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6 Tips for Receiving Gifts in France (Without Paying Customs Fees)

Around the holidays, I always see lots of posts in various Facebook groups for expats.

“Help! My parents sent me Christmas presents and FedEx wants me to pay €100 in taxes on the package!”

Unfortunately, the French border control has begun cracking down on imports of goods from outside the European Union, and not everyone knows the rules on how to send gifts abroad.

And if you get it wrong, you’ll pay big. 20% import tax on the ENTIRE value of the package (not just the amount that goes over the €45 limit) PLUS on the cost of shipping as well. If you end up paying tax, it could very well be that you’ll have paid more for shipping and tax than the gift is worth in the first place – and that’s a bummer.

Fortunately, with a father who works in shipping and who LOVES to do things as ‘by-the-book’ as he possibly can (a quality that I do not seem to have inherited), I’ve gotten insight into the shipping and customs process, and know the rules for how to avoid customs fees.

Here are some tips for receiving gifts without paying fees. Make sure your parents and friends respect these rules to minimise your chances of having to pay.

1) Send your gifts via FedEx, UPS, or DHL, rather than through the post office.

I don’t know why it is, but the French post seems to have a problem with tracking packages sent from outside of France. I’ve personally had several small packages sent via the post office lost – whether they disappeared at Customs or in the bowels of the Paris post sorting center, I have no idea.

But even if your packages are sent ‘registered’ mail via the post, they’re impossible to track and find internationally. If anything happens, the US Post Office will tell you that the package got to France fine, and therefore they’re not responsible for it. Meanwhile, the French post office will tell you that it was sent from the US, so the US post office has to track it. Lose-lose.

If you send the package via an international carrier, it’ll cost a bit more, but the company will know exactly where it is at all times, and when it will be delivered. And FedEx, at least, will call you when they’re on their way.

2) Make sure the declared value of the gifts is less than €45 per recipient.

Unfortunately, the amount that customs lets you import is very low, at only €45 per person. If you live with a roommate, it may work to your advantage – as long as the sender puts BOTH of your names on the package, and indicates gifts of equal value for both of you (even if they’re all for you).

Keep in mind as well that exchange rates will play a role in the €45 limit, so you’ll want to leave a little buffer. The sender will have to declare the value in USD, and customs officials will convert the dollar amount into Euros on the day the package clears. Thus, a package with a declared value of $60 will make it through customs with no fees on a day when the exchange rate is $1.45 / € – for a value of €41,37. But if that same $60 package clears customs while the exchange rate is $1.30 / €, it’ll be worth €46,15 – and you’ll owe taxes on the whole amount.

To be safe, have the sender convert the package’s value from dollars to Euros using a very LOW estimated exchange rate. Since the exchange rate has been hovering around $1.35 / € for the past few years, I typically use $1.30 or even $1.25, to make sure it fits comfortably under that €45 before sending.

3) Wrap the gifts individually and put a name tag on them.

The wrapping doesn’t have to be fancy, but the law says that gifts have to look like gifts. Therefore, they should be wrapped individually (packing paper or bags are fine), and each should be labeled with the recipient’s name.

4) Write a complete package inventory with an accurate value for each item, and identify each item as an “unsolicited gift.”

The package will clear customs far more easily (and without further inspection) if the packing slip has a complete and accurate inventory of what’s inside, along with the purchase price.

My fastidious father goes so far as to identify the fabric blend of the t-shirt he gifted me (much to my mother’s chagrin, as she had to unwrap all of the gifts she had already wrapped up to check the tags). You don’t necessarily have to go that far, although the more details you provide, the better off you’ll be.

Finally, it’s important to list all of the items as ‘unsolicited gifts’ on the packing slip, so that it’s clear that the items are not ‘personal effects (the rules for sending personal effects are different) or commercial purchases.

5) Don’t insure the package.

Insurance is a tip-off that the package has value, and many of the people who have had problems receiving gifts have indicated that their package was insured.

In many cases, it seemed like the gifts were sent following the other rules on this list, but for some reason, French customs marked their packages as “commercial” when they noticed insurance, thus cancelling the ‘gift’ designation, and requiring customs charges to be paid.

Plus, if your package’s declared value doesn’t match the insurance value, you’ll be in trouble – you’ll either get charged, or you won’t get reimbursed the full amount if the package is lost.

6) Don’t ship valuable gifts – bring them back with you in person.

A woman I used to work with received a handmade quilt from a relative, maybe her grandmother. When her family sent it to her, they put the full value of a handmade quilt – €300 – on the package, and she ended up paying almost €100 in taxes to get her “gift” out of customs hell.

Don’t make the same mistake.

If someone wants to give you something of value, celebrate Christmas in July or your half birthday the next time you go home, and bring it with you on the plane. The same customs rules *technically* apply when you arrive in the airport, but checks are far from systematic, and it’ll be hard to prove the item is new or wasn’t purchased in France.

