Know your VAT and duty-free overseas limitsHMRC guidance on importing goods from abroad

31 December 2010

Aeroplane in the sky at sunset

If you go away more than once or twice a year, it may be a good idea to consider multi-trip travel insurance

If you are planning an overseas holiday in the new year or spending your Christmas money buying goods online from non-EU websites, how much can you buy without paying import duty or VAT?

Arriving in the UK by sea or air

Travellers are being reminded to make sure they know the limits ahead of the VAT hike on January 4.

Those arriving in the UK by commercial sea or air transport from a non-EU country 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). People arriving by other means, including by private plane or boat for pleasure purposes, can bring in goods up to the value of £270.

Detailed information on the non-EU limits for alcohol and tobacco products can be found on HMRC’s website.

Buying online from non-EU websites

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 £18.

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

If someone sends you a gift in the post from outside the EU, import VAT will only be due if the package is valued at over £40. To qualify as a gift, the item must be sent from one private individual to another, with no money changing hands.

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

Booze cruises across the Channel

If you are thinking of crossing the Channel to buy beer, wine, 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 and not sold on.

You may, however, be asked questions at the UK frontier if you have more than 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine, 10 litres of spirits and/or 20 litres of fortified wines, 3,200 cigarettes, 200 cigars, 400 cigarillos or 3kg of tobacco. This is to confirm that these are genuinely for your own use.

Beat the VAT rise

VAT goes up to 20% on January 4. You can read more in our Buy now to beat the VAT hike news story. And don't get caught out by retailers putting up VAT early - read our story for more details Don’t get caught out by VAT hike sharp practice.

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