If you live in the UK and 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. In this case, VAT will be calculated on the full item value, not just the value above the allowance.
Since 1st 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%.
Click here for detailed information on the non-EU limits for alcohol and tobacco products.