HMRC warning on overseas shopping limits

Gareth Fuller/PA

The Christmas excitement is really building now - the lights are on, and festive shopping has begun in earnest.

But if you are planning a trip across the Channel to buy some festive fizz or even a holiday to catch some winter sun, and you don't want your festive spirit dampened, there's a warning from HMRC about VAT and import duty.

What you need to know

If you're going abroad - to a non-EU country - to do your Christmas shopping, you can bring in up to £390 worth of goods for personal use without paying customs duty or VAT (excluding tobacco and alcohol, which have separate allowances - you can see those here). Above these allowances and up to £630, there is a duty flat rate of 2.5 percent.

If you are thinking of going across the Channel to buy beers, wines, spirits or tobacco products, there are no limits on the amounts of duty and tax paid goods you can bring back personally from another EU country, as long as they are for your own use.

You may, however, be asked questions at the UK border if you have more than any of the following:
- 110 litres of beer,
- 90 litres of wine,
- 10 litres of spirits
- 20 litres of fortified wines,
- 800 cigarettes,
- 200 cigars,
- 400 cigarillos or
- 1kg of tobacco
to establish these quantities are genuinely for your own use.

If you buy goods online or by mail order from retailers outside the EU you will have to pay VAT if the value of the package is over £15. If the goods are over £135 in value, customs duty may also be due, although this will depend on what they are and where they have been sent from. Where, however, the actual amount of duty due is less than £9, this will not be charged.
If someone sends you a gift from outside the EU, import VAT will only be due if the package is valued at over £40. To qualify as a gift, the item must be sent from one private individual to another, with no money changing hands.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Head of Customs Policy, Angela Shephard, said: "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.

"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."
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