There are important regulations concerning the importing of goods into the UK from the EU as a private individual. This means careful consideration must be given as to the legalities and the practicalities if you wish to import tobacco or tobacco products.
Ideally, the first thing you should do is check if you are required by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to have a licence to import the relevant goods.
If you are seeking to import tobacco or tobacco products from the EU into the UK, you must be at least 18 years old.
There is no liability to pay duty or tax on goods on tobacco products you personally bring in from the EU so long as you will use them yourself (or give them as a gift), and duty and tax was paid in the country you bought them. There is no limit on the amount you can bring into the UK.
However, cigarettes or hand-rolling tobacco brought into the UK which does not have UK health warnings or fiscal marks may be seized by Customs.
Tobacco purchases over the internet
It is legal to buy tobacco over the internet from another EU country, however, UK VAT and excise duty (currently at 5.3%) must be paid on it. The seller must make arrangements for these taxes to be paid before they are sent to you in the UK.
As a customer, you should check that all the requirements will be satisfied before the tobacco products are sent, otherwise the goods you buy are likely to be seized by Customs, and you risk 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 is no statutory relief for tobacco goods posted as gifts from other EU countries. 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 EU 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 be imported for the purpose of being sold on.
Buying tobacco in person from another EU country
It you buy tobacco in person from another EU country the rules are slightly different. When tobacco is dispatched by a seller in one member state to a private individual in another member state, EU rules state that this is a commercial transaction and is therefore liable to duty in the member state of destination.
You do not have to pay any tax or duty on tobacco products 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 intended to be used as payment or to be resold – otherwise you will be liable to pay the tax and duty on the items.
Whilst the amount you can bring back is, in theory, unlimited – note that if you were to bring back large quantities of tobacco, a Customs Officer is more likely to ask questions as to your intended use.