Have you had trouble receiving packages in France? What tips do you have for making sure your mail arrives smoothly?

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15 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Mohamed July 22, 2014, 10:58 pm

    Great post! I’m moving to France in about 11 days for university for 4 years, and I was wondering, as my parents will be sending my the rest of my clothes, would I have to pay taxes on them? Thanks!

    • Allison Lounes July 22, 2014, 11:21 pm

      You either have to include proof that you’ve owned them for more than 6 months and that they’re ‘personal effects’ or declare a low value under the gift threshold.

      • Mohamed July 23, 2014, 12:17 am

        Oh wow. That’s impossible, so I guess I’ll just have them sent as gifts. Also, how secure and safe is the french postal system for large packages (a box in this case?

      • flora October 26, 2015, 11:44 pm

        Per La Poste, “all personal effects are considered taxable….it’ s the total package value that has to be under a certain Euro in order to bypass the tax. They don’t care how old something is…just the value. If all items in your box reach 45 Euros then you will be taxed. I was told it’s 45 Euros per individual on the parcel. This Information came from La Poste official from 75007 facility.

        • Allison Lounes November 25, 2015, 3:30 pm

          I think the 6 month rule is for something to be considered ‘used’ and not ‘new.’ The value of used stuff is significantly lower than that of new stuff.

          And if you can prove you’ve owned something, say, for 6 months or more and you’ve paid all applicable taxes on it, they can’t tax you again. It’s not like I declare and pay tax on my laptop every time I come back and forth to France.

  • berna December 1, 2014, 8:30 pm

    Hey, I have a lil different question.
    So my problem is that I want to buy some stuff online from Hong Kong, and they would be shipped to France. The site says that the prices doesnt include the duty fees, but I dont know that I have to pay or not for receiving it ( and if I do, how much) if the package’s price is lower than 26 euros (including the shipping costs) and the total weight is not more than 0.8 kg.
    So what you think? Do you know anything about this kind of regulations?
    Thank you, B

  • Mohammad maharif February 7, 2015, 9:53 am

    Can u please tell me how to avoid customs sending gift to my friends in italy!.
    i am from India.
    Ans which logistic company is the best

  • Juriaan November 29, 2015, 10:57 pm

    I’m in france And I bought a phone on ebay in the USA.
    I bought it for 405 $. When I saw that I had to add another 90 $ for the import taxe and another 20 $ for the shipping to get it in France I change the mailing adress to one of my friend in the US. (now it’s just 405$).

    I saw on other post that if you use UPS GROUND there is never any control on it (but it slow), my question is if I had an insurance for 400 $ will it go through costum anyway ?

    Please help me out, 400$ was ok, 500 really isn’t !

    • Allison Lounes November 30, 2015, 2:19 pm

      If you have insurance on it, that’s a big tip-off that the item inside is valuable and that they should check/tax it. Sorry!

  • Claire Butler December 26, 2015, 7:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this incredibly valuable information…I have close friends in France, and every time I mail over anything, they charge THEM customs to receive a gift that is often not as valuable as what they pay for in taxes. I will use FedEx or UPS from now on! Is there any way that “I” can pay the customs taxes from the USA so that my friends do not have to pay them? I am an artist by trade, but not by profession. I want to send artwork to them, but the artwork is darned good, and I’m afraid that they will assess customs charges even for “unsolicited” work. The shipping on a canvas, even rolled and off its’ stretcher bars is often over $100. Any info you have for this type of shipment is most appreciated!

  • Ananya January 16, 2016, 1:41 am

    Hi there
    My mom has sent me a jacket from India, the value might be a little over the forty five euro limit.. I would say around sixty euros.. I have got a call from what I think is DHL or Paris customs but they were speaking in French.. Would you know how much customs would need to be paid for something of that value? Should I just go to the DHL office in Paris and try and figure out what the problem is? Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Allison Lounes January 17, 2016, 10:35 pm

      DHL probably has an English speaking phone number you can call. The fee will be 20% of the declared value + the shipping cost.

  • Alisson April 6, 2016, 11:51 pm

    Hello 🙂
    Im french but I live in USA. I want to sent a package to my sister living in France. Homemade baby clothes. They asked me the value of each item, I dont know what to do, how can I do that ? (you probably gave the answer in your post but my english is really bad, sorry)
    Thank you !!

  • MesEnvois May 2, 2016, 10:38 am

    Sending Parcels over seas can be a little tricky and complicated by times. So it is essential to be aware of the various custom duties that applies. Regarding carriers, beforehand, it is advised to check the policies regarding the custom and excise duties. The fees may vary from one carrier to the other, or from a destination to the other. All relevant information can be found on the carriers’ website. Especially concerning the customs and excise duty.

  • zaur vekua December 26, 2016, 4:32 pm

    I have two friends in France, I’m gonna to send them georgian wine and churchkhela.
    How many bottles of wine, can I send them?


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