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Scandalous admin charges deter music imports from Japan

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“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” – Parcelforce fees

Japanese music releases have always had a great appeal to collectors. There are many reasons for this, including the historical practise of adding ‘Japan-only’ bonus tracks, the sheer coolness of the OBI-strip, and the attention to detail when it comes to packaging (and often mastering).

Sometimes you would have no choice other than to buy the item from Japan, because the release was simply not available anywhere else. If you wanted any of A-ha‘s remixes on CD back in the eighties the only way to get them was to buy the unique Road Club and Scoundrel Club compilations.

Buying Japanese releases used to involve regular searches in Tower Records or trawling through magazine mail order listings, but thanks to the internet it’s rather easier these days to purchase more or less any title you are after, but – particularly in the UK – this expensive pastime hasn’t really got any cheaper thanks to ludicrous fees levied by delivery agents such as Royal Mail and Parcelforce.

As an example let’s look at a recent order I placed for the ZTT Sampled/Value of Entertainment CD+DVD set from CDJapan.

This item cost 3200 Yen to purchase. That’s around £18.50 (or $31). That’s already about 80 to 100 percent more than you’d expect to pay for a 2-disc set domestically, but this is a desirable item and I’m prepared to pay a premium.

Next up was shipping costs. No, I didn’t want to pay nearly £12 for FedEx International Priority, but neither did I want to wait months for it to turn up on my doorstep, so I opted for EMS (Express Mail Service) which costs 1500 Yen, or £8.50. For those keeping count, so far this double disc set has cost me £27.

Call me a lawbreaker, but what happens next is you ‘hope’ you don’t get caught by Customs & Excise. Not because I’m not willing to pay the charges that HMRC require you to pay for importing the goods, but rather because you are automatically held to ransom by ‘administration’ or ‘clearance fees’ imposed by the company charged with delivering your goods in the UK. That is exactly what happened in this case.

10 days after ordering the item I received a letter (make that invoice) from Parcelforce informing me that my parcel is ‘subject to payment of Customs charges raised by Border Force on behalf of HM Revenues & Customs’. As you can see from the image above Customs Duty due is zero, Excise Duty due is zero and Import VAT is £5.89 (roughly about 20% of £27 allowing for fluctuation in exchange rate).

So now I’ve paid nearly £33 pounds for this item but here’s the killer: Parcelforce will not give me the item until I’ve not only paid the VAT, but also their ‘Clearance Fee’ of… wait for it… £13.50!

According to Parcelforce’s website these Clearance Fees are ‘to help cover the cost of additional handling, administration, collection of monies and provision of facilities for Customs clearance of packages’. Or to put it another way they’ve just plucked a (big) number out of thin air. Apparently if you don’t use EMS, this charge reduces to £8. In other words it’s a double whammy if you use EMS – it costs more for the actual postage and then if your item gets caught in customs your clearance fee goes up. So to update the running total, this CD+DVD set has now cost me over £46 to buy it from Japan. But wait, there is more….

Despite charging me a fee which is more than 200 percent of the VAT due, Parcelforce will not deliver the item on a Saturday. If I want that luxury it’s another £12!

So to summarise, if the item in question had not got stuck in customs it may have turned up at my house on a Saturday morning and total cost would have been £27. Because someone somewhere decided that Parcelforce (and Royal Mail) could charge astronomical fees for collecting VAT on their behalf, the same item to arrive on the same day via Parcelforce would cost me £58. £27 goes to CDJapan, the £5.89 to HMRC and £25.50 to Parcelforce for their fees.

