Burned once more by my online shopping habit
December 22, 2011 12:38 PM   Subscribe

I bought some clothes online from a store based in the UK, shipped to the US. Is this surprise customs/duty/shipping charge normal?

I made a really large order of clothing from an online store in the UK. For me, really large is ~$500. I got a good deal, I was going to maybe return things that didn't fit and eat the shipping costs. Fine.

I paid for express shipping which may have been a mistake.

Yesterday I received a voicemail from a customer service person from a customer service agency on behalf of Aramex shipping co. They said to email Aramex referencing my tracking number. The email I received in reply said that my order had cleared customs and they were holding my package pending a $150 and change USD charge for the "customs clearance/duty charges" and once I paid it they could send me my package.

Um. I think that's a lot. More than I want to pay, and enough to make me kinda say "f it, send it back." The large website I ordered from appears to ship internationally very often and they said absolutely nothing about this sort of thing in the disclaimers, shipping info, terms and conditions, etc.

Googling "Aramex and customs charges" led to a few very angry comments about this sort of thing which suggested asking for a receipt, which I did. The customer service agent said this: "Not a receipt as the charges were not paid I can send you a credit card authorization form with the charges on it" and gave me a .doc file for me to fill out with my credit card info with the amount "$155.whatever" on a line. Didn't specify what the fee was actually for. It also says "This shipment will be transferred to a government warehouse at a minimum cost of $250.00 if not cleared through Customs within fifteen days from date of arrival."

I contacted the store I purchased from to ask about this and am kind of hoping for a "you poor dear, we'll pay that for you!" since I paid $15 to get expedited shipping and it was late. but I doubt it. I await their response ("within 48 hours" - but, holidays.)

I asked the shipping service agent if I refuse the charges, would they return it to the sender- and got the following response:
We will update our office in United Kingdom that it was refused we have to wait for them to advise us what to do with the shipment as we laid out the money for the customs clearance/duty charges so we have to be paid.
It sounds like it's not so simple for me to just refuse to pay the $150, because they might not actually return it to the sender, meaning I might not get a refund of my initial $500 shopping spree.

I've never experienced this before. Is this a standard thing? Is there any other info I should ask for from the shipping company? Will they return-to-sender if I refuse the charges?
I've done smaller (<$300) orders internationally before and never got this. Is it just because my order was so large? or is a 20%+ customs fee totally par for the course and am I just a crybaby who should shut up and pay her fee like a good consumer? thanks in advance!
posted by ghostbikes to Shopping (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yesterday I received a voicemail from a customer service person from a customer service agency on behalf of Aramex shipping co. They said to email Aramex referencing my tracking number. The email I received in reply said that my order had cleared customs and they were holding my package pending a $150 and change USD charge for the "customs clearance/duty charges" and once I paid it they could send me my package.

This sounds like a scam to me. Just a data point, I have placed several $100+ orders of clothing from a UK clothing store and NEVER had this happen. There have been no customs/duty charges.

Once again, sounds like you may very well be getting scammed.

I've read on the web that there is no customs/duty charges (not sure what the term is) on items bought by US residents from overseas if the items are for personal use.
posted by jayder at 12:44 PM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: That sounds about right for the customs charges, unfortunately - other senders may have chosen to pay it themselves, or not declared the actual value of the goods, or declared it as a sample, etc.

FWIW, I once refused to pay the charges on a package going US-to-UK, and the package did make it back to the sender (private sender, not a store, though).
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 12:45 PM on December 22, 2011

Hmm, on a second read, your experience with the charges doesn't sound like when I've been asked to pay customs fees, however - it was always very clear what they were, where they'd come from, etc. So maybe it is a scam. The amount of it does sound like it could be legit, though.
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 12:48 PM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: What Can Be Imported Through the Mail, quick answer from U.S. Customs and Border Protection:

Finally, many people make the mistake of thinking that the $800 personal exemption from duty for international travelers also applies to goods sent to the U.S., but this is not the case. The personal exemption may only be applied to goods accompanying travelers. While duty may be waived for most goods entering the U.S. whose value is $200 or less, any item(s) whose value exceeds $200 will be subject to duty as well as postage handling fees.

That surprises me a little too...but there you go.
posted by gimonca at 12:51 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With your other online orders, did you notice the customs label? Often times sellers will lie about the value of the items to avoid import charges. I think its something like <>
It sounds like the shipping company already paid the duty on the package so they wont be wanting to just return the package without getting paid back by someone. According to an online calculator I found, ladies fashion is charged at 8.4% - don't know how accurate that is. Customs may also add on a handling/processing fee (I know UK customs do) and the courier is acting as your 'broker' and will have added their own fees on top of that - even so, if the 8.4% figure is accurate, they're charging a huge fee.

