Updated June 9, 2022
(Published December 23, 2019)
By Joey Tyson
Nobody likes to call time on an amazing holiday, but there’s one last thing that often perks up even the gloomiest of home-bound travellers: the duty-free shop. A haven of tax-free goods, coming back to Blighty is always easier with a stash of new stuff to show for your holiday.
But what exactly are you allowed to bring back with you, and how has Brexit impacted your limits? Here, we explain your duty-free allowances.
Duty-free literally means ‘goods that are exempt from payment of duty’. It means that when you travel abroad, you are allowed to bring home a set amount of certain goods without having to pay UK duty (customs charges), as long as they are for you or are a gift for someone else. You are not allowed to sell anything that you have bought duty-free.
The amount of duty-free goods you can bring into Great Britain changed when the UK left the EU. Now, the same duty-free allowances apply whether you’re returning to Great Britain from the EU or from outside it. Allowances for Northern Ireland remain the same.
You can bring a certain amount of duty-free goods into Great Britain as long as you transport them yourself, and they are for your own personal use or intended to be a gift for someone else. You cannot combine allowances with other people to bring in more than your individual allowance, and if you do go over your allowance, you will need to pay tax and duty on all goods in that category (ie alcohol and tobacco).
These allowances do not apply to travellers under 17.
You can bring in 42 litres of beer and 18 litres of wine (not sparkling). You can also bring in either:
You are allowed to split this last allowance. For example, you could bring back 4.5 litres of fortified wine and 2 litres of spirits, which are both half of your allowance.
You can bring in 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, 250g tobacco, or 200 sticks of tobacco for electronic heated tobacco devices.
You are allowed to split this allowance. For example, you could bring in 100 cigarettes and 25 cigars, which are both half of your allowance.
There is no tax to pay on goods you bring home from within the EU as long as you have paid tax and duty on them in the country of purchase, you transport them yourself and they are for your own personal use or intended to be a gift for someone else. Travellers under 17 are not entitled to any duty-free allowance.
Although there are technically no limits on the amounts of alcohol and tobacco you can bring back from the EU, if you bring back more than the amounts outlined below (and in the image above), you are more likely to be questioned at customs about your intentions.
Bear in mind that some territories that you might think are within the EU actually are not in terms of customs law – these include the Canary Islands and the north of Cyprus. Remember too, that neither Switzerland nor Norway are in the EU.
For Gibraltar and the Channel Islands, you will need to follow the rules for countries outside the EU.
You can bring in 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine, 10 litres of spirits and 20 litres of fortified wine.
You can bring in 800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 200 cigars, 1kg tobacco, and 800 sticks of tobacco for electronic heated tobacco devices.
There is no tax to pay on a certain amount of goods that you bring back from outside of the EU. Once again, they must be transported by you for your own personal use or as a gift, and you cannot combine allowances with other people to bring in more than your individual allowance. As above, these allowances do not apply to under 17s.
Remember, if you do go over your limit, even by a little, you will need to pay tax and duty on all of your purchases in that category.
You can bring in 16 litres of beer and 4 litres of wine (not sparkling). You can also bring in either:
You are allowed to split this last allowance . For example, you could bring back 1 litre of fortified wine and half a litre of spirits (both half of your allowance).
You can bring in 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, 250g tobacco or 200 sticks of tobacco for electronic heated tobacco devices. You are allowed to split this allowance – for example, you could bring in 100 cigarettes and 25 cigars (both half of your allowance).
You only need to declare goods to customs if you have gone over your allowance, intend to sell any of the goods or if you have any restricted or banned items. If you are travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, you must also declare if any of the following apply:
For travel in the other direction, you will need to pay import VAT on any goods you buy in Northern Ireland from shops that offer tax-free shopping. You do not have to declare any goods.
If you have gone over your allowance, you may be asked to pay tax or duty. You can declare goods online from 120 hours before you’re due to arrive in the UK. Import VAT may also be added on.
You are entitled to bring back other goods worth up to £390, such as perfume and souvenirs – however, if you go over this allowance, then you will pay tax and duty on the full value of all your goods.
Just because you’re buying something duty-free doesn’t mean it’s automatically cheaper than the high street. In fact, there have been a number of reports of airport shops dramatically marking up the costs of items such as perfume or aftershave over the last few years.
To avoid paying over the odds, research online or high street costs before you travel.