This situation is ludicrous. There should be a simply and easy way to pay any VAT due in advance and you should be able to look forward to receiving your goods, promptly without having third parties holding your goods and demanding rates that would make a pay day lender blush. Suddenly those ‘import’ CDs I paid £23 pounds for in Tower Records in the mid nineties look like a bargain…

 

 

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38 responses to Scandalous admin charges deter music imports from Japan

  1. William K says:

    I bought this from cd japan for 3200 yen on the 22nd of july . I paid 750 yen for shipping to Ireland. It was shipped to me on Friday the 25th and arrived 2 days ago on Wednesday the 30th. Thankfully there were no extra fees involved.
    I also spotted a very nice Virgin 3 cd compilation on cdjapan called ‘Never Trust A Hippy – Punk and New Wave ’76 to ’79’. This has some songs on it that I think may be on cd for the first time – Jane Aire for example. I bought this separately and it arrived yesterday – again thankfully with nothing extra to pay.

  2. Johnny says:

    I’ve been stung like that before with a Metallica DVD that was available exclusively from their online shop which is based in California.

    The discs cost me £80 plus it was another £20 plus in various fees from Customs/Royal Mail.

    Kind of left a bad taste in my mouth if I’m honest and I haven’t bought anything from abroad since because I don’t want the same thing to happen again.

  3. adam shaw says:

    Ive been buying Isao Tomita cds from CDJapan for many years and recently bought the new remarsted Pictures At An Exibition from them , the same postal charges hit me to. Seems Royal Mail had started all this at the end of last year when I bought another cd from them .

  4. Kiki says:

    If I remeber well, Amazon.co.jp now offers a solution which includes all taxes for foreign buyers… I think it should be cheaper then!

  5. Johannes says:

    You were very unlucky Paul – it all depends on pure chance. I’ve had stuff clear straight through and then one or two items get caught and hey-ho . . charges time.

    Back in the early 90’s a company I worked for was importing from a Japanese wholesaler – literally 4 and 500 unit shipments . . if you think a Japanese Cd is the bees-knees, you should see their bulk packaging – beautiful and utterly secure with double wall boxes on everything . . there were even small fabric strips inside the exterior boxes to help you get the inner ones out. What a joy! But even then, in the bad old latter days of the MCPS sticker the charges weren’t nearly in proportion to what they are now.

    Greed has taken over – it’s a total random free for all and has basically deeply affected the Japanese export music business, which as we all know is a bloody shame – there’s nowhere can touch them for quality.

    Oh and if you think your charge is bad, try £95 for 2 secondhand cameras from a friend in Canada – they were gifts, but VAT and handling was still chargeable.

  6. Rareglam says:

    Yes, you often see American Amazon MPS and ebay sellers that offer an import VAT etc service paid at the point of purchase so that Royal Mail’s scam doesn’t come into effect. Paul, you are right about the EMS rates. if you have something sent from outside the EU by standard airmail and customs pull it up, it’s £8 that Royal Mail charge. However, until a couple of years ago, it was only £4. I got caught a couple of times and got charged £4, then the time after that it suddenly became £8. When I quereied the amount I discovered Royal Mail felt that £4 didn’t cover the real admin cost, so they simply doubled it. I doubt it was actually costed etc, it was just someone’s job to sort it out on a Friday who wanted to get home and just said ‘well double the fee then’ over his shoulder as he left the office. You know, like when a CD costs $20 in the US but £20 in the UK, it’s not costed for import vat etc it’s just an easy fix that’s above the charge they have to pay, so that’s ok for them.

    There again, when I have purchased Jimi Hendrix titles from the Experience Hendrix or Dagger Records website in the US, purchases have been posted from within the EU to avoid exactly this imnport Vat problem. I just wish all overseas sellers had that facility.

  7. P says:

    Remember Parcelforce is part of the Royal Mail just the more useless bit of it. Also to put their fees into perspective DHL charge £5.00 (at the last time of checking (earlier this year)).

    Personally I am much happier prepaying the fees through amazon / ebay than handing money to the Royal Mail. The only answer to having to use Royal Mail or Parcelforce is to bulk buy thereby reducing the unit cost of the admin fee although £13.50 still seems a lot and to my mind is just indicative of how uncompetitive Royal Mail / Parcelforce are. Why do you think amazon have set up their own delivery service in the UK; Royal Mail / Parcelforce’s days (especially the latter) are numbered.

  8. Mike says:

    At least the 13.50 isnt vatable….

