christmas promotions, and sharp rises in online shopping all contribute to the fall in sales.

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