Threadless, UPS, and Customs Fees

Over the past few weeks we’ve had some posts letting people know about the Annual $5 T-shirt Sale at While the deals were good (and still are — the sale continues!), a number of our readers have come back and commented about the outrageous customs fees they were required to pay at the door.

To the best of my knowledge, the commenters that have been saying it is a UPS-related issue are dead right. Of all the deliveries I receive from the states each year, only the ones from UPS seem to come with a mountain-sized customs fee. I once ordered a $30 bag from Manhattan Portage and had to pay $45 in customs. It was BEYOND outrageous. That’s why I go out of my way to avoid UPS whenever possible.

Threadless offers four shipping choices — two through UPS, and two through the US Postal Service. While it’ll be slower and without a tracking number, you’ll most likely avoid the customs fee by choosing the “Postal” options. I’m cheap, so I went economy anyways. My first order hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t confirm for a fact that no customs fees occur through this method. From my understanding and past experience with other US companies though, it’s the safest bet.

My apologies to all of you that have incurred customs fees. If it makes you feel any better I’ll likely be fighting with a UPS driver today over fees from a Christmas purchase unrelated the Threadless later today. I ordered it from a .ca site, so why the heck is it coming UPS from Colorado?? We are not amused.

As far as Threadless shipping goes, they’ve just upgraded their sale again to include a $7 discount for postal economy shipping on international orders over $50. The sales been on a while now, so this is probably the last bump up in savings they’ll offer before they take the whole thing down.

38 responses to “Threadless, UPS, and Customs Fees”

  1. Sally says:

    Great points Jim,

    Always always try to get things sent postal.
    Most often if Canada customs via Canada post only charges tax and a 5$ fee.

    I’ve had many valuable items slip through and not get charged anything.

    Anything valed under $20 does not recieve charges.

    Right now with the Christmas rush odds of your package being stopped and charged tax and customs are pretty high, i’d say 9/10 compared to the usual 6/10. (odds are based on my ratio of paying)

    Priority and express seem to get caught more by Canada customs then first class from the USA, but most companies won’t ship first class as insurance and tracking are not options.

    Over the years I’ve recd well over 500 things from the USA and I learned the hard way to avoid UPS, Fedex, DHL, etc unless its express (very expensive and import fees covered)

    I once ordered 60 dollars of shoes from and got nailed for approx 38 dollars in fees via DHL.

    I wish the limit was more then $20 in goods, considering USA’ers are allowed to recieve up to $200 from us withouot charge, highly is unfair.

    Also another aspect to consider when buying from USA merchants right now that if your using your credit card not via Paypal, you are subjected to the credit cards own conversion of the USD to CDN dollar and anywhere from 2-4% in addition as a service fee.
    With the Canadian dollar so low right now sometimes in the long run the deal fades pretty quickly.

  2. nsangel says:

    this is news we can use!

    thanks for the info Jim! it’ll make online holiday shopping less stressful for many.

  3. funkright says:

    2 words… BROWN SUCKS!

  4. cheapy says:

    Ordered with the regular postal (I think it was $9, paid $14 total for one tee) and it arrived quickly (got it yesterday, ordered when the smart canucks info went up) and I didn’t have to pay a thing.

    However, I’ve had to pay through UPS and DHL for other christmas gifts, brokerage fees suck!, so I think I’ll be requesting regular mail from now on (or order in canada!).

  5. L says:

    Gah- I really dislike UPS- I received two Christmas presents last week from Amazon UK, both items cost almost identical amounts (~$80), one came through Canada Post, the other through UPS, only one cost me $10 in customs- any guesses?
    Mostly my brother is super annoyed that I had to pay to receive his gift, I’ve never had Amazon UK use UPS before, I’m not sure what was going on with that package.

  6. fallsage says:

    Thank you !Jim.I’ll order some tees later:)I really like the tees.

    And,I spent about $100 last time(10 tees).The UPS price was much cheaper than USPS.Then I made a huge mistake~~~I chose UPS.

  7. Amanda says:

    Yeah, when ordering through the States, I always go with the cheapest shipping option. I’ve never been billed customs yet.

