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TP: Importing camera gear (lenses)

dCap View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote dCap Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: TP: Importing camera gear (lenses)
    Posted: 16 April 2007 at 22:37
This is probably one of the more detailed Talking Points, there is lots to cover. But hopefully I've covered the main points, please add anything major that I might have missed.

intro, background, prices differentials, and taking advantage

Examples shown below are for importing lenses from Japan to UK, same theory will apply to importing from US to UK, or for that matter from Far East/USA to any European country. And also from Far East to US, or EU to US (the latter probably being the least likely route to bag a bargain). Looking at the major eBay sellers, there appears to be an equally good route from say Japan to Australia. Basically, if there is a major price differential - it may well be worth your while importing.

Price differentials exist - for whatever reason - between the major markets, lets say Far East (Japan, the home of Sony), Europe (however you define), and the USA. We can take full advantage of these price differences, but you need to be aware of the fee structure in place and the likely add-on charges you'll get hit with.

Taxes & Duties ... I roll them all into one common terms and call them just call them taxes, it makes not difference to you or I their true breakdown or definition, its the extra cost that you are paying, lets call them taxes for simplicity.

Working example

This is the proof of how to do it, this is a parcel consisting of two Sony lenses bought from eBay from a Japanese seller and sent to the UK, fully declared on the customs label as their sold prices.

Lenses: Sony 2.8/16 FishEye & Sony 2.8/50 Macro D

UK Street Price: L665 + 409 (total L1064, plus approx L10 postage L1074)

eBay price: L381 + L288

Total face value saving before taxes: L609 + L27 postage

Taxes at UK: L57.05 (Import duty = L11.50, VAT L32.05, parcelforce clearance, L13.50)

Total cost: L609 + L27 + L57 = L693

Total saving: L381 or a 35% saving on UK street price.

VAT note L32.05 at UK 17.5% rate assumes a value of L183 cost of the lenses (so perhaps they don't use the 17.5% rate, must be an import rate on "camera lenses"?)


Most international business set an exchange rate at key points of the year or once a year. This will likely be the same for your incoming parcel depot. Pause for thought, think of the admin ... how many countries importing from, how many currencies and how many depots that needs to be cascaded to - hence they will simplify and set one rate a year for each currency. That is why the example above doesn't quite work out at 'todays' ex-rate. So you might need to put in some thought about ex-rate fluctuations there.

opinion & risk

Okay, those are the facts, the numbers will be different in your area of the world. If I'd brought those in from USA, the same fee structure would have applied to me in the UK, they are non EU goods, therefore the EU needs to collect some tax. Before purchase, I worked this through from both US and Japan, Japan had the edge on this transaction at the time of purchase. Next time it might be cheaper to get from the US. Either way, factor this lot in, if anything round up.


Most sellers insist on insurance, and it makes bags of sense. But be aware that missing parcels over an international network are likely to take anything up to 3 months to settle (maybe even longer). Yes, 3 months. Most services won't even consider something lost until it has been missing for 4 weeks (although this example above from Japan to UK was 5 calendar days, US to UK is typically 3 weeks to deliver, in either case if the parcel had gone missing they won't have started to look for it until the 4 week time has lapsed!).

Lost in Space!

Yes, it happens. I did have a 35/1.4 go missing for about 7 weeks. It was from UK to Canada - a private sale one of my LineUp changes from last year. Both myself and the new owner of the lens were very pleased when I got the lens back and was able to re-send (then it only took 1 week to deliver!). It was insured, and we nearly had to go there. Most parcel services quote that they practically aim for something like a 98% successful delivery rate. Even though in reality it will be more like 99.9%. One day someone's parcel IS going to get lost. That is the risk, and that is why you insure it. Plus the risk of damage (rainy day, leaky vehicle?).

Break Even

Getting back to the maths, If it looks like you are going to break even or save about 5-10% ... really its not worth it. Get it from home.


big question. bought in Europe, is it a european warranty? US, US only warranty? Japan, Japanese warranty? Several eBay sellers will quote that the item has an international warranty .., this may however be their promise to you, you return the lens to them for them to forward for repair. Its unlikely you'd need to use it, but it does need to be considered, it is perhaps the only real downfall. You could try a local repair? For me, buying from the UK, I only get a 1 year warranty anyway ... so the risk is low.


You must get the item's price declared on the parcel outer label. If they have to break into the parcel to look for a receipt, they get to play with your lens! And if there is no receipt, they might have to look up its value in your country. That is going to be VERY expensive, you'll pay tax on your country value ... and the admin fees for doing this are probably going to be high.


We cannot have this talking point with a note on gifts! Yes there is a gift box to tick on most customs forms. And people use it regularly to ship $500 items. This is not a grey area. This is not the way to do it. Again, using the UK as an example. The import limit that does not attract tax in any form is L18 (wild guess, thats about $35 or 30). This is clearly some sort of cutoff point where the cost of administration just isn't worth slapping the bill on. The tax man would be losing money by even doing the paperwork. So whatever that threshold is that is your tax free shopping limit on a parcel. So, you can get a filter or a spare generic cells for your dSLR and should be safe of importation. The sellers on - for example - eBay are professionals at bring these small items to your door without the hassles of tax, they know how to label it up to ensure safe passage. Some have even been known to do it for items a little over the gift level.


we have this thing called a free market, so if I buy a lens in France and bring it to the UK I am not importing it. I have already paid tax within Europe (in France). Some European countries have vastly different tax rates, say 8% or 25% ... so it might be advantageous to shop over the border.


