The custom of British people filling the car up with alcohol – usually wine – in France and taking it back to the UK on the ferry or via the Channel Tunnel is a popular one. So much so that when a no-deal Brexit loomed, Calais supermarkets were inundated with Brits stocking up on cases of wine and beer while they still could.
But with Brexit day now fast approaching, what will be new rules be for bringing alcohol and cigarettes in to the UK from the EU?
Assuming that the UK exits the EU on January 31st with a deal – which is now looking like the most likely scenario – there then begins a transition period which runs until at least December 31st.
During that period, most things about travel in Europe for British people remain the same, including the rules on what goods you can bring in to the UK from the EU.
Those rules state that you can bring an unlimited amount of wine or tobacco in to the UK from the EU without being required to pay extra duty at the UK border.
However there are some caveats to this.
You must have paid taxes and duties on the goods where you bought them (so dodgy cheap cigarettes bought from unlicenced street vendors would not count)
You must transport the goods yourself
- You must either use them yourself or give them away as a gift. So if for example a family member was getting married in the UK, you would be perfectly entitled to load up your car with wine for the wedding reception, but only if you then gave it to them free of charge. If you made them pay for it that would count as commercial activity and you could find yourself liable for duty (as well as some frosty looks at the reception).
Although there is no limit on the amount of goods that can be brought in, there is a guideline amount above which customs officials are likely to ask you some questions.
The amounts are
- Wine – 90 litres (or 120 standard size bottles)
- Spirits – 10 litres
- Fortified wine – 20 litres
- Beer – 110 litres (or 193 pints)
- Cigarettes – 800
Among the questions you are likely to be asked are what you have bought, how you paid for it, what you intend to use them for and how much you normally smoke and drink.
And just in case you want to do the trip the other way round – importing Boddingtons beer and Kentish wine in to France – check out the rules for bringing alcohol in to France.
After the end of the transition period
At present the transition period lasts until December 31st 2020, although it is possible that could be extended as it gives just 11 months for the UK and EU to agree on a trade deal, as well as sort out multiple details about the rules going forward on issues including residency application process, the rules for UK citizens moving to the EU and ongoing visa arrangements.
If the transition period is extended, the rules stay the same until the new end date, but if not they will change from January 1st, 2021.
One of the things that would need to be agreed during the transition period is whether to keep the current system for bringing in goods or go back to the old arrangement of 'duty free' shops but limits on the amount of goods that can be taken between countries.
That depends on how closely the UK wants to remain aligned to EU rules around the single market, which has important implications for trade after the end of the transition period.
So the short answer is that at present, we don't know.
Check out The Local's Preparing for Brexit section for more detail and updates as we get them on issues including residency, travel, healthcare and driving in France. If you have questions, please send them to us here and we will do our best to answer them.