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What is Black Friday? It’s a US tradition that has been delivering shoppers an early Christmas gift in the form of bargains galore from retailers keen to get their tills ringing for many years. On Black Friday, the prices of hundreds of thousands of items are slashed and the most committed shoppers queue up outside their favourite stores and malls for hours to make sure they snap up the best deals. Discounts are also available online for those not wanting to brave the in-store scrum.

The latest data shows that 225 million Americans shopped on Black Friday in 2011, racking up a bill of $11.4 billion.

When is it? It happens on the first Friday after Thanksgiving, so this year it’s Friday 29 November. It started off as a one day-only event. However, some big retailers regularly start their sales on Thanksgiving itself – Walmart’s official Black Friday sale kicks off at 8pm on Thursday 28 November, although this year it has already started to discount some items. Similarly, rivals such as Toys R’Us, Best Buy and Target have also started to cut the price of some popular items.

Are there any Black Friday deals in the UK? Yes. The big retailers in the UK have really been getting into the swing of things for the past four years and Brits spent £200 million on Black Friday last year. This year, Amazon.co.uk will have 2,000 deals – the most ever – which it says will save Christmas shoppers millions of pounds. The average discount, according to the retailer, will be 40%, with items on offer including One Direction signed albums, Nespresso coffee machines, Canon cameras and LeapFrog LeapPad 2 bundles.

Black Friday in the UK will actually be a week-long event at Amazon between Monday 25 November and Sunday 1 December, with extra savings scheduled for Saturday 30 November and Sunday 1 December. Other big retailers that will have Black Friday deals include Debenhams, Asda (the UK arm of Walmart) and Apple (which discounts ‘re-conditioned’ items).

If the US Black Friday deals are better, can I buy from the US and get items sent to me in the UK? It depends on the retailer. Some will let you order online from the UK and charge you international postage. However, if they have a presence in the UK, you’ll most likely have to wait for the UK sale (if there is one).

However, to get around this problem, some tech companies have sprung up to offer international shoppers a helping hand. For example, BundleBox.com gives its users a personal US parcel forwarding address they can use when ordering online. So no matter where they live they can shop from any US website, using the BundleBox delivery address. Once the purchase gets to BundleBox, it is repacked (to get rid of surplus packaging and help keep postage costs down) and then sent to you. Multiple items can also be bundled together. When you’re ready, and Bundlebox has received everything you’ve ordered, you can book the shipment of your purchases to the final destination (the company will also hold items for up to 30 days, free of charge). And you can choose the delivery method. The company uses Fedex but you can opt for either express delivery, which takes two to three days, or the regular delivery service that takes up to five days. Users have to register but the US delivery address becomes available immediately. There’s a $15 subscription fee, which gets refunded with your first shipment. Postage costs are payable separately.

Do I have to pay tax on anything I buy from the US? Yes but exactly what type and how much varies considerably. Sales tax has to be paid on purchases in the US, and usually isn’t included in the selling price – something that often catches foreign visitors out when they get to the till. The rate at which it is payable varies from state to state but mostly hovers around 8 or 9%.

If you’re importing items to the UK, or bringing them back from a holiday, you might also have to pay import tax (also known as Customs Duty, which applies to goods over a certain value produced from outside the EU) if you exceed your duty free allowance. Currently the taxman allows each person to bring home up to £390 worth of goods (other than alcohol or cigarettes) including gifts, perfume and souvenirs. However that limit is reduced to £270 if arriving by private plane or private boat – so Roman Abramovich beware.

If you buy something that exceeds the limit, such as a laptop, you should declare the item when you pass through customs at the airport and pay the Duty. You’ll be charged a proportion of the value depending on the type of item (typically another 8 or 9% of the purchase price). Websites such as dutycalculator.com can give you a good idea of what you’ll pay. If you are buying from the US and having your goods delivered, the retailer may charge you the import tax upfront or once the item arrives in the UK Royal Mail may ask you to pay tax before delivery is made. Services such as BundleBox allow you to pre-pay any customs duty that may apply.
If you fail to declare the purchases that tax is due on, you could be penalised.

Is it worth flying to the States to save on my Christmas shopping? That depends on what you’re buying. A last-minute return flight from London to New York can be booked through travelworld.co.uk for £359 (incl taxes). If your shopping list includes lots of electronics – laptops, smartphones or tablets – you could save some serious money.

Are there any other bargain shopping days before Christmas? Yes. The biggest is Cyber Monday – also known as Mega Monday – which takes place on Monday 2 December 2013. It is expected to be the single busiest day for online shopping throughout the UK so keep your eyes peeled for adverts.

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Christopher Macgowan