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Know your overseas shopping limits this Christmas

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Christmas shoppers looking for bargains overseas have been warned not to get hit by unexpected charges, HMRC cautioned today.

Know your overseas shopping limits this Christmas
Know your overseas shopping limits this Christmas

Travellers going abroad to do Christmas shopping, or shoppers buying goods online from non-EU countries, are advised to check how much they can buy before customs duty or import VAT are due.

HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Head of Customs Policy, Angela Shephard, said:

We know many people like to go abroad at this time to buy their Christmas gifts, or buy online from non-EU countries, and think that the ‘cheaper’ price they see is always the price they finally pay. This is a reminder to everyone about how much they can actually bring back from abroad or buy from an online overseas seller without having to pay customs duty or import VAT.

Shoppers must always be cautious with websites that say they will undervalue your goods so you won’t pay VAT or offer famous ‘brand’ names at very low prices. HMRC knows about these sites and people may end up paying more or having goods seized when they think they have found a bargain.

Further information on postal imports and travellers allowances can be found on our website. Detailed information on the non-EU limits for alcohol and tobacco products are also on HMRC’s website.

10 points to consider when shopping overseas:

  1. If you buy goods over the internet or by mail order from outside the EU, you will have to pay VAT if the value of the package is over £15. In this case, VAT will be calculated on the full item value, not just the value above the allowance.

  2. On 1 April 2012, low value consignment relief was abolished on mail order imports from the Channel Islands, since when all such mail order imports have been subject to VAT.

  3. If someone sends you a gift from outside the EU, import VAT will only be due if the package is valued at over £36. To qualify as a gift, the item must be sent from one private individual to another, with no money changing hands. If the value exceeds £36, VAT will be calculated on the full item value, not just the value above the allowance.

  4. If the goods are over £135 in value, customs duty may also be due, although this will depend on what they are and where they have been sent from. Where the actual amount of duty due is less than £9, this will not be charged.

  5. Excise duty is always due on all alcohol and tobacco products purchased online or by mail order.

  6. Arriving in the UK by commercial sea or air transport from a non-EU country, you can bring in up to £390 worth of goods for personal use without paying customs duty or VAT (excluding tobacco and alcohol, which have separate allowances). Arriving by other means, including by private plane or boat for pleasure purposes, you can bring in goods up to the value of £270. Above these allowances and up to £630, there is a duty flat rate of 2.5 per cent.

  7. When travelling to the UK from outside the EU, if you bring in any single item worth more than the £390 goods allowance (£270 if arriving by other means, including private plane or boat for pleasure purposes), you must pay duty and/or tax on the full item value, not just the value above the allowance. You also cannot group individual allowances together to bring in an item worth more than the limit.

  8. Individuals under the age of 17 are not entitled to any alcohol or tobacco allowances.

  9. If you are thinking of going across the Channel to replenish beers, wines, spirits or tobacco products, there are no limits on the amounts of duty and tax paid goods you can bring back personally from another EU country, as long as they are for your own use. You may, however, be asked questions at the UK border to establish quantities are genuinely for your own use, if you have more than:
    • 110 litres of beer,
    • 90 litres of wine,
    • 10 litres of spirits
    • 20 litres of fortified wines,
    • 800 cigarettes,
    • 200 cigars,
    • 400 cigarillos or
    • 1kg of tobacco
  10. The duty-free limits for imports of alcohol and tobacco products from outside the EU are:

Alcohol allowances

You can bring in either, but not both, of the following:

  • 1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs over 22 per cent volume
  • 2 litres of fortified wine (such as port or sherry), sparkling wine or any other alcoholic drink that is less than 22 per cent volume

Or you can combine these allowances. For example, if you bring in one litre of fortified wine (half your full allowance) you can also bring in half a litre of spirits (half your full allowance). This would make up your full allowance and you can’t go over your total alcohol allowance.

In addition you may also bring back both of the following:

  • 16 litres of beer
  • 4 litres of still wine

Tobacco allowances

You can bring in one from the following list:

  • 200 cigarettes
  • 100 cigarillos
  • 50 cigars
  • 250g of tobacco

Or you can combine these allowances. For example, if you bring in 100 cigarettes (half your full allowance) you can also bring in 25 cigars (half your full allowance). This would make up your full tobacco allowance. You can’t go over your total tobacco allowance. You cannot combine alcohol and tobacco allowances.

*[HMRC}HM Revenue and Customs *[VAT]Value Added Tax

Published 7 November 2013