  8. spevia says:

    I chose UPS as well because it was cheaper than all the other options…and faster service….what a HUGE mistake, ended up paying $22.00 in customs and duties fees…

  9. Mbgurl says:

    My hubby and I both were couriers, though he longer time than I was, and are familiar with hidden fees and other charges related to shipping that way. Standard flat rates fees charged for duties when little or none would be incurred except for the courier company’s policies.

    I do not agree that shipping within Canada is necessarily cheaper or a better deal even most times though! Our Postal Service seems to be edging some of their prices in line with that they charge through courier services they’ve acquired and operate now and I expect some day to see there is no savings through using public postal options! What the market allows and people do not inform themselves nor make enough fuss usually in time?

    So much depends largely on all companies involved in your transaction really? Even some in Canada gouge an extra buck or two through shipping and handling charges. It varies whether a USA purchase or Canada one winds up being best deal through mail order. It is inaccurate to lead people to believe they will save money and get better deals from just making purchases here. Often is the case but isn’t necessarily so if you are good at shopping around and cutting a deal especially! Depends on many factors including finding a company here that isn’t trying make up their sale price through shipping and handling charges and so forth! Sometimes can get a better deal in USA on price of an item where the shipping still makes it better cost than if purchased here. Have to shop around and that takes time. It is not all that you can do though to control your shippinf costs! We need to better educate ourselves and prepare before making some purchases. Those in the know can still use UPS and deprive them their flat rate duties fee!

    Anybody that has had a letter or small packet not fit in that slot in the counter at a postal station should be able to attest to their amazement and initial shock at the cost now to ship an article, even a small featherweight one, under one pound through regular Canadian mail within Canada. It cost me ten or eleven dollars to ship a Fusion razor from Manitoba to Ontario in regular untracked mail! That seems far more ridiculous to me than a bit of customs fees paid because you didn’t know you could go down and clear the item through customs on your own?!

    Our Canadian Customs and Border Services have extensive info available online for people wishing to ship or order across borders and will assist specific querries over the phone. They can tell you how to avoid UPS additional charges by explaining how to clear customs yourself and how to make sure UPS does not get to ding you unfairly (in my opinion) for that. Apparently, can be avoided if you don’t mind doing some paperwork here yourself once the package gets to Canada and if you don’t mind picking it up once it arrives in your town?

    For business shipments Customs here in Canada offers free day classes to help explain the masses of info that covers their realm along with all the required assorted paperwork. Thanks so much, what a super free service that is – worthy of listing in thread here at SC! I took their free Customs class and got my ton of papers for reference afterwards for which was worth taking class for alone but much more helpful sorting through after having had their gratis instruction. Nice folks really! Appreciate this free service provided by our government very much – what a great idea!Businesses in Canada, even SME’s (small merchant enterprises as Customs calls the little guys) do not pay duties across boarder shipping with USA if shipment is under certain value and so forth. As per usual in Canada, it is the private individual who can afford it least that gets dinged footing the larger bills!

    Want to save money on duties for your USA purchases? I have a bit of advice there too. Make certain whatever you buy to ship here from USA was manufactured in either USA, Canada or possibly even Mexico too I think? Thanks largely to free trade, these items will not incur duties like a t-shirt made in China will even if purchased from USA! If your supplier of goods purchased can provide papers for customs proving the item(s) were made in North America, you will not get hit with fees that will freak you out!

    Seems to sound to me like people blame the USA for shipments having duty and such but isn’t it here, on the Canadian side, those charges (even TAXES) are incurred when we buy from USA? It is Canadian laws and policies that make shopping and shipping from USA for private citizens a bum deal in so many cases. Many times though, it is just our own ignorance that costs us more money! Sorry, it is true!!! I am a researcher type, list making person. A bit anal possibly but saves me more dough than most for having been that way. Look for yourselves at our government customs website and call their line they have displayed on their pages. Officers are happy to help explain specifics of a transaction you want to make, customs charges associated with it, and how to avoid fees where possible, including UPS ones!

