Duty Free

We’re continuing our series of blogs on holiday preparation in the run-up to summer, and answering a few common questions that British tourists have. One such question is the matter of paying tax on goods you bring into the country from abroad.

If you’re travelling abroad, you’ll probably be organising what you’re taking with you, packing, booking your taxi transfers, plane tickets, accommodation and so on. Meanwhile, something many people are already focusing on will be the things they can bring home with them from the airport! The rules on this are commonly misunderstood, though, so you should make sure you know what you’re allowed to do.

What is duty-free?

Every tourist travelling back to the UK has an allowance for duty-free goods. These must be for personal consumption or to be given as a gift. Things you intend to sell would not be eligible. The goods also have to be purchased outside the European Union, and you have to be transporting them personally into the UK.

Note: When travelling from within the EU, you do not pay UK tax, but prices will usually include tax in the country of purchase. The total limits are also different.

Duty-free limits

If you try to bring in more goods than your personal allowance, you cannot try to combine your own allowance with another person’s to get around the limit. It’s possible that your goods could be seized and not returned if you breach the limit.

The allowances for specific types of goods (only for adults over 17 years old) are currently as follows. If you exceed any of these limits, you may have to pay customs charges depending on the type and value of the goods.

Alcohol – You can avoid paying tax on up to 16 litres of beer or 4 litres of wine under duty-free rules. In addition to either of these (not both), you can bring in up to 1 litre of any drink with over 22% alcohol, or 2 litres of other alcoholic drinks with a strength below 22%.

Tobacco – The maximum amount of cigarettes you can bring in duty-free is 200. Alternatively you can choose 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or up to 250g of tobacco. You can bring in a combination of these if the total limit is not exceeded.

Other items – Additional items must be worth no more than £390 in total to be exempt from duty when returning to the UK from outside the EU.

About duty-free shops

Airports tend to have special “duty-free” shops which are popular among tourists. They sell a range of products, but typically they focus on relatively expensive items that people like to stock up on when they can get a discount. These include alcohol, fragrances, cigarettes, sweets, toys and usually much more.

It’s important to remember, though, that the special reduced prices you see in these shops will only apply when travelling between certain countries. You may have to show your boarding pass at the checkout to confirm where you are travelling to. As we mentioned, EU countries will charge their own tax, so you need to check in the shop for the “EU Price” which may be printed in smaller letters on the shelf. This usually works out to be not much different to the price you pay at home.