Are France-UK duty-free allowances per person if you are in a car?

Since January 1, set limits exist again on amounts of alcohol and tobacco that can be brought from France to the UK (or vice versa) before import taxes apply

25 November 2021

Couples bringing back wine together each have a personal duty-free allowance Pic: antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

By Liv Rowland

Reader question: Regarding duty-free allowances, if you are travelling in a car are they per car, or per person? I am thinking in particular of taking French wine back to the UK as a couple.

Duty-free allowances are always personal.

In theory this means that the items are for your own use (or for you go give away as a gift), and, in the case of a car, each individual in the car can bring with them a quantity up to their personal allowance, but not more.

However if you are carrying, say 36 litres of still wine in your car as a husband and wife (the allowance being 18), and you said in the event of a check that half is for one and half for the other, we cannot see how any proof of this stated personal use could be required, or indeed shown.

You might want to check they are divided into different bags, perhaps, if you want to make a share-out more obvious.

A spokeswoman for the UK customs service HMRC said that in the past issues have come up, for example, regarding people going on trips together to buy items in advance of an event such as Christmas.

“In these sorts of examples, the key point of confusion tends to be that if you are buying something like wine in boxes you would only be able to buy up to your own personal allowance because you can’t combine allowances to bring in say 4.5 boxes each.

“It would need to be divided up so that one person brings in four boxes and the other person brings in five, and this could lead to one person being over their personal allowance.”

You should note that of course in the event of young children travelling in the car, no wine or cigarettes allowance can be attributed to them, though, more surprisingly, this only relates to under-17s.

The UK’s fairly generous, duty-free rules include, for alcohol, up to 42 litres of beer and 18 litres of still wine, as well as four litres of spirits or nine litres of sparkling wine.

You will have to pay import VAT, customs duty and excise duty on all the alcohol if the allowances for that category (alcohol) are exceeded, and all the items should be declared.

The rules work in much the same way when coming from the UK to France (though the amounts are different), and France also states that the applicable franchises (allowances) do not relate to under-17s for tobacco and alcohol.

Article edited November 26 to clarify rules if exceeding allowances

Previous articles

Recap of post-Brexit rules for bringing items into France from the UK 

Brexit: Duty-free caps on alcohol and cigarettes

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