Buying makeup from abroad can be a real minefield. Yes, a lot of the time the actual products are half the price they are here, but paying postage, VAT and customs charges on your order can make ordering foreign makeup prohibitively expensive. We’re going to show you how you can avoid paying out when buying makeup from outside of the EU.
If you’ve ever been stung with a nasty customs charge then you’ll know how it feels to eagerly wait for your parcel to arrive, but then end up instead with an annoying grey slip posted through the door instead. And that means you have to go all the way to the sorting office to pay at least £10 to get your package.
For those of you who’ve never experienced it, here’s an example of how it works:
One Kylie lip kit will set you back $29 from the official website, then international shipping is a pricey $14.95, at today’s exchange rate your basket total would be £33.62, and when you add 20% VAT (around £4) AND the £8 Royal Mail handling charge, then that lip kit has just cost you over £45 – that’s three MAC lipsticks, or $58, exactly double the price of a single lip kit.
Literally the worst.
What are these charges?
VAT – value added tax. You already pay this on almost everything you buy on a daily basis, and the government requires you to pay it on all goods you import from outside the EU. It’s set at 20% at the moment, and they know how much to charge you because the law requires the value of the contents to be displayed on the outside of the package.
Handling charge – this £8 fee is usually the bulk of the “customs charge” you get, there’s no law saying you have to pay this, but good luck getting your parcel from the Post Office without forking over the cash!
Customs charge – if your order is more than £135 you’ll also be hit with a customs fee of 2.5% (may vary) unless the fee comes to less than £7.
How can I avoid it?
Make your order under £15 including postage.
There’s a small loophole in the VAT rule, that any parcel worth under £15, or gift worth under £34 are exempt from paying 20% VAT. So if you’re only looking to order something cheap, or are able to split your basket then this could help you get around the charge.
Bear in mind that the exchange rate is pretty bad for us at the moment, as of today £15 is only about $19.50 in US dollars.
Pay your duties when you order.
There are a few websites that will let you pay any import fees up front, not only does this prevent any nasty surprises, it’ll speed up your order (there’s less walking to the sorting office involved) and you also won’t have to pay the £8 handling fee.
One of our favourite websites that offers this service is Beautylish – they sell lots of international brands that are difficult to get in this country, like IT Cosmetics, Sugarpill, OCC, Jeffree Star and Anastasia Beverly Hills. American beauty giant Sephora also allows you to do this.
For example, to buy a Jeffree Star Beauty Killer palette on Beautylish ($45) if you pay the VAT at the checkout you only pay $9, whereas you’d pay $9 AND the £8 handling fee if you didn’t pay upfront.
Buy from the UK
Yes, for some brands it’ll seem more expensive to do this, but do the maths and see if it’s really worthwhile to order from abroad once you’ve factored in postage, VAT, and a handling charge.
UK sites that sell difficult to source brands include QVC UK, Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Cocktail Cosmetics and Rainbow Connection (for indie nail polish). We trust these sites, but if you’re using a different shop have a quick Google to see if there are any dodgy reviews for it, there are a lot of sites selling fakes at the moment.
What not to do
Buy on eBay/Ali Express/dodgy FB selling groups.
Yes it might seem “cheaper” but you’re extremely likely to end up with a fake product. We just worked out at the top of this post that ONE Kylie lip kit will cost you almost £50 to buy and ship over, now, how likely is it that someone on Facebook has 30 brand new ones they’re willing to sell you for £10 each?
Many of these brands don’t even supply shops with wholesale orders, so if anyone has one to sell then they’ll have had to order it from the US just like you, and it’s not going to be cheaper if it’s a genuine product.
We’ve personally ended up with fake (terrible) Colourpop products bought on eBay – it’s really easy to fall for!
Read our article about how to avoid buying fake makeup for ways to spot a fake product, and what to do when you’ve bought one.
Hey! I’m Bronni and I’m a financial journalist and deals hunter in my mid 20s. I’m really into cats, pop music, the internet and barely substantiated celebrity gossip.