It's been mentioned in a couple of posts before but i can't remember where (sorry, am useless). from what i remember i think it still ends up being cheaper, especially with the exchange rates as they are.
you probably have to pay a certain percentage of the value of the goods - maybe check out HM customs and excise online, they might have it on their website or at least a number you can call to find out. From what i gather parcelforce or whoever will keep the package as it arrives in the country and hand it over to you once you pay the duty.
Just so you know, if the dresses are shipped with UPS, you will also be charged brokerage charges (£11 for the tea-light lanterns I bought last month). This is because they check the goods and pay the import duty and then reclaim it when they deliver. A bit cheeky but US suppliers tend to use them.
I think you can save some money if you know someone in the US to have the dress posted to and then get them to forward it on as a gift. But I am not sure if this applies to the VAT or import tax as mentioned by daisychain77. Or if it is totally illegal and could end up getting you into loads of trouble! :\( Does anyone else have any more details?
This page from HM Customs and Excise might be useful too: http://customs.hmrc.gov.uk/channelsPortalWebApp/channelsPortalWebApp.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pageImport_ShowContent&id=HMCE_CL_001454&propertyType=document
what daisy chain said, and depending how it's sent, there may be a small charge for postage on this side - usually if sent by a courier that subcontracts parcelforce, or if usps, in which case the royal mail charge a couple of quid admin fee.
but remember that they only open about a third of parcels, so it might never be opened at all. and you only get charged if it's opened.
the way I do it when importing stuff is to assume it'll be opened when working out prices, and then it's a nice surprise if not.
I paid £60 total on 3 bridesmaids dresses, 2 sahes and 6 ties, value $370, shipping was $47 with USPS paid £13 clearance by parcel force about £18 duty and the rest VAT. Postal imports are only tax free up to £36 for gifts or £18 for commercial items. Was still 1/3 of UK cost.
I ordered BM dresses from houseofbrides.com $89 each (£45), including customs charges and VAT the cost per dress worked out at £69 each, which was still cheaper than the UK dress shop price of £130 per dress (Forever Yours bm dresses) Vicky xx
Postal imports are only tax free up to £36 for gifts or £18 for commercial items.
but, as I said, only around a third of items brought in are checked by customs (so said a friend who's a customs offiecer), and you only pay if they are (oddly, you only pay the parcelforce / rm charge if it's opened too).
I've had around twenty work parcels (all commercial) delivered in the last few months and none have been opened, so no charges at all.
that said, the higher the value, the more likely they are to open.
Also, some delivery companies pay the duty upfront and then reclaim it upon delivery so anything they deliver pays import. Apparently, UPS X-rays all its parcels to do this, at least according to the woman I spoke to when I called to query some charges, so duty is paid whether the parcel is open or not. Presumably this covers the delivery service for liability in case any of their customers are trying to avoid duty...
Yep I agree jessica, my parcel was not opened but they went by the declaration attached to the front of the package, I work in shipping for a while and it goes by the paperwork, they very rarely open anything unless they suspect something off. To the best of my knowledge all the major courier firms and parcelforce declare every postal import according to the documentation. I had a few small items from china which were not subject to fees as they were worth not much.