Importing items from China via Ebay and other online stores – customs duty, VAT and handling charges

It is very easy to make purchases direct from China when purchasing online. It is even possible to do so by accident if buying in a hurry – who would think to check whether a low-value item costing £2.88 inc postage would come from abroad?

There are risks in buying from China – an alleged high risk of buying counterfeit items for one – but costs can be very low, making the risks worthwhile. Ebay’s seller feedback is probably a good guide to whether you will receive a usable item. Some type of product may be lower risk – many buyers of Chinese-branded electronic items are very happy with their buying experiences.

What is less than clear when buying from China are the costs and delays arising from the VAT and import duty that may be payable. The first thing to say is that enforcement is not overly-rigorous, with many packages simply arriving in the post within a week or two of order. Unfortunately the process and costs for items that do get caught are far from transparent, so here is our guide:


Does your item cost what you paid for it? Apparently not. According to the Revenue website the ‘value’ on which taxes and duties are levied includes any local taxes you paid in the country of origin plus shipping and insurance charges. Presumably this is to avoid fraud where suppliers charge enormous sums for shipping and little to nothing for the product. It does seem unfair to honest purchasers though, particularly as shipping costs for individual items may be significant.

Import duty

When items are imported into the UK from outside the EU import duty may be payable. The amount of duty payable depends on the type of product being imported and may even vary depending on the products features. Currently no import duty is charged for items costing £135 or less. For item costing £135.01 or more the amount due is waived if less than £9.

You may be able to get an idea of the amount of duty likely to be levied on a particular item by ringing the VAT, Customs and Excise helpline, 0845 010 9000.


Import VAT is not charged on item costing £15 or less unless the item is alcohol, tobacco, perfume or toilet water. Gifts you are sent of up to £36 in value are also free from VAT. There are complex rules over gifts of alcohol etc. See this HM Revenue & Customs web page for details.

Parcelforce handling charge

If you item is shipped via the mail, rather than international courier, Parcelforce charge an administration fee. This is £8 for regular items but is £13.50 for goods sent express. There are additional charges of £5.50 a week if the item has to be held for longer than 10 days. See the Parcelforce website for more details.

The bureaucracy

Unfortunately the process for items subject to charge is unwieldy and slow. An item taking two days to arrive in the UK will then be processed at the Royal Mail International Hub where HM Revenue & Customs will assess the duty due. This appears to be a slow (and expensive) process which will add many days if not weeks of delay. Once the charges are assessed you will be sent a letter giving you a Customs Charge reference number, telling you how much to pay and how to pay it. Note that the reference number is different to any tracking reference.

You can pay online at this Parcelforce web page by entering the item’s Customs Charge reference number. Unfortunately even if you are using Parcelforce online tracking to check on your item’s glacial progress, and can see that a charge is payable, there is no way of finding out online how much, or what the reference number is. You really do have to wait for snail mail to bring it to you.

How to avoid some of the charges and processing delays

Some traders in the Channel Islands, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand are registered with Customs and Excise to collect duty and VAT before shipping. In this case there are no additional Parcelforce handling charges. Before paying for purchases it may be worth checking whether it is possible to pre-pay the duty. NB Note that online trading platforms such as Ebay and Amazon may not have a mechanism to allow this. Payments made outside their systems will almost certainly not be covered by their consumer protection arrangements.

An example purchase

An electronic item costing £55 including shipping was purchased from a Chinese supplier via Ebay.

Shipping to the UK took two days.

There was a delay of 7 days before the item was shown as being at the delivery depot ‘awaiting payment of charges’.

There was a further one day delay before the Custom Charge letter arrived. Fortunately these are sent first class. Payment was made online immediately on receipt of the letter with delivery scheduled for three days later.

Charges on the item were £9.82 import VAT and £8 clearance fee. The good news is that the clearance fee is zero rated for VAT purposes, so the total payable was £17.82 – roughly a third extra.


The rules applying to imported goods are less than transparent and depend to some extent on what has been written on the customs form by the person sending your purchase. Virtually any item worth up to £15 will be quick and easy to import but if any duty or VAT are payable the process is slow and painful. A few traders in a few countries have agreements for pre-payment of duty and VAT but online trading platforms could do wonders for international trade if they could find a way for more sellers to pre-pay the Customs charges.

How to improve reception on the LG Google Nexus 4 Android phone

In common with many smartphones the orientation of the Nexus 4 makes quite a difference to reception. You can improve the received signal level on the Nexus 4 simply by rotating it. Looking at the front of the phone, rotate it 90 degrees clockwise, so the top is to the right. Astonishingly the received signal level goes up around 8 dB – that is a factor of six times stronger.