Importing, its worth doing if the prices are different .... but do the maths. It might look attractive at face vlaue. But you are not paying the sale price of the lens only. You are paying the lens price, the shipping, the insurnace, the taxes. You should be able to work out a rough price for your country, you know your tax rate, factor in some form of admin charge. There's no point complaining about the clearance fee its going to be the fact of the system.

Total Price:

- final selling price

- postage & insurance

- taxes (duty, vat, admin, whatever)

.... fudge factor as far I am concerned for US or Japan or Hong Kong to UK is about 20-25% on top of list price, that should cover post and taxes. You might be lucky and catch them on a busy day or they might forget to bill you, luck of the draw.

Edited by rovhazman - 02 October 2013 at 02:26
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Bob J View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Bob J Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 April 2007 at 00:19
Many thanks to dCap for documenting this - it is likely to be a while before I try it, but when I do get around to buying my 100 macro, the import route will be a strong possibility.

Personally, I would limit myself to buying lenses this way; after all, providing that a lens is functioning properly when it arrives, having to use the guarantee is not very likely - I don't think I would use it for a camera body where the possibility of failure under use is higher (but not too high we hope :-). I've tried to email Sony about international guarantees, but have got nowhere so far.

It is a great shame that these big multinationals cannot manage more equitable pricing across the world - I don't mind paying my domestic taxes (I'm a civil servant, so my wages are paid out of them...); but this makes it evident that some of the prices in Europe are set artificially high, which seems unfair when average incomes are relatively low in some countries.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote RobY Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 April 2007 at 21:56
When importing gear into the UK you have to pay duty on the total cost incurred upto the point when the goods enter the UK. After the duty has been levied, you then pay VAT + any handling charge, so we're paying tax on tax!

The present rates of duty can be found:
here and here

You have to drill down then identify the country from which the goods were sent.

HM Customs have kindly included a page showing rates for some goods, .


Cameras (TARIC Codes in brackets) Rate of Duty
Digital, still (8525803000)                      Free
Film Camera - 35mm SLR (9006510000)       4.9%
Camera lenses (9002110090)               6.7%

Confused, you bet!


Edited by dCap - 20 April 2007 at 22:51
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dCap View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote dCap Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 April 2007 at 22:53
Roby, thank you for the update. I hotted up your links. Confused. For sure. But might explain the odd tax I paid on my lenses. Still, 6.7% (and admin) is lots better than 17.5% on higher priced goodies.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Cekari Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 April 2007 at 23:32
For sweden:

Buying within EU:
You pay the tax the country you import from uses (usually/mostly less than our 25%)
+ Bank transfer fees (varies from 2-50+)
or PayPal fee (usually around 3%)
+ shipping. (varies a lot depending from where, shipping company, weight etc)

Buying from outside EU:

You pay custom, tax and handling fee when it arrives at sweden as this example from US:

Lens: $1000
Shipping: $70 (varies alot as with in EU)
PayPal fee: about 3% (varies)

So you pay to seller: (1000+70)*1.03 = $1102.10

then when it arrives to sweden:

Currency exchange rate $1 = SEK 7.1 (varies ofc)
If the hole payed value is insured for and given at the declaration it shows $1102.10 (varies also)

Custom fee: varies from 2.5-3-8% (dunno why), we use 3% in example.
Tax: 25%
Handeling fee: varies SEK 20-50, we use 30 in example

Total cost: 1102.1*1.03*1.25+30/7.1 = $1423.17 ~ SEK 10104.60

My US buyings varies from about 28 to 34% addon when it reaches the border with a mean of about 29% atm.

Some cheaper non insured stuff usally slips thrue the custom/tax thing, but don't count on it every time.

Edited by Cekari - 20 April 2007 at 23:35
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Post Options Post Options   Quote hazzah Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 September 2007 at 12:59
In the UK myself and my brother have been importing some cheap second hand car parts from the US.

We contacted our local Customs office and they told us this...

If the items are second hand and the declared value (on the outside form) is less than USD 100 then they are not interested in them... i.e. no duty or VAT. This has proved to be the case because one seller put a (just) higher than USD 100 value and we had to pay the VAT.

I see no difference in a second hand car part and a second hand lens.

I have not tried it yet, but a declared value for a second hand lens can easily be set just below the USD 100 marker.

I repeat though this was our local (Portsmouth UK) Customs office.

I think the point is, each administration has there own "take" on the rules so as to improve work flow and reduce admin.


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Post Options Post Options   Quote Koloth Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 September 2007 at 13:27
When importing to the uk be very careful, the way they seem to calculate the tax is very arbitrary. I imported a lens bought through Ebay, I dont mind paying duty but not on postage spent in another country. One customs officer told me that they can make their own rules.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote BenKinetics Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 September 2007 at 14:12
Still, 6.7% (and admin) is lots better than 17.5% on higher priced goodies.

You pay both, unfortunately - when importing you pay duty according to the tariff code, and the VAT on top of that. You may also, depending on the courier used, pay an administration charge for them to clear things through customs.

So, for example, a lens imported from the US to the UK:

Lens cost: $1000
-> in GBP: L500 (ish)
Add 6.7% duty: L533.50
Add 17.5% VAT: L626.86
Add clearance fee: L640.36 (Parcelforce fee)

You should pretty much anticipate paying 30% over the dollar price, not counting shipping.
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