    Yes, the fees can suck but a little extra effort on our parts planning a purchase rather impulse buying quickly and you can see those extra superfluous charges disappear or be avoided altogether many times. Keep in mind that when speaking to customs they have volumes of rules and need to know exactly what you are wishing to ship when answering your questions. One item can differ from another as far as which rules apply and why. Call customs for every purchase before deciding it isn’t worth risking duties. Duties can often be avoided or much, much less if you inform yourself, plan and prepare!

  10. Momoforever says:

    FYI this is directly from UPS Website
    I found this when I got nailed with their fees. Hope it helps some of you figure out how much to fork out when they show up.

    Rates for Customs Clearance into Canada

    Entry Preparation Charges
    Bond Fees

    Entry Preparation Charges

    UPS offers free+* routine customs clearance of UPS Worldwide Express Plusâ„¢, UPS Worldwide Expressâ„¢, UPS Worldwide Express Saverâ„¢ and UPS Worldwide Expeditedâ„¢. Use the chart below to calculate the customs brokerage fee for your inbound shipments.

    – Rates do not include applicable duties or taxes.

    Entry Preparation Charges

    Value for Duty
    CAD UPS Standard Service and All Other Couriers/Transportation Companies* UPS Worldwide Express Plus, UPS Worldwide Express, UPS Worldwide Express Saver, and UPS Worldwide Expedited Services

    Value for Duty
    $0.00 to $20.00 $ – Free+

    $ 20.01 to $40.00 $7.00 Free+

    $40.01 to $100.00 $19.45 Free+

    $100.01 to $200.00 $29.00 Free+1

    $200.01 to $350.00 $40.30 Free+

    $350.01 to $500.00 $45.25 Free+

    $500.01 to $750.00 $51.45 Free+

    $750.01 to $1,000.00 $57.55 Free+

    $1,000.01 to $1,250.00 $63.75 Free+

    $1,250.01 to $1,600.00 $67.75 Free+

    $1,600.01 to $5,000.00 $71.45 Free+

    Each additional $1,000 $5.55 Free+

  11. Tracy says:

    I work in the collections department of one of the 3 major couriers listed previously. I have to explain the ins and outs of why customers have to pay the charges assessed to their packages. Here’s a heads up:

    Anything that comes across our Canadian borders is valued at over $10 (not $20 as mentioned previously)Canadian is subject to taxes, and even duties.

    Anything that comes in via a courier service will be assessed ALL duties & taxes that Canada Customs associates with that type of product ie: clothing is assessed an 18% duties charge

    Couriers have to report EVERY item that they bring into Canada to the government or they can lose their licenses to clear the goods. Canada Post picks and chooses which items they want to inspect.

    Canada is the ONLY country that allows a small exemption on items sent as gifts but all 3 of the following criteria must be met – AT THE TIME THAT THE ITEM IS SENT – for that exemption to apply:
    1) The item MUST ship from a personal address to a personal address ( anything that you buy and have sent directly from a company to your recipient will not qualify)
    2) The waybill AND commercial invoice must BOTH be marked stating that the item is a gift.
    3) The value of the items must be under $60 Canadian – anything over that $60 will be assessed all duties and taxes.

    A NAFTA exemption certificate is only good when the items are going to a company/ business- and a copy of the certificate MUST be on the outside of the box for the item to qualify (a copy should travel with the commercial invoice as well). Personal shipemnts do not qualify for NAFTA exemptions.

    I buy most of my clothing and products online (hate the malls) and I try to only purchase from companies that ship via postal services – I can’t afford the clearance fees that most companies charge – but if I do have to use a courier service, I pick the one that has the cheapest clearance fees, as each company sets their own rates.

    Good Luck to all ! Hope this helps!

  12. Tracy says:

    PS – Even iof your package qualifies for all of the exemptions I listed previously , you will still have to pay the courier companies whatever their indivisual clearance fees are!
    And if you gets assessed duties and taxes by a courier company, pay the quickly ! They have to pay the government the duties & taxes on your bahalf within 30 days of billing the items to you – and they are very serious about getting the money back from you !

  13. aimee says:

    UPS + DHL have both taxxed me before..=/ a total surprise i didn’t know anything about customs n taxes.

    some websites have taxes and customs covered like
    which is awesome.

