Be aware of your overseas shopping limit this Christmas

Published on 1 January 1970 by Raffick Marday

With Christmas fast approaching, it is set to be an expensive couple of months for most of us. Some people are even trying to save money by doing their Christmas shopping abroad this year.

If you’re planning a Christmas shopping trip, or if you’re buying gifts online from non-EU countries, then it’s important to know how much you can spend before you have to pay import duty or VAT.

It can be tempting to buy online from outside the EU, as the goods on offer can seem like a real bargain. But HM Revenue and Customs are warning that if you spend more than £15 on something from a non-EU seller, either over the internet or by mail-order, you will have to pay VAT.

If what you buy is more than £135 in value, you may also have to pay customs duty. But this will depend on what you buy and where it’s from.

“We know many people like to go abroad at this time to buy their Christmas gifts, or buy online from non-EU countries, and think that the ‘cheaper' price they see is always the price they finally pay,” said Angela Shephard, HMRC Head of Customs Policy.

“HMRC is keen to remind the general public how much they can actually bring back from abroad or buy from an online overseas seller without having to pay import duty or VAT. You don't want to be faced with unexpected extra charges when you thought you had found a bargain.”

Worth of goods

Many holiday makers are using travel money cards to save money abroad, but are unaware of how much they are allowed to bring home.

You are allowed to bring home up to £390 worth of goods (excluding tobacco and alcohol, which have separate allowances) from outside the EU without paying customs duty or VAT. Above this, and up to £630, there is a duty flat rate of 2.5%.

For alcohol and tobacco brought back from outside the EU the limits are on quantity, rather than value. You can bring back 16 litres of beer, four litres of wine, and one litre of spirits. For tobacco, you can bring home either 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, or 250g of loose tobacco.

If you’re thinking of going across the Channel to stock up on alcohol or cigarettes in the run-up to Christmas, then there is no limit to the amount you can bring back. But HMRC point out that, if you have an excessive amount, you may be asked questions at the UK Border to determine whether it’s for personal use.

There are other ways to save money this Christmas, with many banks offering credit card cash-back rewards during the festive period.


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