My Experience Of Importing Audio Gear Into The UK From The EU

In May 2022, I imported quite a bit of audio gear from the EU. I thought it’d be helpful to write up the whole experience as a standalone blog post, in case anyone else is thinking of doing the same.

What Did You Import?

I imported a full Fractal Audio setup from G66 for myself, and an audio interface + selection of microphones for work from Thomann.

Why Did You Import?

It was the only way to buy the items.

  • The Fractal Audio gear (Axe FX 3, FM-3, FC-12) isn’t sold in the UK. If you one it, you have to mail-order it from G66.
  • The other gear is sold in the UK, but was out-of-stock when I went to order it. Thankfully, there’s plenty of stock over in Europe. I just had to import it from Thomann.

Not only was the gear easier to get from Europe, it was also cheaper than buying it from UK stockists. My business probably saved around 10% of the price by importing, even after delivery and import costs.

That’s bonkers. Something’s very wrong with Britain right now.

What Was The Import Process Like?

In both cases, the process was incredibly easy:

  • With Thomann, you pay them the asking price at checkout, and that’s it. They include all taxes and import fees in the price they show you.
  • With G66, I had to pay an import fee. I was able to pay the fee over the phone when the delivery driver arrived with the goods. I could have paid this in advance, but the delivery company didn’t mention that in their emails to me.

Unfortunately, the UK government agents couldn’t be bothered to fill out their paperwork correctly, so I can’t tell you for sure how much of the extra was VAT and how much was cream off the top.

In both cases, delivery took 3-4 working days. That was a lot better than I’d hoped for.

What Did You Do To Mitigate The Risks?

I didn’t know how easy or difficult the process would be. This is my first time importing since the UK left the EU.

Just in case, I put all the orders through on my credit card. Here in the UK, credit cards offer more consumer protection than debit cards. If anything had gone disastrously wrong, I would have been able to claim my money back from my bank.

That turned out to be hardest part of the whole process.

My bank’s automated anti-fraud system initially blocked payment to Thomann. They have an automated system that’s supposed to let me authorise the payment, but for some reason that the bank’s refusing to discuss, that failed to work. It took over an hour on the phone to my bank to get them to authorise the order to Thomann. After that, I had to get in touch with Thomann. They had to cancel the whole order, and then I had to place the order a second time.

The whole thing took a half a day to resolve, and left a bad taste in my mouth with my bank. This isn’t about ordering from outside the UK; my bank has done this before with orders to UK firms too. I’ve lodged a complaint, but I already know that my bank will reject it.

What About Returns?

With buying cross-border in this post-Brexit world, returns are a concern. In general, it makes sense to buy from a UK outlet if possible, simply because any returns should be easier (faster, take up less of my time).

I can’t tell you about G66’s returns experience, as I didn’t need to return any of the items I bought from them.

I’m partway through Thomann’s returns experience. It’s very easy to organise a return through their customer portal. I actually phoned them up first to discuss the faulty mic, and they seemed surprised that I’d bothered to do so before returning the mic. (Oh yeah, booking a support call with Thomann was also a first-class experience for me.) Thomann arranged a pre-paid courier; all I had to do was package up the mic, print out the label, and drop the item off at a local drop-off point.

After that, there’s a bit of a gap in Thomann’s system.

If there’s a way to track the progress of the return through the customer portal, I haven’t been able to find it. I basically had to be patient, and wait to hear back from Thomann. I’ve had an email to say that they’ve sent me another parcel … but I don’t know whether it contains a replacement, or whether they’ve decided that there’s no fault and have sent back the exact same mic as before.

Whichever it is, this parcel has taken longer to arrive than the original delivery did.

My Advice On When To Order

The one piece of advice I’ve got is that the days of just-in-time delivery are over. If you need an item, make sure you order it well before the date that you plan on using it.

  • In theory, we can still get next-day delivery if we buy from somewhere in the UK. In reality, even the big outlets are having massive problems keeping items in stock. You simply can’t get next-day delivery when there’s no stock.
  • Some items are more available in Europe, but you’ll need to check to see if the thing you want is one of them. If you can’t get them from Europe either, you need to consider second-hand or an alternative.

Final Thoughts

I miss the days when importing from mainland Europe didn’t warrant a blog post. Back then, it was something we could just take for granted, as part of our membership of the European Union.

It’s no small irony that the only part of the whole process that was troublesome was dealing with UK institutions: the bank that blocked payment when it shouldn’t have, and the UK border officials who couldn’t be bothered to fill out the admin paperwork that broke down the import charges.

The European side was a good experience. Not only did I get items that I couldn’t get in the UK, it actually saved my business money too compared to UK prices.

I don’t think I’d do it for a guitar, but if I need any more audio gear in the near future, I’ll definitely check prices in Europe before ordering.

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