It also helps to hold the phone along the bottom edge to minimise the effect of your hand on reception.

Follow these tips and you’ll find that coverage is better and web surfing in marginal locations suddenly becomes easy. One problem though – it’s not exactly convenient for making phone calls…

Windows 8 Pro upgrade for only £14.99

Good news; bad news.

The good news is that Microsoft are offering Windows 8 Upgrades for only £14.99 at

The bad news is that this offer is only open to those buying a new Windows 7 PC before 31 January 2013.

It might be some consolation to know that you can download a free copy of Windows 8 Release Preview right now from the Windows 8 website.

How to use an external keyboard with your Acer Google Nexus 7 tablet

The Google Nexus 7 is a great mid-sized tablet. It isn’t over heavy and performance is snappy. The screen is large enough for the Nexus 7 to be used for taking notes, say in a lecture or meeting. You can use the on-screen keyboard but it isn’t ideal. The lack of a hardware keyboard turns out not to be a big problem as there are two or three options for use of external keyboards. Saying that, we haven’t yet found one that provides UK keyboard support.

Android’s origin as a mobile phone operating system are very obvious in this application because the first thing you realise is that you are going to have to learn to read sideways. Although individual apps rotate with the device, the home screens are portrait mode only, making inital operation a bit of a pain.

Although the Nexus 7 lacks a wordprocessing application as standard, it is possible to write text in the body of an email or using Google Docs. The latter is really quite clunky but may suit some. Alternatively there are many note-taking Android apps, such as Evernote.

Connecting an external keyboard to the Nexus can be done in two ways – via the micro-USB socket or Bluetooth. We haven’t tried Bluetooth as it requires a battery-powered keyboard. The need to keep both the Nexus and keyboard batteries topped up means the risk of a flat battery causing problems is doubled. It is hard enough making sure our phones and tablets are charged, neven mind an occasionally-used keyboard, so we investigated USB.

There are two options for connecting a USB keyboard to the Nexus 7. Buy a protective case with a built-in keyboard or use PC existing keyboard via an micro-USB adapter.

The price of a case with a built-in keyboard is remarkably low. We tried the “IVSO® Slim Faux Leather Keyboard Case”, ordered via Amazon, which costs £9.99. Not a bad price for a case, let alone one with a keyboard. The same case seems to be available under a number of different brands.

So, what did we think? In short, it works, although there are a couple of niggles. The micro-USB plug is on a thin ribbon cable and sticks out beyond the case when plugged in, putting it at risk of damage. It would have been much better if it had a right-angle connector and/or a little more space to the side of the case so it could be left plugged in. As mentioned earlier the keyboard is a US keyboard, although the Nexus doesn’t seem to be able to support UK external keyboards anyway. Hopefully something that will get fixed in a future update. The keyboard is about 7/8 the size of a normal PC keyboard, so not a bad size and the case has a non-adjustable fold-out leg that props the Nexus up when in use. The Nexus is held in place by two elastic straps and three flexible plastic brackets, which mean it will only fit one way round or the buttons will foul. The power button is under one of the elastic straps, which is a minor irritant.

The alternative  method of attaching an external USB keyboard means purchasing a micro-USB to USB ‘OTG’ (On The Go) adapter, costing £2 to £3 from Amazon. You can then plug a regular USB keyboard in. We tried a UK Dell USB keyboard from an old PC. It worked fine, although the Nexus thinks it has a US layout, so transposed ” and #. The £ went missing in action but that seems to be due to the Android external keyboard issue mentioned earlier. We managed to get a couple of German and French characters to appear, although nowehere enough of them to write in either language.

So, two different ways of using a USB keyboard with a Nexus 7. The right solution for you will of course depend on where and when you want to use a proper keyboard but neither cost very much at all, so perhaps the right option is to have both.

RS Components hiccup over RaspberryPi shipments?

It seems that the shipping FAQ on the RS Components Raspberry Pi website may be wrong or out of date and it is possible that RS are not be shipping all orders in the order they were received. One order we know about, placed and paid for almost 3 months ago, was only processed and shipped after the delay was queried. According to the RS FAQ it should have shipped in late August and their customer support team are still mailing the same shipping information out to customers who query delayed orders.

If you are waiting for RS to ship you a Raspberrry Pi we suggest you double-check your order number against the FAQ and, if overdue, contact RS customer support.

