Beware Customs Fees on Overseas Purchases

Dorothy PerkinsDorothy PerkinsFellow style blogger Vera Sweeney got an unpleasant surprise after ordering clothes from Dorothy Perkins, which is essentially a slightly more upscale British version of Forever 21.

She writes:

I placed my order and then a few days later received an email telling me I owed $85 in taxes to Customs. I figured it was spam and deleted it. Then I got a phone call saying the same exact thing.

Come on ... I wasn't told I had to pay that???

In the end, I had to pay for the package to come to the US and the fees were actually MORE than my order total. MORTIFIED!

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Wow, Vera! This is good information for us to remember when we're thinking of ordering from overseas retailers.

I've ordered from British retailers Topshop and ASOS and never had to pay customs, but now I'm wondering ...

Has this customs problem ever happened to you?

It doesn't seem fair to me that the website didn't make it crystal clear to Vera that she might face customs charges. Dorothy Perkins has a detailed explanation of shipping costs to every international country it will ship to -- but in order to find a blurb on customs charges, I had to actually leave the site and search for it on Yahoo!

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Here's what DorothyPerkins.com has to say:

All orders are subject to checking by Customs which may delay the delivery of your order. Any additional duty or customs charges applicable in the destination country are payable by the recipient.

Even then if I had read this blurb, I would never have guessed that the amount I'd have to pay in customs would exceed the amount of the order!

I looked for more information on how customs costs are determined. Amazon.com actually has a helpful blurb on its site about customs:

The recipient of an international shipment may be subject to such import taxes, customs duties and fees, which are levied once a shipment reaches your country. Additional charges for customs clearance must be borne by the recipient; we have no control over these charges and cannot predict what they may be. Customs policies vary widely from country to country; you should contact your local customs office for further information. When customs clearance procedures are required, it can cause delays beyond our original delivery estimates.

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Basically, what this tells me is -- don't ask the retailer how much it's going to be in customs fees.

They don't know.

From what I can gather, it's hit or miss as to whether your overseas purchase will be charged a customs fee -- and if it is, it can be fairly high. One regular overseas buyer of clothing and bags said she mentally adds on 20 percent for potential customs costs to the price when she's trying to decide whether or not to buy, then decides whether or not it's still a good deal.

It all seems a little crazy to me. Perhaps in the future, I'll just buy online from businesses here in the States!

How about you?

Image via Dorothy Perkins

Written by Lindsay Ferrier for CafeMom's blog, The Stir.

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