5 how-to tips

Import from the USA

Import from USA is not complicated, as long as you are aware of a few practical details. Here we look at the pitfalls importers often encounter when they have to have products shipped from the US, and provide a few tips on how you can save both money and time on your freight.

1. American VAT

Import from the USA can be easy. If goods are purchased in the USA for export to the UK, it is important that if the supplier does not include American VAT. The VAT varies from state to state and ranges between 5.5% and 12%. However, if you are importing goods into the UK from the USA, the VAT will be paid in the UK.

Therefore, if your cargo from the USA is for business purposes, you must ensure that your provider does not bill you VAT. Once you have paid VAT in the USA, you generally cannot get a refund.

usa vat shipping

2. VAT and Customs Duty Tax when shipping from the USA

As the USA is not a member of the EU, a customs duty may apply on top of a 20% VAT payment. VAT and duty amounts are dependant on the mode of transport used to import the goods, the goods themselves as well as the country of origin.

VAT and all duty rates are important considerations, as your imported goods will not be released by the UK customs until they have been paid.


The standard VAT rate is 20% that is applicable to most goods and services. The 20% is charged on the total value of the goods including the cost of packaging, transport and insurance. It also includes any duty that has been charged on the goods.

usa shipping duty


If you are importing goods from the USA, you will be charged a Customs Duty if their value exceeds £135.00, unless the duty value comes to less than £7.00. The duty rate varies and is determined based on the value of the goods, their place of origin and how they are classified under the UK Trade Tariff (among other considerations).

For example, if you wanted to import a carpet from the USA, you would firstly need to determine the total value of the carpet and all costs associated with importing it into the UK (transport, insurance etc.).

After you have established a total value, you need to determine the Commodity Code that would determine the Duty that would need to be paid. The duty for importing a carpet from the USA is 8%.

Finally, you would need to add the value of the duty to the total value to determine the amount the VAT will be calculated on. Then to determine the VAT amount, you need to find 20% of the total value plus the duty.

import from usa to uk

3. Air or Sea from the USA to the UK?

When you need to import from USA to the United Kingdom, you can use sea or air freight. The primary considerations are the amount of time available for transport, cargo size and weight.

Sea freight from USA takes between 3 and 6 weeks, depending from where in the USA the goods will be shipped. From the East Coast, you can expect the shipping to take 3-4 weeks, and from the West Coast roughly 4-6 weeks. In addition, the goods need to be transported from the supplier to the port, which can take from one day up to a week if it needs to go across the country by freight train. When the goods arrive in the UK with sea freight, they can typically be delivered to you within a few days.

Air freight from USA takes from 2-3 days using the fastest and most costly options, and up to 10-12 days for the more cost-effective. Air freight can typically be divided into standard air freight, which is an airline, and courier services, which are dedicated freighters operated by courier companies such as FedEx, UPS and DHL.

import from the usa to great britain shipping

The size and weight of your cargo is very vital to determine the form of transport that is most cost-effective.

If your agreement with your supplier in the USA dictates that you must handle the shipping entirely from the supplier’s address, air freight often is the cheapest option for shipments up to 2 cubic meters or 300 kg. Should you only be responsible for the transport from the nearest port or airport, air freight is a good option for shipments that are around 1 cubic meter, or 150kg.

Sea freight is advantageous to carry cargo when the consignment is less than 15 cubic meters. This means that in practice that you share a container with other importers. For shipments that exceed this size, it may be be worthwhile to order a full container. The weight is less relevant for sea freight because the weight holding capacity is much higher on ships than on aircraft.

Price of shipping from usa to uk

4. Prices of freight from USA

The USA is a large country, which means that inland transport by train and truck are relatively expensive. This has a significant impact on freight costs from the United States, depending on whether you need to handle the shipping from the supplier’s address or simply from the nearest port or airport. If you have agreed on the latter, you must be aware that this could be from a warehouse, which could be many hundreds of kilometres inland.

For example, you can act under terms called ‘FOB Denver, Colorado’, with Denver being 1.600 km from Los Angeles, which is the nearest port. In this case you will have to bear the costs from Denver to Los Angeles, and then on to the United Kingdom.

5. Packages from USA

Within courier transport there is a considerably large difference between listed prices and prices from major customer agreements. If you have shipments from the USA that you want sent by courier to obtain a short transit time, and you do not have a major account contract, try to contact a freight forwarder or search and book transport on the Transporteca site instead of dealing directly with the courier company. This gives you the discount from a major account contract and you also get the same fast shipping product.

Shipping from the USA with Transporteca

If you choose to search and book your cargo from the United States on Transporteca, then you will find good prices from the best freight forwarders on this particular route. We work exclusively with freight forwarders that we know can do the job, and who have strong transport products from just the United States. You can get prices and services on both sea freight and air freight of this portal, and to order online, you will automatically receive a price guarantee so you are protected against unforeseen costs.