The first day of January signals the end of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, and brings an end also to the long tradition of hopping across the Channel to stock up on cigarettes and alcohol.
The so-called ‘booze cruise’ would typically involve groups of travellers from the UK taking a ferry over to one of the Channel ports, and returning loaded down with alcohol and cigarettes sold cheaper in the hypermarkets of Calais, with generous personal limits on quantity pooled to get a full vanload.
However that sort of cross-border trade was a privilege of the European Union – the Common Market as many British people still call it – and those all come to an end the day after tomorrow.
Starting on 1 January, anyone travelling from the UK to the EU or vice versa is entitled to a quantity of goods free of VAT and customs customs duties, as well as excise duties where applicable, such as in the case of alcohol and cigarettes. The rule does not apply to cross-border traffic in Ireland.
When entering the EU, travellers are entitled to a duty free allowance of four litres of still wine and 16 litres of beer and a total of 1 litre of spirits over 22 % volume OR one litre of un-denatured alcohol (ethyl alcohol) of 80% volume or more OR two litres of fortified or sparkling wine. The allowance also includes 200 cigarettes OR 100 cigarillos OR 50 cigars OR 250 g tobacco.
In the other direction, visitors to the UK are entitled to 18 litres of still wine and 42 litres of beer and a total of four litres of spirits and other liquors over 22% alcohol OR nine litres of fortified wine (port, sherry), sparkling wine and alcoholic drinks up to 22% alcohol. The allowance also includes 200 cigarettes OR 100 cigarillos OR 50 cigars OR 250 g tobacco OR 200 sticks of tobacco for vaping.
Other goods are covered up to a value of £390 (€430). If a single item’s worth is more than the allowance, duty or tax must be paid on its full value, not just the value above the allowance.
Similarly, anyone who exceeds any of the other limits will be subject to duty on the whole shipment, not only the excess portion.
In the other direction, visitors to the UK who want to return with some local beer, gin, cider or whisky will also be subject to limits. According to the UK government’s own estimates, the new rules will make alcohol bought duty-free cheaper than now: £2.23 (€2.46) less for a 75cl bottle of wine, £2.86 (€3.16) less for a 75cl bottle of champagne or prosecco, £2.28 (€2.52) less for six 50cl cans of 4% ABV beer or £11.50 (€12.69) cheaper for a one litre bottle of 40% ABV spirits.