    Should have remembered that I didn’t see anything written on the threadless website. :(:(

  14. curls says:

    i’ve used UPS before and and the rate was quite reasonable…I think the customs etc was 7-8 bucks on a $USD 200 order… so i do think it has something to do with the shipper too, though i can’t figure that out

  15. Anonymous says:

    Official information from the CBSA can be found here:

  16. Alphonsette says:

    I work for Canada Custom and this is the information we provide importers-exporters for personal use merchandise. If the product is manufactured in the States, it fall under NAFTA and is duty free, so the only thing charge to the client is GST and PST. If the t-shirt is made in another country the duty may vary depending of the material and the way it was made, it’s usually 18% on textile. When it’s a personal importation from the States, Custom usually presumes it falls under NAFTA unless the label on the clothing says otherwise so it comes duty free.

    It’s always free of charge under 20$ unless it’s tobacco or alcohol. The exemption is value under 20$ and not 10$. If it’s a gift from a non-resident, the first 60$ canadian is exempted.

    When it comes trough USPS, it’s transfer to Canada Post who charge 5$ for brokerage fee on a regular parcel and 8$ on an express parcel. It is not charge on a package with a value of less than 20$. Usually Canada Post is the least expensive way to clear customs.

    Hope this is helpful!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Also, if you want to look up the current duty rate on any kind of item, you can look here:

    Or just call 1-800-O-CANADA

  18. Mbgurl says:

    lol – I knew it was NAFTA after I saw my post up but figured somebody would correct me?

    I am always mixing up one little thing or other including some of the shipping rules like which is for business & which for personal but I stand by Canada Border Services as should do resourse when wanting to learn about trying to keep your shipping costs down and to know what duties could be applied and knowing good ways to try get best shipping value/s.

    I was told even if I had a shipment done via courier that I could request to pick up and take the papers over to be cleared through customs myself and save myself some charges. That is, if company will let you arrange to do so, I suppose some might say no, but figured those folks at Border Services ought to know?

    I made a $59.99 USA purchase online recently that is supposed to have duties, taxes and everything included in the shipping charges the company told me and the shipment method was through Canada Post, tracking number and all. I don’t have to pick up papers and take them anywhere. Should just show up at the door, pretty much like ordering from somewhere here in Canada, I was told. If so, and all is included, not a bad deal really then my paying $22.50 for a $59.99 item compared to some couriers? sure hope the store was right and everything is included? Time will tell.

  19. Angela says:

    Don’t blame the UPS driver when he comes to the door. It is NOT his fault and should not have to put up with abuse by people like you.

  20. Gloria says:

    Why do people hate using the postal service so much? It’s as good, as fast, and they never charge you as much as private companies.

  21. edwin fongod says:

    A lot of people are losing faith in public run postal services because they are too bureaucratic consequently less competitive

  22. Jenn says:

    I don’t know why people always insist on shipping by UPS… I like shopping on eBay, but that’s the biggest problem I find when I want to buy something from the US – a lot of them ship by UPS! And I know better… Shipping by USPS (standard postal) is still reliable just as Canada Post is. But some of them won’t negotiate on how they ship the parcel. 🙁 And I’ve been dutied by UPS before, so I’ll never buy anything that’s only shipped by UPS now, unfortunately.

  23. Hya_been says:

    I bought 10 shirts from Threadless in March 2008, I was charged pst and gst by threadless and then again by Canadian customs. There was only one shipping option to Canada back when I ordered them.

    Has anyone else been charged Canadian taxes by Threadless? I was charged taxes twice and never did anything about it.

  24. myriam says:

    Hi Just wondering if someone knows how much does the shipping work, if i buy clothing from China? an;yone?

  25. nanabanana says:

    Customs Requirements


    Mail Items Valued at Less Than $20CDN

    The CBSA does not assess duty or tax on mail items valued at $20CDN or less. However, this general rule does not apply to certain products including intoxicating beverages, cigars, cigarettes, manufactured tobacco, and publications where the supplier is required to register under the Excise Tax Act. Also, this may not be combined with other exemptions.

    The CBSA does not consider items to be of low value in cases where a single transaction is split into smaller shipments to keep the value below $20CDN.

