Importing is when an individual or business brings goods or services into the UK from another country. Careful consideration as to the practicalities needs to be given if you intend to imports goods; this may include how to get the goods into the country, as well as the legal requirements.
Under UK law, a number of legal responsibilities are imposed on you if you wish to import goods in the UK. One of the first and probably most important duties being that you will have to check if the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) requires you to have a licence.
The legal age for importing tobacco into the UK is 18 years.
In short it is legal to buy tobacco over the internet from another European Community country. However it is only legal if the UK VAT and excise duty is paid on the goods. The person who sells the goods must make arrangements for these taxes to be paid before they are sent to you in the UK. It is in your interests as a customer to check that all the requirements have been satisfied; otherwise the goods you buy are likely to be seized by Customs at the postal depot.
It is crucial to ensure that the UK duty and tax is paid when the goods enter this country, even if the relevant taxes have been paid in another EU country. If the tobacco purchased has not had its VAT and excise duty accounted for, your goods are liable to forfeiture and you put yourself at risk of prosecution. Generally, Customs will NOT restore seized items even if you are later able to pay the UK duty and VAT.
Even if the tobacco is a personal gift, there are no statutory reliefs for tobacco goods posted as gifts from other EU countries, and so the excise duty must still be paid prior to the goods arriving into the UK but the import VAT charge is waivered. However, additional charges will not normally be made provided that:
It is a bona-fide gift sent from a private person in another EC country to a private person in UK;
It must be for your own personal use and cannot be sold to others;
You must not have paid for it, either directly or indirectly.
There must be no commercial or trade element to the contents of the consignment
The item must be for your own personal use-it should not imported for the purpose of being sold to others;
When you purchase tobacco in person from another EU country, for example France, the rules are slightly different. As implemented by an EU directive (Council Directive 92/12/EEC), when tobacco is dispatched by a vendor in one member state to a private individual in another member state, it forms a commercial transaction and is thus liable to duty in the member state of destination.
When travelling from the EU to the UK you do not have to pay any tax or duty on goods you have bought in another EU country as long as:
When you purchased the items, tax was already included in the price;
The items are for your own use;
The items have been transported to the UK by you;
This includes gifts, but does NOT include any item that is intended to be used as payment or to be resold.
Therefore if you import tobacco into the UK for the purpose of selling it on, you will be liable to pay the relevant tax and duty on the items.
If you bring back large quantities of tobacco, a Customs Officer is more likely to ask about the purposes for which you hold the goods. This will most likely be the case if you appear at the airport with more than:
3 kg of smoking tobacco
However the Courts have ruled that that those who bring in large quantities of tobacco must be ready to provide a satisfactory explanation, the absence of which may cause Customs Officials to conclude that the items are not for personal use, but for some commercial purpose.
Use the box below to put your question to a solicitor or barrister. You will usually have an answer back within minutes.