I would ask for an itemised invoice "for your records". They presumably wont be keen to do that if their handling fee exceeds the duty and shipping charges put together but if you really don't want to pay the $150, you might want to speak to a lawyer and find out what your rights/responsibilities are. You did place the order... you most certainly owe the import duty but if the courier can levy whatever charges they feel like once they've cleared your package through customs, that is a total scam!
posted by missmagenta at 12:58 PM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: There are some surprisingly high tariffs on imported clothing (over 25% in certain cases). The specific rates are the US Harmonized Tariff System, Chapter 62. You'll note that men's and women's clothing are treated separately. Check the table and make sure the duty charge matches what you bought.
posted by tommasz at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2011

I think its something like <>
I think its something like <$200 the duty is less than it would cost to try and collect it so they don't bother.
posted by missmagenta at 1:00 PM on December 22, 2011

The specific rates are the US Harmonized Tariff System, Chapter 62.

Wow that's complicated!! I didn't realise how much variation there was depending on the specific item. You can enter the specific items you bought and their value here: Duty Calculator. That should give you an idea of the import charges and how much the courier is adding on the top.
posted by missmagenta at 1:05 PM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: There isn't really a polite way to phrase this that I can come up with, but it is not the responsibility of the seller to know the import duty regulations of each of the potentially 200 counties they may ship to. If you're ordering from overseas, it's your responsibility to know the import tariffs for your country. Sorry :(

Q: What duty do I have to pay if I order something over the internet?

A: See the Customs and Border Protection website.

Q: Do I have to pay duty if I import something for my personal use?

A: In general the same duties are charged on imports for personal use and for commercial imports. However, Chapter 98 has exceptions for some circumstances such the return of travelers or the move of people to the United States. In addition, Customs usually does not collect duties on personal shipments valued at less the $200 ($100 for gifts).

posted by DarlingBri at 1:06 PM on December 22, 2011

While US Customs can and will charge you for incoming goods from overseas, the way these people are approaching you reads like a scam to me. There are some results from googling "Aramex scam" - I'd check those and see if the email address you were given matches any of the domains listed in the scam reports. Is there any way you can find out from the shipper what shipping service they used? For example, when I have had items shipped via UPS from overseas, I was presented with a bill for the customs duty when UPS delivered. They did not hold my package hostage. (FWIW, the last package I had shipped from Italy was shoes valued around $500 USD and the duty was around $30.)

You can also try to contact US Customs. I would contact the seller and US Customs before giving these people any money.
posted by bedhead at 1:09 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys, this is great info. Really glad to know about the $200+ rule and the super-specific schedule of tariffs! I wonder if they just mark the box as "clothing" or if they go through each item individually?
The email address of the person I'm corresponding with is @aramex.com so I don't think it's a scam. I asked for an invoice (*THAT* was the magic word I couldn't think of!) but I doubt I'd have any options even if $100 of it was shipping-company fees. Now I just have to decide whether to just pay the fee or go through the trouble of whatever will happen if I refuse it. I'm leaning towards just paying it and seeing if I can re-sell whatever items don't fit.
posted by ghostbikes at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2011

I don't know anything AT ALL about shipping scams or US customs, but I know that it's trivial to forge the "from" address in an email, so until they respond to your email TO that address, you don't really know that your correspondents are from a company that owns aramex.com.
posted by emilyw at 1:47 PM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: It seems quite likely, given the info above, that the Customs charges are valid.

However, that doesn't mean it's not a scam. For example, DHL in Australia are notorious for this - adding "Customs Inspection Fees" and "Brokerage Fees" onto any order worth more than a few bucks. When pressed, the reply is either much the same as given to you, or "the fees are charged on the whole container / shipping load, and we can't give you a breakdown for your part".

If you press further and ask to see the shipping documentation (to get the details of that load) and the Customs documentation referring to inspection of it, they mysteriously are unable to produce it. Usually, they then waive the fee.
posted by Pinback at 1:50 PM on December 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: oh crap emilyw you are SO right I completely forgot!
I just realized though that the initial email I sent to them was a customer service address on the Aramex site, and that's the one that she's responding to, so I think it's legit.

Pinback- really?! That's neat. It is funny that this person was responding to me quite quickly until I asked for an invoice. Maybe I'll give them a call tomorrow. (At the very least I don't want to have to use their print-n-fax credit card auth form.)

I have an email in to the sender to ask what shipping service they used.
posted by ghostbikes at 2:00 PM on December 22, 2011

Is this figleaves? They have a US shipping center. If it is I'll dig up the number for you later and they should be able to deal with it.
posted by fshgrl at 3:21 PM on December 22, 2011

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