Google Nexus 7 pre-order deliveries – UK shipping dates

Google’s new 7″ tablet, the Nexus 7 appears to be late shipping and to make matters worse Google appear to be failing to communicate with their customers. Customers are complaining that since pre-ordering opened on June 27 they have had no contact from Google even to confirm their orders. Availability was quoted as 2-3 weeks, which runs out today.

Google have now posted an update on Nexus 7 availability in the help section of the Google Play website. Here’s what they say about UK shipments:

“All Nexus 7 8GB orders will ship by July 20 (BST). All Nexus 7 16GB orders placed through June 30 (BST), will ship by July 20 (BST). The remaining Nexus 7 16GB orders will ship next week.”

No doubt all will be forgiven when the new devices arrive but it is a shame that Google don’t appear to have learned much from their earlier customer service problems in launching the original Google phone.

Raspberry PI – great for learning but still no stable operating system

The Raspberry Pi has been shipping for some time now but operating system support is lagging way behind, which is frustrating for those wanting to do more with their Pi’s than learn Python.

The ‘recommended’ OS distribution for the Pi is a version of Debian Squeeze released in April. It appears to have no proper support for the graphics processor, sound doesn’t work and the release has lots of junk links to non-operational applications. Another OS, Fedora Remix, is even buggier although it looks promising. An update was promised for May. Other OS versions include Raspian and a media centre OS, Raspbmc. The latter two OS’s do seem close to releasing stable versions but that has been the case for several weeks. At least one developer has suffered DDoS attacks on their server, which doesn’t help.

Raspberry Pi $25 computer to launch around Feb 10?

The Raspberry Pi bare board Linux computer being launched by the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation looks set to appear around three weeks from now. It is designed to help people learn computing in the same way that the Sinclair Spectrum and BBC Micro did in the eighties. At $25 or $35, it is very basic – you have to buy the ‘luxury’ ‘B’ version to get an Ethernet socket – but it the board does provide a USB interface (for mouse, keyboard, printer etc), HDMI and phono/RCA video sockets and an SD card slot. The basic ‘A’ version comes with 128 Mb RAM compared with 256 Mb for the ‘B’.

Upgrading to a 3D PC monitor

Here at Infomania Towers we’re always keen to try something new. So when one of our PC monitors started playing up and Ebuyer had an offer on the LG LED-backlit D2342 23″ PC monitor it just seemed like a sign…

The LG monitor connects via VGA, DVI or HDMI. We opted for DVI on the basis that a digital interconnect would give a sharper image and the HDMI would be left free for connection of video products and digital cameras.

We’re not into gaming but the monitor ships with a free copy of a 3D game, Assassin’s Creed. It also comes with a pair of regular passive 3D glasses and a pair of clip-ons. The installation disk contains 3D driver software with sample 3D photographs and 3D video clips.

The results are pretty good. We were able to view 3D photos and video shot with a Fuji W3 3D camera as well as 3D YouTube videos. The BBC also helpfully transmitted a 3D film on BBC HD, which was recorded using Windows Media Center and an HD tuner stick. WMC can’t drive the display properly for 3D but it was possible to view the programme in 3D using the supplied TriDef 3D player.

For 3D, the viewing position is quite critical, particularly the vertical viewing angle, but the monitor stand is easy to adjust to the right degree of tilt.

3D is overall very impressive and the display works fine for regular 2D material, with no hint that it is anything other than a reasonable quality LED-backlit LCD monitor. The display is pleasingly matte, unlike the earlier Zalman 3D PC monitors which were distractingly reflective. The only hint of a problem is that the monitor is very bright, even when wearing the 3D glasses!

Nokia launch Lumia Windows Phones


Nokia have been very open about their need for a successful line of smartphones. Microsoft are also in need of a partner who will really push the new Windows Phone platform – have you looked for a Windows phone in a retail store recently? So the launch of the Lumia 800 and its cheaper brother, the Lumia 710, is a major step for both companies.

Nokia Lumia 800

The Nokia Lumia 800


Both phones have 480 x 800 pixel 3.7″ displays and 1.4 GHz processors but the stylish Lumia 800 is the one to have. Not only does it look great but it is better specced. The display on the 800 is AMOLED comared to plain old TFT on the 710. The 800 boasts an 8 Megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, compared to the 5 Megappixel camera of the 710. Finally the 800 has twice the user memory – 16 GB compared to 8 GB in the 710.

Nokia Lumia 710The Nokia Lumia 710

Both phones include GPS. Nokia don’t seem to be able to make up their minds about Nokia Maps though. These give the full satnav experience and, according to the specs, they only come with the 800. Elsewhere though, Nokia Maps are listed as a feature of the 710 too.