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Shopping Abroad

What you are permitted to bring back from abroad without paying any extra tax and VAT will depend on whether you are arriving from the European Union (EU) or from a country outside the EU. This is sometimes called the duty free allowance which we've outlined below.

From outside the EU you are permitted to bring back 200 cigarettes (or 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, 250 grams of tobacco), 1 litre of spirits, 2 litres of table wine, 16 litres of beer and other goods up to a value of £145 £390, without paying any tax or VAT. Any duty and Vat on extra alcohol and tobacco goods in excess of this allowance is usually so high as not to make it worthwhile. Note that recently the rules have been slightly relaxed in the alcohol and tobacco catgegories. For example, you could bring 100 cigarettes and 50 cigarillos, which represent 50% of each of the tobacco categories.

As far as other goods are concerned you will have to pay extra tax once you have exceeded your of £145 £390 allowance. This is mainly made up of 17.5% 20% VAT (with a few per cent more for some items if there is duty involved). The exact amount depends on what the items are and where you purchased them.

However it can be worthwhile doing this if the items are very cheap in the first place. For instance with the favourable rate of exchange between the Pound and the US dollar at the moment, you can pick up some real bargains in clothing, sports equipment and CD.s in the US.

For shopping within the EU there is no extra tax to pay on goods you bring back. However there are some things to bear in mind, especially with regard to tobacco goods and alcohol.

To begin with from some of the new EU member countries there are restrictions on the amount you can bring back. These are meant to be transitory in nature and will eventually disappear. From Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia you are restricted to 200 cigarettes (Estonia allows 250g of tobacco instead of 200 cigarettes).

From all the other EU countries you can bring back as much as you like, as long as it is for your own use. However Customs operate guidelines as to quantities, in excess of which you may be asked to justify that it actually is for you, and not for someone else or for sale afterwards. These guidelines are 800 cigarettes and 1 kg of tobacco, 10 litres of spirits, 110 litres of beer, 20 litres of fortified wine and 90 litres of wine. In practice this means being sensible and using common sense. For instance if you bring 10,000 cigarettes you would be hard pressed to justify it was for your use.

Finally although the Canary Islands are part of Spain and therefore the EU, they have a special status are far as Customs allowances are concerned. They have been allowed to keep their duty free status (to help tourism), and you allowances are restricted to 200 cigarettes and 1 litre of spirits.

For full details visit Customs & Excise website

Also see: Shopping At The Airport

We last updated this article in August 2010 January 2013. If there is anything we didn't cover in this article some of the information is outdated, please let us know in the comments below!