Buy cheap guitar & mandolin strings in UK from abroad

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You can legally import goods up to the value of £15 into the United Kingdom from outside the European Union with no liability for duty or VAT, using an exemption known as Low Value Consignment Relief. 
This is particularly useful to musicians as there are many components and consumables that are small enough, light enough and cheap enough that they can reasonably be posted anywhere in the world. 

Strings are the first and the most obvious example; a D'Addario EXP 12-string set that retails for £20 in the UK can be bought from the USA for £12 including postage; a 6-string EXP classical set that retails for £10.50 in the UK can be imported for £8.50 including postage; a 6-string EXP steel set that retails for £8.95 delivered from the UK is £7.63 delivered from the USA. Any of these (bought singly at least), is not liable for any import taxes or duties on arrival in the UK. If your preference is for Elixir strings the same applies; a set of Elixir mandolin strings is £14 shipped from the UK, but £11.40 shipped from the USA. 

The same logic also works well for small, lightweight accessories (clip-on tuners, new bridge pins, plectrums), all of which can be sourced from abroad much cheaper than buying the same product in the UK. Admittedly the savings are a few pounds here and a few pounds there, but it's a small victory against rip-off Britain. The cut-off point by value is £15; the sensible cut-off point by weight seems to be around 100g / 3.5oz where shipments from the USA are concerned. A 4oz bottle of lemon oil works out cheaper bought from the UK, as does a Shubb capo.

Be warned: if your import from outside the EU goes over the £15 LVCR, it is liable to be assessed for import duty (2.7% on musical instrument strings) and VAT (20%), plus a Post Office clearance fee of £8. That can quickly make your "cheap" import look very expensive indeed; a £20 import might cost you 54p in duty, £4.11 in VAT and £8.00 in fees, £32.65 all told. Sad news for fiddle players and those whose strings cost more than £15 a set, but, there you have it. It's also a minor nuisance should you wish to buy multiple items from the same seller; you'll want to buy them separately and have them shipped separately or your whole order could become liable for duty and VAT. 

My own experience is that shipments from the USA are reliable and arrive within a week or two; shipments from the Asia-Pacific region do arrive, in the fullness of time, but three weeks is not uncommon and it's far less likely that you'll have tracking information. It goes without saying that you have no real comeback if the item is defective or faulty as it's not cost-effective to send it back, but for items around the £10 mark from known brands, it's most probably a gamble worth taking. 

As an example of how the savings add up, over four sets of coated strings, one set of bridge pins, one pair of string nippers, one clip-on tuner and six dozen plectrums, I've saved just over £40 as compared with buying the same items from the most competitive UK sellers. 




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