  26. Vic says:

    Beware: UPS Importing Fee
    I bought a merchandise on ebay for $140, this morning got my package and got a $53 charge! Never buy anything shipped by UPS from the US

  27. Glen says:

    If you ask me, ups are flat out crooks when it comes to cross boarder shipping, ordered a $20 dollar die cast car from ebay, got hit with a $45 bill on top of the shipping (according to the ups invoice the value of the item was $80), there was a whole fiasco of me having to fax the bill of sale to customs canada then having to fight with ups to adjust the duty. Another ebay item i bought without realising it would ship ups, to my surprise, it showed up just fine, but then about 6 months later I get a letter from a collections agency saying I owe UPS $8, the driver gave me my package without asking for any fees, I never once received an invoice from them but. I paid it because there was no chance in hell I was going to try and reason with these idiots over $8. Not to mention the fact that they were unaware that they had a pickup location in my city, I had to find out second hand where to pick up my parcel as UPS told me there wasn’t a depot near me. Something can be on sale for 90% off and i will refuse to buy it if it is shipped UPS.

  28. Dennis says:

    I just received a package from China via USPS and got charged $95.45 for $125.00 worth of merchandise. Even USPS is not safe from these taxes.

  29. Bill says:

    Beware of one thing about importing by mail particularly if it comes with a tracking number. It will arrive in the country, then all you will get on the tracking information is “International item arrived in Canada and will be reviewed by Customs” Canada custom tells me they clear ALL items with-in 72 hours. It’s then turned over to Canada Post warehouse where there is a very good chance it will sit for WEEKS before they decide to deliver it. During all this time the only tracking information you will get is “International item arrived in Canada and will be reviewed by Customs”
    Sometimes it pays to pay the extra, just to get your packages and avoid the postal swamp.. Particularly if it’s something you need by a certain date..
    Canada Post can not be trusted to deliver it on time.. After all, ‘they’ didn’t get the postage the USPS did, so why should they hurry

  30. Jimmy says:

    I think what’s also troubling about UPS is if you don’t owe any money for customs, they’ll just leave your package sitting on your porch! Purolator never does this.

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  34. Kuldip Kainth says:

    Why was I charged $9.59 CAD customs upon delivery for a $35 USD on my Threadless tee.

    FU, CSB!!!

  35. isabelle says:

    Before reading this info, I have had a three message e-mail exhange with Threadless asking them about the additional costs. I was told they would not ship via mail, only courier, so it’s interesting to note that mail could be avail. Threadless gave me the same stock answer ( “I’m resp for taxes”) each time I tried to be more specific about my question, which was can you ship by mail so I can avoid the agency fee (see below). I have been charged an agency fee by DHL and UPS, as well as customs (duty) and taxes. I expect the latter two – I resent the $40 agency fee. It is what you need to watch out for – it is the fee DHL and UPS charge to fill in a short form at the border saying what’s in your package so duty and taxes can be assessed. They charge about $40 for each form, for every box if your order comes in more than one box. Total time on thier part: 5 min. Go postal for cross-border shopping. Threadless: educate yourself and help your customers.

  36. Max Thunder says:

    I recently returned an order of 40$ of t-shirts (large “regular sized” tees got waaaay smaller than they used to be…). Cost: 15$ for shipping. They returned xl tees: cost, 22$ of customs! There was initial custom cost the first time… So it costs me 37$ to return tees and get some back. Had I known, I would have simply given the tshirts away.

    Plus: the xl tees are weirdly sized, 1 of them is extremely tight in the arms (I’m not that buff nor fat), all 4 of them are waaaay too long, and they are tight at the shoulders (but none of them seem to be exactly the same). This is the last time I order any tees online.

  37. Max Thunder says:

    On the previous message, I meant there was NO initial custom cost the first time. Threadless has apparently no clue about how the human body is shaped.

  38. Ashton says:

    I ordered 4 t-shirts. UPS just came to my door with the package and said I needed to pay them $30. I had no idea I would be getting more charges on my t-shirts. It would be nice if Threadless would let you know what UPS will charge you at your door…………

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