The rules on the goods that can be brought into the UK are enforced by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC). HMRC have extensive powers to search, detain and arrest people who break the rules on what may be brought across UK borders. Anyone travelling to the UK, including UK or EU nationals, should ensure that they are familiar with these rules.
Goods and merchandise fall into four broad categories:
- Items which can be brought into the UK free of charge;
- Items which can be brought into the UK but which may incur a charge – duty or value added tax;
- Items which may be brought into the UK if the importer has a permit, licence or other legal document allowing the items to be imported;
- Items which are banned and must never be brought into the UK.
HMRC publishes a list of all goods which may never be brought into the UK. The penalties for importing banned goods into the UK can be very severe and it is up to travellers to ensure that they are aware of what is permitted by law. Claiming to have been unaware that an item was banned is no excuse.
Examples of the types of goods which can never be brought into the UK include illegal drugs, offensive weapons, counterfeit products and pornographic or obscene material – especially if it features children.
Some categories of goods may be brought into the UK but only with permission and are known as restricted goods. Travellers considering bringing any of these items into the UK must ensure that they have all the correct paperwork and permission before they travel. Examples include:
- Ammunition, firearms and explosives;
- Some types of radio transmitters which are not authorised for use in the UK;
- Certain animal products such as ivory, tortoiseshell and the fur of endangered species which are covered by a strict international treaty.
If in doubt, the HMRC website or their National Advice Service Helpline should be consulted before bringing any of the above to the UK.
Duty on Permitted Goods from Outside the EU
Some goods – such as alcohol, perfume and cigarettes – may be brought into the UK free of charge. However, there are strict rules on the amount of such goods that an individual may bring into the UK without paying duty on them. If a traveller arriving from outside of the EU enters the UK with more than their personal allowance of any of these goods they must go through the red customs channel and declare the goods to a customs official. Travellers arriving in the UK who go through the green or blue channels whilst carrying more than the permitted allowance are committing an offence and may face prosecution.
In addition to the restrictions placed on alcohol and tobacco, travellers from outside the EU may only bring back goods and souvenirs to a maximum value of £145. If goods exceeding this value are brought back, duty will have to be paid on the total value of the goods.
Duty on Permitted Goods from Inside the EU
In theory travellers from within the EU may bring unlimited amounts of alcohol and tobacco into the UK provided it is for personal use. Customs officials’ suspicions may be aroused if travellers attempt to enter the country with very large quantities of these goods. For example, if someone entered the UK from the EU carrying more than 3200 cigarettes they are likely to be questioned by customs officials who will suspect that the cigarettes are not for the traveller’s personal use.
If customs officials conclude that any goods brought in from the EU are intended to be sold the goods – and any vehicle in which they were transported – can be confiscated by HMRC.
Importing Food and Plants
The website for the UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) provides comprehensive information about the types of food and plants which may be imported into the UK for personal use. Rules vary depending on the individual product and its country of origin.
Generally speaking animals may not be imported into the UK without an import licence and subsequently spending time in quarantine. However, some pets may now travel freely if they have an up-to-date pet passport.
Bringing Large Amounts of Cash to the UK
Anyone arriving in the UK from outside the EU with more than the equivalent of 10,000 Euros in cash must declare it using a cash declaration form.