Top Three Trade Secrets for Posting Parcels to the USA for 4 July


Independence Day, 4 July, is a huge celebration in the USA. Friends, family and ex-pats often send gifts and treats between the UK and the US to mark the event. However, Customs fees and strict rules can make sending a package across the pond feel complicated or expensive. That’s why the UK-based US delivery specialist ParcelHero is sharing its top three tips for avoiding expensive taxes and eliminating Customs delays.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks M.I.L.T., says: ‘The USA is now ParcelHero’s single largest overseas destination. For 4 July, people send everything from favourite foods and barbeque tools to decorations, fancy dress and tableware. That’s why this seems a dandy time for ParcelHero to share our 4 July top trade secrets for sending items to the US.’

1 – Beat unnecessary Customs bills: America declared independence back on 4 July, 1776, in part due to Britain’s Imperial policies on taxation. For example, a steep tax on tea led to the famous Boston Tea Party. ‘No taxation without representation’ was the slogan of the revolution. There’s a chance your friends and family in the US may also end up paying unexpected and unwelcome Customs duties if you don’t complete your documents correctly. Our top Customs tips could end up saving hundreds of dollars.

If you send an item worth less than $100 as a present then be sure to mark it ‘Gift’ in the Customs description and include a description of the item. That’s because there’s no Customs duty to pay on gifts worth up to $100 (around £79) arriving in the US from the UK.

However, if the item you want to send is worth more than $100, you can still avoid making your friends or family pay duties on the item. That’s because, from 2016, the US increased its de minimis limit (the amount it won’t charge duties on) for low-value commercial goods sent by a retailer from $200 to $800 (around £629). That means retail goods valued at $800 or less can enter the US duty-free. This threshold depends on the total value of the products, including shipping fees. One way to legally take advantage of this is, rather than send a gift valued at over $100 yourself, buy the item online and have it sent by the seller to your friends and family in the US directly.

2 – Sending food? Here’s food for thought: If you are sending shop-bought food items for 4 July picnics and BBQs, then make sure to follow these rules:

  • Store-bought foods must be non-perishable, with a best before date over 6 months away.
  • Items must be in the original manufacturers’ packaging and unopened
  • The food label must list all the ingredients.
  • The best before date must be displayed on the packaging.

There are other unexpected restrictions on food and drink sent to the US you need to be aware of. For example, don’t send chocolate Kinder Eggs with a little toy inside – America doesn’t allow any food that has non-edible components.

Similarly, don’t include a knife to cut that cake you are sending, or your entire parcel could get halted at Customs. Equally, don’t include a nice tipple to accompany your food parcel – you can’t send alcohol to the US using a courier service.

Homemade apple pie! If you want to send home-baked items, such as Mom’s apple pie, the bad news is no international courier will handle these foods. Imagine the rotting result of any delivery stuck at Customs for too long!

  • ParcelHero’s advice is that, if you know anyone visiting the US for 4 July, it is permissible for them to take homemade perishable food through Customs.
  • Failing that, you can always send the recipe so your American friends and family can enjoy the taste of your apple pie repeatedly.
  • While couriers won’t take homemade food a traditional postal service may – but it’s not easy! You may need to obtain a prior notification reference number from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).  Write this number on the Customs declaration before taking the package to a Post Office for posting. Also, clearly mark on the form that it is a homemade product to avoid delays.

3 – Don’t send prohibited items: It’s not only certain food and knives that are banned from the US. International couriers and US Customs have strict lists of other items that cannot be sent. These include some plants, so it’s best to avoid sending a pot plant or a bunch of flowers you’ve made yourself as a 4 July gift.

One related prohibition that often catches people out is crafts products that include straw. This type of item must be specially declared at Customs or it could be seized and destroyed.

The US also prohibits several fur products, gold items sourced from certain countries and some cultural items, such as Native American artifacts from Canada.

Additionally, there are several items not banned in the US, but which couriers won’t permit you to ship to the US for safety reasons.

These include:

  • fireworks – it’s safer to source 4 July fireworks in the US!
  • perfume
  • nail varnish
  • certain types of batteries
  • aerosols
  • flammable liquids
  • ink toners
  • hoverboards

For ParcelHero’s expert advice on UK-US shipping, including useful frequently asked questions (FAQs), help for exports and prohibited items details, see: