VAT Director Rayner Essex
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Border control

Customs: Civil evasion penalties


As the holiday season approaches and international travel open up, Jason Croke reminds us what to consider when going through the green channel at the air or seaport.

7th Dec 2021
VAT Director Rayner Essex
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When the UK was a member of the EU, an individual could bring into the UK (from the EU) a theoretical unlimited amount of excise dutiable goods for their own use, where duty has been paid in the country where the goods were purchased. 

In reality, HMRC set thresholds that it considered to be for personal use:

Alcohol (pre Brexit)

Beer 110 litres
Wine 90 litres (still wines)
Wine 10 litres (sparkling wines & fortified wines such as port/sherry)
Spirits 10 litres (where alcohol is over 22%)

Tobacco (pre-Brexit)

Cigarettes 800
Cigars 200
Tobacco 1kg (loose/rolling)
As the UK is no longer in the EU, when returning to the UK from anywhere in the world, the duty-free allowances for excise goods (tobacco and alcohol) are much reduced.  Full details can be found here:


Beer 42 litres
Wine 18 litres (still wines)
Wine 9 litres (sparkling wines & fortified wines such as port/sherry)
Spirits 4 litres (where alcohol is over 22%)


Cigarettes 200
Cigars 50
Tobacco 250g (loose/rolling)

You can see there is a significant reduction in the quantity of excise goods which can be brought in the UK post-Brexit, without paying further duty.

Penalties for not declaring at the red channel

Although there is an element of subjectivity and common sense required, generally Customs take a view that if you walk through the green channel with excise goods over your allowance, you knew you were over the allowance and that is an inherently dishonest act. The act of dishonesty carries with it a penalty.

Customs officers particularly take this view if the individual is a frequent traveller, as all ports have lots of signs listing the allowances. Even a first-time traveller would see the big signs as they walk towards the red/green channel.

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Replies (7)

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By Paul Crowley
07th Dec 2021 20:02

French known for heavy smoking?

Much appreciated, but we pushed the post SA holiday back a year as I do not fancy getting stuck abroad
I was in Tunisia meant to be leaving the day they shut the borders
18 hours locked in the departure lounge
Airport ran out of food

Thanks (0)
By chasmeehan
08th Dec 2021 16:18

For non consumable purchases over the personal allowance it is also worth being aware that an insurance claim for an expensive item purchased outside the UK will trigger a request from the insurance company for evidence of duty and VAT payment on it, and in its absence they will refuse the claim on the grounds that you are not allowed to profit from a dishonest act

Thanks (1)
By Burlington Bertie
08th Dec 2021 16:33

'Nice little earner, the salmon' ~ Tamer Hassan, The Business (2005).
No idea how/why 'salmon' refers to importing hooky cigarettes!
Cockney rhyming slang, anyone?

Thanks (0)
Replying to Burlington Bertie:
By Hugo Fair
10th Dec 2021 22:21

More likely to be a reference to Salmon & Gluckstein - a British tobacconist, founded in London in 1873.
They pursued an aggressive expansion to become the largest tobacco sellers in the UK, with over 140 retail outlets ... and claimed to be the largest tobacconist in the world.
[An interesting family history - that also led to formation of J. Lyons and Co.]

Thanks (2)
Replying to Hugo Fair:
By Burlington Bertie
13th Dec 2021 11:41

Wow...every day's a school day! Many thanks for that historical info...Cheers, Burlington Bertie.

Thanks (0)
By Jane Wanless
08th Dec 2021 16:45

Years ago, I came back from the USSR with gifts in excess of the Customs limit. As I usually get stopped for a random check (do I have a “guilty face”?) we went through the red channel. The Officers admired the scarves and babushka dolls before waving us through without charging anything. Apparently it was a quiet night and they were curious to see how we’d managed to find enough to buy to exceed the limit.

Thanks (0)
Replying to janewanless:
By Paul Crowley
09th Dec 2021 19:12

Coming from Honeymoon in the USA, we declared the lot
Customs man said quite clearly "I think you mean dollars"
I knew what he meant by tone and look
Wifey determined to say No that is pounds converted at......

We were the only people in Red from the 747

Thanks (0)