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I just noticed this myself and thought it might be helpful to other people buying antique (>100 year old) pens from outside the EU. Although most imports over £15 are charged at 20% VAT when passing through UK customs, antiques are eligible for a lower rate of 5%. Details here (scroll down to paragraph 11). There are some hoops to jump through, though. Details here (paragraph 2). The package must be labelled ‘Antiques - Relief claimed’. You will be sent a Notice of Arrival (C160). Fill this in and return it to the postal depot with the required documents (a declaration of age of the item and evidence of its age). For items sent with customs prepaid (e.g. through the eBay Global Shipping Program), the only way to take advantage of this reduced VAT would be to claim repayment of overpaid import VAT. Details here (paragraph 2.6).
How often do people get charged on ordering from Japan to a UK address? I've just bought my first Japanese pens, to a total of around $630. How likely is it that I'll have to pay customs/excise, import VAT?