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A Guide to What You Can Bring Back From Holiday

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What You Need to Know

  1. In terms of alcohol and tobacco, there is no limit to what you can bring back from another EU country, though all goods must be for personal consumption or for gifts.
  2. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) advises you should expect to be questioned if you travel with more than 800 cigarettes and 90 litres of wine.
  3. If border officials suspect that you are in breach of the rules, then they have the right to seize the goods and even your car.
  4. Stricter restrictions are in place if you are arriving into the UK from a non-EU country. Limits on alcohol and tobacco are lower and you are obliged to pay duty on goods worth more than £390.
  5. However, you are allowed to ‘mix and match’ your alcohol and tobacco allowances when arriving from non-EU countries.
  6. Note that you are required to declare if you are carrying more than 10,000 euros in cash.
  7. Some goods, including illicit drugs, flick knives and indecent material, are completely barred. Attempting to bring these into the UK could place you at risk of prosecution.

Arriving From EU Countries

As a general rule, you can bring an unlimited amount of most goods back into the UK if you are travelling from an EU member state. So, for example, if you’re planning a break in France, for example, you don’t need to worry about how much wine you bring back.

However, HM revenue and Customs (HMRC) advises that, for goods that are subject to excise or duty, such as alcohol and tobacco, you need to meet the following conditions;

  • You must be transporting the goods yourself. That is, you can’t ask someone else to carry extra cigarettes or bottles for you in their luggage.
  • The goods are for your own personal use or are for a gift. Note that ‘gifts’ are defined as being given away as free; if you are reimbursed even a little, then you run the risk of the goods being seized.
  • The relevant tax and duty has been paid on the goods in the EU member state where they were purchased.

So long as you meet the above criteria, then you will have no problems at the border. However, HMRC advises that, while there are no limits on the amount of alcohol or tobacco you can bring with you when you travel from EU countries, you should expect to be questioned by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officials if you are carrying more than:

  • 800 cigarettes.
  • 200 cigars.
  • 400 cigarillos.
  • 1 kilogram of tobacco.
  • 110 litres of beer.
  • 90 litres of wine.
  • 10 litres of spirits.
  • 20 litres of fortified wines, such as port or sherry.

Should you be carrying more than the volumes listed above, you may be asked to prove that what you are carrying is for your personal use and will not be sold on. If UKBA officials suspect that you are in breach of the rules, then they have the right to seize not just the goods in question but, if you are driving into the country, then your car, too.

Arriving From non-EU Countries

Stricter restrictions are in place if you are arriving into the UK from a non-EU country. For instance, the amount of alcohol you are allowed to bring into the country is lower than if you were arriving from an EU state. So, you are allowed:

  • Either 1 litre of spirits or strong liquor or 2 litres of fortified wine.
  • 16 litres of beer.
  • 4 litres of still wine.

At the same time, you are also allowed to bring into the country one of the following;

  • 200 cigarettes.
  • 100 cigarillos.
  • 50 cigars.
  • 250grams of tobacco.

Note, however, that border officials will allow you to ‘mix and match’ these allowances. For instance, if you only use up half your limit on spirits, then you can bring in half your limit on fortified wine. Similarly, if you only reach half your limit for cigarettes (ie 100), then you will be allowed to bring in 25 cigars.

Also, you are permitted to bring in other goods (including perfume, electronics and souvenirs) up to the value of £390 without having to pay tax and/or duty. Meanwhile, if you are carrying cash into the country, then anything over 10,000 euros needs to be declared at the border.

Declaring Goods and Paying Duties and Tax

If you are arriving into the UK from a non-EU country, you will be required to make a declaration to customs officials if:

  • You have exceeded any of the allowances set out.
  • The goods you are carrying with you are intended for commercial, rather than personal, use.
  • You believe you may be carrying banned or restricted goods.

If any of the above applies, then it is your duty to go through the red channel at the port or airport. Alternatively, if the red channel is unmanned, then there will be a red telephone you must use to speak with a UKBA official.

Should you be required to pay customs or duty, you should speak to a UKBA official about how much is owed. As a guideline, on goods worth between £390 and £630, there is a flat rate of duty of 2.5 per cent. Above this, the rate of duty to be paid varies according to the type of goods you are carrying. Again, you should consult with port or airport officials or speak with the UKBA before making your trip.

Banned and Restricted Goods

Regardless of whether you’re arriving into the UK from an EU or non-EU member state, there are a number of goods that you are completely banned from bringing into the country under any circumstances. Travelling with these, either on your person or in your luggage, can put you at risk of prosecution. Goods that are completely banned include:

  • Flick and gravity knives.
  • Indecent and obscene material.
  • Counterfeit or pirated goods.
  • Stun guns and self defence sprays.
  • Illicit drugs.

Additionally, the following goods are also banned, though exceptions may be made if you have the relevant licence:

  • Firearms (both real and imitation) and ammunition.
  • Other offensive weapons, including swords.
  • Endangered plants and animals, including live animals and furs.
  • Rough diamonds.
  • Meat and dairy products: restrictions apply on imports from outside of the EU. For more information on rules for food imports, consult the Food Standards Agency website.

Again, if you are in any doubt over what you are allowed to bring into the UK and what you are not, get in touch with HMRC.

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