  9. Richie says:

    I ordered the Jimi Hendrix West Coast Seattle Boy vinyl box set from the US for a bargain £45. It was delivered by FedEx, they charged me about £18 VAT. I paid it then rang them and pointed out VAT is 20% so how come I was charged £18 when it should have been £9, they tried to bullshit me by saying it was to cover postage charges. I told them the £45 initial payment included postage. I then emailed FedEx and informed them that if I wasn`t refunded £9 I was willing to take the matter as far as I needed to be refunded and a claim for costs. They refunded me the £9, so fight the robbing bastards all the way!
    On a more positive note i ordered the CSN&Y 1974 box set from Amazon US for just less than £26 and it came through uncustomised, result.

  10. colonelparker says:

    Wow Paul they scalped you! Here in Germany the custom keeps the parcel and you have to drive to their facility and wait in line for hours. Then you pay VAT and extra custom taxes. The value that gets taxed includes also the shipping costs!
    $25 for the vinyl record and $20 shipping equals $45 to be taxed.
    Don’t try to cheat them they even look up ebay auctions and web stores to find out the selling price.
    That’s why I am trying not to buy stuff outside of the EU.
    Last week I got a parcel from W*******s V***t and even they cheated on the value of the parcel so it passed customs.

  11. Fernando de Oliveira says:

    The same happens here in Brazil, including Amazon (US). The solution is (thanks God) buy at Amazon (UK). I don’t think charge for VAT is a good policy. I will avoid all these charges everytime I can.

  12. Mark says:

    I always go for the fedex option from cdjapan as I dont like waiting and its nice to track the package. However fedex still put an extra charge on now and then :(

  13. Jason Paskowitz says:

    Sounds like student loan debt collection here in the US. No reason and no recourse.

  14. Steven Roberts says:

    Like many here, I’ve had single CDs from CDJapan get stopped at Customs (effectively doubling the cost of the item once the ‘handling fee’ is applied) – whereas my Yes SACD box set sailed through with no problem.

    It’s a complete crapshoot what makes it through vs what gets stopped at Customs.

  15. Mark A says:

    I can empathize with you for having to pay an outrageous and seemingly arbitrary third-party fee. I am well acquainted, for different reasons, with having to pay too much for music, specifically, Japanese CDs.

    I live in said country and the market inefficiencies here–excessive business regulations, mainly, but also taxes at every stage of the bloated process –cause domestic products of almost any sort to cost far more than the identical product costs abroad.

    The bonus tracks that are affixed to most Japanese releases are simply intended as balm for having to pay 50-100% more than people pay in the US or UK. It’s one thing to have a high-quality mini-album replica paper sleeve, but most releases are just ordinary jewel-cases. Additionally, many releases do not have bonus tracks, so one is paying a premium simply for supporting an inefficient business model. Just to underscore how excessive prices are in Japan, digital music typically is priced at an additional 100% or more than in the US.

    I routinely buy CDs from Amazon in the US and UK, especially from marketplace sellers, because even with the shipping charge I enjoy significant savings of at least 30% but usually quite a bit more. There are a few other options as well. However, in all cases when ordering from abroad I have to wait weeks for the CD to arrive.

    Case in point: I pre-ordered the deluxe edition of the upcoming Venus and Mars from Amazon and even with the expedited shipping option (not priority) I will pay at least $30 less than if I bought it here (yes, the Japanese version is SHM-CD: whoop-de-doo).

  16. peter Chrisp says:

    I would imagine we are talking about CD Japan? I have shopped a number of times from Japan as there have been times where there is an extra track or 2 that may or may not be on the US/UK edition of an album
    due for release, and one of the first things that go through my mind is it worth it, i guess for the album yes but for the cost hmmm, it’s hilarious, most times you will have 3 different versions of 1 album, SACD/SHMCD/
    and now yet another format, and i do have one blu-spec, i wonder what’s next, but there is some rare music that’s not available except in Japan, 3 Wishbone Ash live cd’s that are double & triple that are tempting, i bought the last Magnum album “Escape From The Shadow Garden” and this one would be rare, a bonus disc with an extra 11 tracks??!!! All in all they can be expensive the postage alone is $14, but
    they have been pretty good to me in the end i do buy from them 3 or 4 a year.

