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Duty-free limits are back for summer 2021

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Published: 23 Aug 2021 Update History

Since 1 January 2021 when the UK left the EU, the benefit of a “booze cruise” has been severely limited. It is no longer possible to simply load up wine purchased from your favourite French vineyard, or indeed a superstore in Calais, and return to the UK without a few extra considerations.

Since the start of the year, the worldwide duty-free limits per person for alcohol brought in to Great Britain (GB) are:

  • Beer - 42 litres.
  • Still wine - 18 litres.
  • Spirits or sparkling wine - 4 litres.

There are a few things to remember about these limits. Perhaps most important is that there is a cliff edge, so if you exceed the duty-free limit then you lose the duty-free allowance entirely. For example, if you bring back 19 litres of still wine, you will be taxed on all 19 litres and not just the extra litre.

If you have already bought a larger volume of wine perhaps for your long overdue wedding party and would like to bring it home regardless, you will need to declare it and pay tax and duty to UK customs.

The easiest way to do this is using the online service on gov.uk. You can do this from five days, or more specifically 120 hours, before you’re due to arrive in the UK. One further catch is that the online service can only be used for personal goods and this imposes a limit of 90 litres of still wine. If you want to bring in more, you will have to visit the customs office on your departure and declare, pay in person and be prepared to persuade the officials that this is for your own use. The 90 litre limit for online declarations is apparently to prevent smuggling.

To use the online service, you will be asked for:

  • The exact price of your goods in the currency you used to pay for them. When you enter the value of your goods in a foreign currency, the online service calculates the tax and duty owed using HMRC’s exchange rates for customs and VAT. The calculation uses the rates that apply at the time you make your declaration.
  • The quantity or volume of your goods.
  • The country where your goods were made or produced if you are travelling from the EU.
  • Your passport number or EU identity card number.
  • The date and time of your arrival.
  • A credit or debit card if you need to pay tax or duty.

You can use your driving licence number or phone number instead of a passport number if you’re travelling from England, Wales or Scotland to Northern Ireland.

Note that by using the online service to declare your goods, you’re choosing not to use the customs tariff rates and main alcohol and tobacco duty rates to calculate the amount of customs and excise duty you owe, but accepting the HMRC calculation. This comparison is not entirely straightforward, but there are tables for excise duties on gov.uk (see links below) and if you think that using the online service does not give you the best overall outcome for all the goods you’re declaring, then you can make an oral declaration to Border Force on arrival in the UK.

If you choose to make an oral declaration using the customs tariff rates and main alcohol and tobacco duty rates, they will apply to all the goods you’re declaring.

Finally, in many cases the goods will have incurred the foreign jurisdiction’s equivalent of VAT at the point of purchase, so for example, TVA in France. The UK VAT added to your tax bill is based on the gross cost, so the TVA inclusive cost.

The “booze cruise” it would seem, is no longer a cheap option.

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