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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. 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. When it was part of the Single Market, the UK set these minimum indicative levels (MILs):[1]

              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, in September 2020 the Government announced a series of reforms to these rules, to apply from 1 January 2021 with the end of the transition period and the UK’s exit from the Single Market.[3] Passengers leaving Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) are now entitled to buy alcohol and tobacco products duty-free, irrespective of their destination. All passengers entering Great Britain are entitled to bring in defined amounts of alcohol, tobacco and other goods, without having to pay UK VAT or duty on these imports, 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.[4]

Notes : 

[1]     HMRC, Travelling to the UK: Notice 1, October 2011

[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

[4]     Border Force/HMRC, UK customs information: England, Scotland & Wales, 31 December 2020 & Bringing goods into the UK, retrieved January 2021. Different rules apply for passengers entering Northern Ireland from the EU: UK customs information: Northern Ireland, 31 December 2020.

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