Shopping on holiday? What are you allowed to bring back to the UK?

You've had a fantastic holiday abroad, you've made plenty of memories, and now it's time to return home. Of course, you're stocking up on gifts, souvenirs and treats for yourself to bring back - why not, while you're there!

Foreign alcohol to enjoy at home, biscuits for the office, cured meats that you've enjoyed while you're away, local crafts, perfume or aftershave from the duty-free counter...there are many things that holidaymakers choose to bring back to the UK from their travels.

Shopping on holiday, what are you allowed to bring back

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The problem is that many people fail to check what is and isn't allowed to be brought back to the UK from abroad. Fail to check whether you're importing a banned item, and you could end up having your purchases seized by customs.

Although our travel insurance is pretty comprehensive, we sadly can't cover the import of banned items. It's not just about duty-free either: there are various categories of things that can't be brought back into the UK.

You can find up-to-date information on what is and isn't allowed on the Government's website, here. For a quick overview of the rules, read on...

Duty-free limits

There are set limits for the amount of alcohol and tobacco products you can bring back without being taxed. These limits are currently:

  • 18 litres of still wine
  • 42 litres of beer
  • 4 litres of alcohol over 22%
  • 9 litres of sparkling or fortified wine and other alcoholic drinks up to 22%<
  • 200 cigarettes
  • 50 cigars
  • 100 cigarillos
  • 250g tobacco
  • 200 sticks of tobacco for electronic heated smoking devices

There are no limits on quantities for other duty-free products - but remember, there is a total item value limit for everything that you bring back from your holiday abroad.

Total item value

It's not just limits and restrictions for individual products that you need to be aware of. Did you know that there's a limit to the total value of all the items that you bring back from your travels?

Excluding your alcohol and tobacco allowances, the total value of other goods you're allowed to bring back £390. If you're planning on re-entering the country on a private boat or plane, though, this total drops to £270.

It's also important to remember that if you go over this allowance, it's not just the amount above the allowance that you'll have to pay tax and duty on - it's the full value.

If you've gone over your personal allowance, you may be able to avoid paying customs duty. If the products were made/grown in the EU using only EU ingredients/materials, were bought in the EU and are being brought in from an EU country, you should be able to claim a zero rate of customs duty - as long as you've got evidence of all of these things. There are different rules if the total value of your imports is above or below £1,000, as you'll see here.

Prohibited items

Certain items are completely banned from being brought back into the UK, so be sure that you avoid returning from your holiday with any of the following:

  • Endangered animal or plant species
  • Self-defence sprays, like CS gas or pepper spray
  • Offensive weapons, such as flick knives
  • Controlled drugs
  • Personal imports of many dairy and meat products from non-EU nations
  • Indecent/obscene material, including DVDs, magazines and books

There are also restrictions on various goods, namely:

  • Firearms, ammunition and explosives: these require a special licence
  • Certain food and plant products which are not grown in the EU, are not for personal use and/or are not free from pests and diseases.

You can find a full list of banned products and restrictions here.

Food and drink

French cheeses, Italian cured meats, sweets or chocolate for family and friends...there are lots of food and drink products we love to bring back from our travels. It's a great way to continue that holiday feeling at home and to share the foods and drinks you've experienced with your friends and family back home. But what are the rules?

It's good news if you're returning from an EU country. Border Force UK confirms that there are various things you can bring back from any country with no restrictions, namely:

  • Pasta and noodles (if meat-free)
  • Bread (if not sandwiches filled with dairy/meat)
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolate and confectionery (without too many unprocessed dairy ingredients)
  • Cakes (without fresh cream)
  • Processed and packaged plant products
  • Packaged stocks, soups and flavourings
  • Food supplements (which can include just a small amount of animal product, like cod liver oil capsules)

However, there are restrictions on certain other products. Animal products can be brought in for personal use from the EU and a few other countries. Meat and milk-based products, however, can't be brought in from countries outside the EU, and there are limits on other animal products.

There are similar rules for fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, which can be brought in freely from EU countries, but which are mostly banned from non-EU countries unless you get a plant health certificate before leaving. There are certain products - such as pineapple, peeled and processed nuts and grains - that you can bring in without this certificate, but it's well worth checking the rules in full here.

Although these rules might seem complicated, it's important to know where you stand before you travel back home. By sticking with the rules, you'll avoid any unpleasant surprises and embarrassment at customs when you return, as well as the risk of your items being seized or having to pay extra costs.

Bear in mind that official rules may change, so be sure to check back on the Government website for the most up-to-date information. Above all, enjoy your break - as well as the things you bring back with you to remind you of your time away!