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Duty Free and Buying Allowances Explained

The siren song of duty free can’t fail to lure those travellers who find it hard to resist a bargain. But despite the fact we know we’re saving precious pennies when we stock up on fancy bottles of wine and perfume, how many of us are really clear on what exactly duty free means and the rules around the amount we are allowed to bring home?

What is duty free?

We use the term ‘duty free’ to describe the tempting array of goodies that are exempt from excise duty and tax. In general, this means that shoppers can land some excellent deals on items that commonly include a hefty tax when purchasing in their home country - namely cigarettes, cigars, rolling tobacco and a range of selected spirits. In fact, price reductions on these items can offer savings of up to 50% - certainly not a saving to be sniffed if you’re on the way back from an expensive holiday.

If you’re looking to give yourself one final treat before you head back to the reality of everyday life, better brush up on the rules… then you can get back to the fun stuff and shop your socks off. Well, the holiday’s not over yet, right?

Arrivals from EU countries

The good news is that, at present, travellers arriving home from a break in a European Union country can bring in an unlimited amount of most goods to the country. The questionable news is that we don’t know if this will change when the plans for Brexit move ahead. So, enjoy the privilege while it lasts, just in case! However, before you go totally loco stocking up on Spanish cigarettes, bear in mind that there are a few guidelines you must adhere to. 

Firstly, you must transport the goods yourself; secondly, they must be for personal use or a gift; and finally, you must have paid the required duty and tax in the country you purchased them in. Oh, and bear in mind that The Canary Islands, Northern Cyprus, Gibraltar and the Channel Islands do not count as part of the EU when it comes to customs. 

If a customs officer suspects you might be bringing in a fair old haul to sell, they may stop you to ask a few questions. Rough guidelines provided by suggest you may raise a few eyebrows and find yourself in for a check if you bring in more than:

  • 800 cigarettes
  • 200 cigars
  • 400 cigarillos
  • 1kg tobacco
  • 110 litres of beer
  • 90 litres of wine
  • 10 litres of spirits
  • 20 litres of fortified wine

Arrivals from outside the EU

Arrivals from outside the EU will find that the shopping free-for-all has to be a little more restrained. Each traveller has a set allowance they are allowed to bring in which they must adhere to. Essentially this means that you have a limit on certain goods; if you go over this you may have to pay the excise duty, customs and import VAT. This can be a hefty tax to tag onto the end of your holiday so best avoid the wrath of customs by reading up on the allowance amounts.

At present, duty free allowance from a non-EU country includes: 

  • 200 cigarettes
  • 50 cigars
  • 100 cigarillos
  • 250g tobacco
  • 16 litres of beer
  • 4 litres of wine
  • 1 litre of spirits
  • 2 litres of fortified wine

When it comes to goods other than cigarettes and alcohol, travellers are permitted to bring back a duty free amount worth up to £390. Bear in mind that, according to, one single item over your allowance could mean that you have to pay duty on the entire amount. Certainly worth double checking your haul before you pack. 

As well as budgeting for your flights, accommodation and plenty of shopping when you head off on holiday, don’t forget that travel insurance needs to take priority. Medical Travel Compared compares a wide range of insurers to help you find the best policy for your money; some of our insurers even cover those with pre-existing medical conditions. Once your insurance is booked, you can get back to planning how to spend the rest of your holiday money in style.


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