What are post-Brexit rules for moving items from a French house to UK?

As with French customs rules on moving items from the UK to France, the UK’s HMRC now has requirements when people move from France to the UK

14 October 2021

Customs declarations may now have to be made when moving items from France to the UK Pic: Gary Perkin / Shutterstock

By Liv Rowland

I am looking to sell up in France and move back to the UK. Will there be UK border formalities?

Post-Brexit, the UK’s customs service HMRC expects certain rules to be followed, and in some cases VAT and import duty to be paid, when moving loads of personal items over the Channel into the UK.

The situation is simpler – and less expensive – if this is in the context of moving your main home from France to the UK, ie. when moving countries on a permanent basis.

However, tax and duty may apply in the case of moving goods from a French second home back to a main UK home, with no change of residency involved.

Firstly, on any France to UK trips, you should be aware now of the rules on matters such as how much alcohol and tobacco may be taken over the border among your personal effects free of VAT, import and excise duty. If the allowances are exceeded you must make a declaration and pay tax and duty on the value of all the goods in the category.

Read more: France to UK family visit: What gifts can we bring?

Change of residence from France to the UK

In the case of moving from France to the UK there is ‘Transfer of Residence Relief’ (ToR) to claim exemption from customs charges.

This is for people to bring in their personal belongings and home goods when transferring their main residence from one country to the other.It can also be used by students coming to the UK for full-time study and those moving following a marriage or civil partnership.

To qualify you must have been resident outside the UK for at least 12 months consecutively and be importing the goods within 12 months of a move to the UK, whether in one trip or multiple ones.

In theory the goods should have been owned by you for at least six months prior to importation to the UK, though this does not apply to those moving due to a marriage or civil partnership or to students.

You have to have prior approval from HMRC before importing the items, which you can apply for on this online form.

Where using ToR, HMRC states that you will have to provide a ‘packing list or manifest’ of the personal property you intend to send or bring to the UK. It is not necessary to give values for everything , but is acceptable to give an overall sum. Values can be worked out by making an estimate in keeping with market values (ie. what you would be likely to obtain for the items if sold).

See this link for further details on the ToR rules.

‘Returned goods’

In situations where you cannot qualify for ToR it may be possible to claim ‘Returned Goods Relief’ (RGR), which provides relief from VAT and duty charges on goods that are exported from the UK and then re-imported in the same state within three years (in some cases HMRC will waive the time limit if you apply for this).

There is also a Brexit ‘grace period’ for any goods that were transported to the UK and were located there at the end of the transition period (December 31, 2020). This allows for moving items back to the UK under the RGR rules regardless of how long they were owned, by June 2022.

Using a removals firm

If you hire a removals firm to move the goods rather than doing it yourself, ie. the goods are ‘unaccompanied’, the firm will submit a customs declaration on your behalf.

Other situations

If you are accompanying the belongings, ie. driving them over in a car, van or trailer, and you do not benefit from ToR or RGR, then VAT (usually 20%, though zero on some items) and in some cases customs duties (at variable rates depending on category of goods) applies if you exceed certain ‘personal allowances’. These are separate from the allowances by quantity that apply to tobacco and alcohol.

You can make a declaration and pay any tax or duty from five days (120 hours) before arrival, on this site. If you do so you can then enter the UK through the ‘nothing to declare’ lanes.

You can also declare at the border and an inspection may be made.

When declaring online, tax and duty is calculated using a monthly exchange rate and simplified duty rates.

If the goods do not exceed the allowances there is no requirement to declare or to pay tax/duty.

The personal allowance amounts are up to £390 per person. If you go over, you pay VAT and duty on the total value of goods, not just the value above the allowance.

Duty is not payable if there is evidence of the goods being made in the EU. 

Proving the latter is simpler where the total value of items is less than £1,000. In this case, labels and packaging are enough, otherwise you could be asked to show an invoice including specific information on origin.

Information on customs UK customs duties is available here and here

If you need more information on your personal situation, see this website for sources of help.

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