  17. Adey says:

    I’ve ordered stuff from japan in the past. Had a couple of cds that royal mail wanted me to pay rip off handling charges for. I just refused the delivery and they were returned to sender. Im sorry but i begrudge giving the cowboys at royal mail a penny, even if it means me getting a refund a couple of weeks later when the cd is returned

  18. Adey says:

    I noticed an ebay scam months ago- any optical media from usa under £17 imported to uk isnt liable to any customs charges yet when i was looking for a certain title from america (value £12) i noticed a company used by ebay was adding money onto the total value for import charges- wtf??? Surely this should be illegal if anyone is taking money from customers for import charges that dont exist?

    • Richie says:

      FEDEX – see my post above they attempted to add non-existent postage costs to my order, it was when I threatened to take my case to The Customs that I was charged the correct amount.

  19. PC says:

    I live in Australia and have never had to pay an extra charge to import CDs or DVDs. But when I was growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, such charges were the bane of my life on records I would order from Adrian’s Records in England (still going, by the way). I eventually started asking them to write “Gift only” on the packages to me. They did, and it worked.

    The worst experience of all, was having to pay a 10 pounds extra charge to get one replacement contact lens sent from an optometrist in London. After paying that, and for the bus into Limerick city to pick it up at the post office, the cost of the lens was doubled, and would have been cheaper to buy locally. This happened 27 years ago and I’m still furious about it!

  20. PC says:

    I should point out that the “Gift only” tip came from my local postman, who was probably just tired of hearing me complain about the extra charges.

  21. PC says:

    And I should also point out that the optometrist in London was where I’d bought the contact lenses in the first place while working there for the summer. It was convenient to get the replacement from them because they had my prescription on their files.

  22. Craig says:

    Airmail + marked as gift works for me when it comes to CD Japan.

    • Rareglam says:

      Marked as ‘gift’ does not exclude items from being ‘taxed’. It’s just that the maximum allowance before import vat kicks in on a ‘commercial’ package is £15 on a ‘gift’ package it is £18 I think. All the stuff I have had from CD Japan has come through ok, but more by luck than design. I think the border agency can’t be bothered to to scrutanise packages from the far east so much because of the tiny writing in a different language. I think they just pull random packages out ad hoc to sample. Anything from an English speaking country always gets pulled as it is plain as the nose on your face to read.

  23. SimonP says:

    I won’t buy anything from abroad anymore because of the Royal Mail taking the piss with these clearance charges. “Oh, you may have paid for the item, paid to have it delivered and paid the import duty on it, but we have it now and you can’t have YOUR item until we get our cut!”

    It’s like being held to ransom.

  24. Jens says:

    While on the subject – anyone have a good internet site to recommend for buying Japanese CD’s?

  25. John says:

    I’ve only been caught out maybe 3 to 4 times with international customs charges over the years but it still boils my p!ss every time I look at the cost breakdown only to find that the really expensive part of it is the ‘admin/processing’ charge by the courier. It’s like when you get a card through the door from royal mail saying they ‘can’t’ deliver an item because the postage paid was insufficient and you need to pay the postage plus £1 ‘handling fee’. Usually to find out the item was a xmas card, from someone you hate and was too cheap to buy a stamp….

    It always seems to happen to me on smaller, low price bargain purchases of Japan CD singles and never seems to happen to me on larger orders or large box set type items which I’m half expecting to get nailed on. If you get away with avoiding the tax then fine (hooray!) but if you have to pay it then that’s totally acceptable but to pay an inflated charge, especially to a courier as truly abysmal as ParcelForce (who only this week have failed to deliver not one but TWO items I sent at a cost of over £50 this week) is just a big steaming insult!

