How can a £68 FedEx delivery bill suddenly turn into a massive £390?

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I sent a present to a friend in Cairo to celebrate the birth of her baby boy. I used FedEx, selecting them from the various quotes on the ParcelHero price comparison website. I paid £68 for the delivery, which was a parcel of kids’ clothes and snacks worth about £200 which was supposed to be delivered by the end of June/start of July.

By August the parcel had not been delivered. In September Parcel Hero emailed me to say my friend in Cairo had refused to pay an additional £390 in “duties” and therefore it had not been delivered. I was told to pay the £390 or have it returned to me at a cost of £390 plus a £340 return charge. Or I could have it destroyed – and still be expected to pay £390.

I have tried to reason with ParcelHero but it is threatening to charge my account and the card that was used to pay the original delivery fee.

ER, London

This week, the parcel was finally delivered. The baby food has gone off, the snacks are in crumbs and the baby boy has already outgrown the clothes you sent four months ago. And this was only after we intervened. FedEx has offered not to charge you for the duties.

How could a £200 package attract Egyptian customs duties of £390? In truth, they did not. Customs duties were actually £120, not £390. What bumped up the cost so massively were a whole raft of other fees. FedEx wanted £105 for “storage” of the box while it was undelivered, a “certificate and approval fee”, a “brokerage” fee, an “MTS bank fee”, a “postal licence fee” and a “payment in advance” fee. Despite your pressing, you could not get an answer for what most of these meant. And on top of that, it added local VAT. When ParcelHero contacted you in September it said the total cost was now £390.

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We approached ParcelHero first, as you paid them the £68 delivery fee. It says it was not responsible for fees applied by any country’s customs agency and thought the fees over and above the underlying customs duties “don’t seem entirely unreasonable”.

We pressed FedEx for answers, and it says: “We have been in direct contact with our customer in order to resolve the matter.”

In other words, they had delivered the parcel, late and with no further offer of compensation or even money back for having taken so long.

It appears the parcel had been held in bonded storage at Cairo airport, and that obtaining customs clearance from both pharmaceutical and food agencies held things up. But you were not told why it took so long to contact you, and why you were left in a catch-22 situation of paying what you regarded as an extortionate amount to release the parcel, or a similar amount to destroy it.

Compiled by Patrick Collinson. Anna Tims is away.

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