Customs allowances: limits on alcohol, cigarettes, jewellery and other goods

Customs allowances: limits on alcohol, cigarettes, jewellery and other goods

Find out how much you can bring back into the country without having to declare it.

lovemoney staff

Motoring and Travel

lovemoney staff
Updated on 10 April 2019

The majority of British holidaymakers have no idea how much alcohol and cigarettes they can bring back into the country through customs, according to new research.

Direct Line Travel Insurance found that only 27% of us are aware of the limits on what we can import from abroad when returning from a holiday.

EU and international standards

When travelling within the EU, a whopping 38% of us mistakenly believe there is a limit on what booze and cigarettes you can bring back. In fact, you just need to ensure the goods are for personal consumption or gifts.

Customs officials are only likely to ask questions if you bring more than 1kg tobacco, 800 cigarettes or 10 litres of spirits back with you.

If you've travelled outside of the EU, the allowance is much reduced.

You're allowed 1 litre of spirits, 250g tobacco or 200 cigarettes.

Bring back more than this and the excess can be seized if it isn’t declared.

How much duty costs

Rather than break the law, play safe by declaring large allowance and paying for it.

Customs duty is just 2.5% for goods worth up £630

However, you'll also need to pay import VAT on items worth above £36.

So you'll need to work out whether that big purchase of alcohol or tobacco is worth it.

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It's not just cigarettes and alcohol

The research from Direct Line Travel Insurance also found that many of us are failing to declare expensive foreign purchases.

If you return to the UK from outside the EU with new belongings worth more than £390 you should declare them and pay tax. However, 7% of us have avoided paying customs duty by walking through the ‘nothing to declare’ channel, says Tom Bishop, head of travel insurance at Direct Line. 

“The limits and value of items that can be imported varies significantly between countries inside and outside the EU, so holidaymakers should be advised to check the limits before purchasing goods,” he says.

“The holiday glow is going to vanish quickly if an officer pulls you up for unpaid customs duties.”

If you are bringing in individual items worth more than £390 - such as jewellery or smartphone - you need to declare them and pay tax. The limit drops to £270 on trips made by private plane or boat.

Worryingly, only 5% of us who have returned with fancy new belongings have declared them when going through customs.

“It's always tempting to buy items that seem like a bargain whilst on holiday,” says Bishop. “However, Brits could find themselves hit with unexpected charges if they don’t check what they are allowed to bring back into the country.”

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What are the limits?

Just in case you didn’t know, here are the current customs allowances.


Allowance when Travelling within the EU*

Allowance when Returning from outside the EU


110 litres

16 litres

Wine (not sparkling)

90 litre

4 litres

Spirits and liquors over 22% alcohol

10 litres

1 litre**

Fortified wine, sparkling wine and drinks up to 22% alcohol

20 litres

2 litre**













Individual goods


Worth up to £390 (£270 if arriving by private plane or boat)

*No limit as long as it is for personal use but you’re more likely to be asked questions if you exceed the amount below

**You can only bring in one of the other or split the allowance.

Don't forget to sort out your travel insurance before you go too. At the loveMONEY travel insurance centre there's a range of single and multi-trip policies that cover locations across the globe.

Get a free, no obligation quote today.

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