    • Gary C says:

      I’ve ordered from Amazon US and Amazon DE in the past and been lucky to have little problems so far. I’ve never used the Japanese import sites before, But I do have the luxury of travelling to Asia for short periods of time throughout the year for work.
      I don’t go to Japan anymore, and many of the titles were quite highly priced there anyway. I pick up old releases from places like The Sino Centre in Hong Kong, which has about 8 small stores/closets selling all sorts of stuff, lots of vinyl too. You know the kinda places, too much stuff and too little room to make it comfortable to flick through everything. Lots of dust, lots of J-Pop and K-Pop, and very little in the way of organisation or alphabetisation.
      Today was a great day tho, as I found a sealed Japanese mono CD box set for 500 HKD. That’s around £40. That was after paying £20 in another stall for a sealed Japanese Blue set. Strange pricing, and it always pays to keep looking and revisiting and letting these guys know what you are in the market for.
      There’s still a couple of HMVs in HK, but like in the UK, former shadows of their selves.

      • Rareglam says:

        The only thing you can do to avoid exploding like Dawn French on the Churchill Car Insurance advert, is to average out how many inports you got ‘safe’ / untaxed against the few you get caught on. I know I’ve gained more than I’ve lost in that respect overall.

        I’ve bought a lot of Japanese mini LP CDs from HK sellers on line and have always been pleased. People think that all Chinese stuff is knock off and that has been the case with some mini LP CD box sets in the past (Rolling Stones complete 1964-69, Beatles in Mono, Led Zepplelin) but largely it’s not. The Japanese distributors offload their unsold stock in bulk cheaply on the HK market. Those sellers then add their mark up and it’s still cheaper than buying from Japan, so worth surfing ebay.com which is where they all get advertised for a bargain.

  26. Stuart says:

    Ah, this is a timely topic. I’m very tempted by the beautiful ‘lilac swirl’ coloured vinyl reissue of Jeff Buckley ‘Grace’ that Newbury Comics in the US have for pre-order. But now I’m thinking that if I get hit with the customs charges to get it into the UK then it won’t be worth it. Anyone had much experience with shipping from the US into the UK please ?

    • Rareglam says:

      From US, items are virtually always pulled up by customs if they have the actual value of the goods inside declared on the customs slip. If costing more than c.$25, be careful.

  27. Banjoman says:

    Duties and taxes, always a very ‘hot’ topic. I live in Belgium and anything less than 25 euros (including shipping charges) is not submitted to duties and taxes. On the case of CD Japan, I once ordered 2 mini lp’s from Manhattan Transfer and had to pay taxes and similarly to you a clearance fee (that’s 12 euros !). So I believe these mini lp’s cost me more than 40 euros each. This is why I’m not buying from CD Japan anymore unless I just order 1 CD with a total value of less than 25 euros.
    A good advice for purchasing Japanese CD’s : look for eBay sellers selling brand new mini lp’s. Ask them to declare a lower value (eg $20) and to mark the parcel as ‘used CD’s’. You won’t pay any more import duties. Also some of them are willing to let you order directly from them without going through eBay which is cheaper as they don’t have to pay eBay fees.

  28. Paul Mac says:

    This is a timely subject for me as I was nabbed for the first time in a while with these charges after ordering from Popmarket in the U.S. (I live in Ireland). I didn’t realise that Popmarket use UPS or I wouldn’t have bothered ordering! I wasn’t available to accept the delivery the first time they called, but they helpfully told me on the slip they put through the door that there was another €31 due (this was on a package that cost just under €40 incl. delivery!). I decided I wasn’t going to accept the package or collect it, so they made two more attempts to deliver before leaving in the their warehouse for a week before returning it. I’ll be going looking for a refund in a few days.

    In case you hadn’t guessed, I truly despise this practice.

  29. alchemist32 says:

    Scandalous?! What is really scandalous?
    Don’t you realize that USA make scandalous charges too when you buy from Europe? Japan isn’t the only country, so you criticize charges, try to be objective and watch carefully the scandalous charges from USA too!!

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