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Since 1 January 1993 – the inception of the Single European Market – travellers within the EU have been allowed to import alcohol and tobacco products which they have purchased for their own use, without paying any additional duty on their return.[1]  Before that date, shoppers could only import limited quantities of tax-paid goods.  Duty-free sales on journeys within the EU were abolished from 1 July 1999, though they remain for journeys to countries outside the EU.  When travellers buy goods in the EU, they pay all the duty and VAT in the Member State where they buy them. 

Each Member State may set indicative levels of alcohol and tobacco purchases, to help customs officers distinguish between genuinely private imports and commercial importation. In the UK’s case, these minimum indicative levels (MILs) are as follows:

              Alcohol                                                                   Tobacco

              110 litres beer                                                        800 cigarettes

              90 litres wine                                                         400 cigarillos

              10 litres spirits                                                       200 cigars

              20 litres fortified wine (eg, sherry, port)                   1kg smoking tobacco

 At the time of the 2020 Budget the Government launched a consultation on the “potential approach to duty- and tax-free goods policy after the transition period following the UK’s departure from the EU.”[2] Following this, on 11 September the Government announced a series of reforms to these rules. After the UK leaves the Single Market, passengers leaving the UK will be entitled to buy alcohol and tobacco products duty-free, irrespective of their destination. All passengers entering the UK will be entitled to bring in defined amounts of alcohol, tobacco and other goods, without having to pay UK VAT or duty on these imports. These personal allowances will be as follows:


  • 42 litres of beer
  • 18 litres of still wine
  • 4 litres of spirits OR 9 litres of sparkling wine, fortified wine or any alcoholic beverage less than 22% ABV


  • 200 cigarettes OR
  • 100 cigarillos OR
  • 50 cigars OR
  • 250g tobacco OR
  • 200 sticks of tobacco for heating
  • or any proportional combination of the above.

 Any other goods

  • £390 or £270 if travelling by private plane or boat.[3]

Notes : 

[1]     HMRC publish general advice for travellers: Travelling to the UK: what you can bring in, what you can’t bring in, what you must declare, December 2017.

[2]     Budget 2020, HC 121, March 2020 para 2.236, The deadline for responses was 20 May.

[3]     Written Statement: Excise Duty & VAT – HCWS448, 11 September 2020; HM Treasury press notice, Duty Free extended to the EU from January 2021, 11 September 2020

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