Importing a Guitar – Is It Worth The Hassle?

From time to time, importing can look like an attractive option when you find a guitar that you absolutely must have.  As a left handed player with an already limited selection it can be incredibly difficult to pass up something nice when it enters your radar! This article looks at the process of importing guitars internationally and the costs involved from the perspective of a UK buyer.

Let’s face it, left handed players residing in the USA have a slightly easier time obtaining guitars than the rest of the world – and the prices are usually much better to boot!  I’m sure there are some great European brands that our American friends would like to get their hands on, but for the most part the vast majority of the bigger guitar brands are USA based.  I regularly check eBay USA for left handed guitars and have decided to import guitars on several occasions.  Whether or not it is worth the hassle ultimately comes down to the extra costs involved.

How Much Does it Cost to Import a Guitar?How Do They Calculate The Charges?

When importing a guitar to your country you will be charged added fees based on the declared value of the instrument along with the cost of the shipping service you have used.

This is tricky, because you realistically want to use the speediest shipping service available to you in order to limit any potential damage that might occur during transit.  But at the same time this faster shipping option not only costs you more initially – it also ends up costing more in import bills!

On top of this your local courier will likely also charge you a small advancement fee for taking care of all of the paperwork for you.

Import Guitar International Cost Fees Duty Tax VAT

Analysis of the Fees

Here’s a breakdown of the fees I was charged when I imported a guitar from the USA to the UK last year.

  • The value of the guitar was declared at $2000 USD
  • Shipping came to $255.50 (24 hour USPS)
  • Insurance was $19

So a total of $2’274.50 so far.  (Roughly £1425)

When it reached the UK I was charged the following…

  • Duty tax of £48.80 GBP
  • VAT of £275.44
  • Advancement fee of £10.00

So a total of £334.24 in import fees. (Roughly $534)

Doing a little math, that figures out to be roughly 23.5% extra after shipping costs.  So as you can deduce, importing guitars (or any expensive item) carries a heavy penalty.  Obviously the extent of these extra fees will differ from country to country, and will vary depending on the shipping service you opt for.

When Do I Get Charged?

Depending on the courier you may receive a letter after the guitar has cleared customs asking you to phone up and pay the fees before they will release the package to you.  Alternatively they may bring the guitar straight to you and bill you at a later date – something to patiently dread!  Bottom line is that you will get charged eventually.  Something the size of a guitar is unfortunately never going to slip through customs without incurring added charges.

Is It Worth The Effort?

Now that you have a rough idea of what sort of extra charges you can expect, the next step is to figure out if it is worth the hassle.

For me personally it was absolutely worth the added bother to import my dream guitar.  I had been talking to the UK distributor, asking when they would have a left handed model of what I wanted in stock.  They told me that not only would they not be able to get one for 4 months, but that the price on it would be £2650 – and this was for the bog standard model!

The model I ended up buying is several steps above what I was offered by the UK dealer and judging by his pricing I would suggest that my guitar would cost well in excess of £3000 in the UK.  So considering I paid roughly £1760, I’d say I got an absolute steal of a deal!  Besides actually moving to the USA I don’t see any way that I could have purchased the guitar for less – at least not legally! A downside would be that any warranty issues would be left up to me, as I’m hardly going to send the thing back across the pond for repairs!

Save Money with Low Cost Shipping

Be wary about choosing the more affordable shipping option to keep costs down. A few years ago I bought a Strat from the States and used the lowest cost service from USPS.  Although everything worked out great in the end, there was a period of an entire month where that guitar disappeared into the void.  It left the States and then no tracking updates for 30 days. What a relief it was when the tracking finally updated!  I’ve had no problems since, but this is something to keep in mind.

23-02-2012   14:41   Heathrow Airport                                                Received in destination country
26-01-2012   21:19   Delivery Agent – LOS ANGELES AMU                Forwarded for export
24-01-2012   09:22   Delivery Agent – UNITED STATES AMERICA     Collected from customer

Simple Importing Tips

  1. Contact the seller/vendor and find out how they plan on packaging the guitar.  Ensure that they seem to have the know-how to ship the guitar so that it arrives in one piece!
  2. If the guitar does not come with a hardcase/padded gigbag, ask the seller if you can have one shipped to him to send the guitar in.  Any damage caused in international transit is going to be a huge hassle to claim back on.  Some insurance policies are incredibly strict and may not cover you unless the guitar is packed to specific regulations.
  3. Use to roughly calculate what your import fees will be.
  4. Be prepared to wait!  Just because you paid for 24 hour shipping doesn’t mean that the guitar will be with you the following day!  It will get to your country in 24 hours, but that puppy is likely to get stuck in a queue at your customs department for a week or more.
  5. Don’t bother phoning your customs department to try and see what the hold up is.  This does not help, trust me – I’ve tried!  It takes as long as it takes.

Happy importing!

23 replies
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  1. Leonard
    Leonard says:

    You can minimize import costs if you deduct the shipping cost and have the seller reduce the invoice value on the consignment note. Customs calculate on the value stated on the consignment note. Can shave hundreds off the cost of a cheap guitar and close to a thousand off a custom guitar that way. Just greedy government thieving, that’s all.

  2. Vic
    Vic says:

    I will never understand why both Gibson and Fender have the lefty upcharge on their Custom Shop models … it adds significantly to the cost. I carry a lot of high end lefty guitars here in the US and most of those builders have waived their lefty upcharge … Collings, Santa Cruz, Froggy Bottom, Trussart, Lowden, Huss and Dalton, etc.

    Keep in mind that when shipping a guitar overseas the customs value equals the insurance value, so if a guitar should be lost or damaged, that is what it will be insured for.

    I get big discounts to ship overseas from FedEx (55-80 percent), so while the online rate might be $700 to Japan, I can do it for $150. Usually it’s 2-3 days anywhere in the world, and the only delays is if it’s held up in Customs in the destination country. USPS … there are box size limitations and value limitations … and the tracking is spotty and it will take forever. To me, it’s worth the extra money to go FedEx because the tracking is better.

    Rock on!

  3. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    ” will never understand why both Gibson and Fender have the lefty upcharge on their Custom Shop models”

    … because they can, and do. Because they are Fender and Gibson ..

    • Brian
      Brian says:

      Many make of guitar are GOOD. But you cant decide soley on the make of a guitar. you have to take into consideration the various components that make up the guitar- Materials. pickups, pots, where it was built. Talk to people who know something about guitars Go to a dealer and try several bfore deciding. Hope this helps. And when you get one ENJOY.

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