In the modern world, the actual process of international travel has little to recommend it beyond the prospect of eventual arrival in somewhere truly worth visiting: like Scotland. Yet alongside the many trials and tribulations of modern travel, there are still a few perks. This page looks at three topics. Firstly, what goods visitors are allowed to bring into the UK without paying duty on them; secondly, what limits are placed on carrying cash into or out of the country; and thirdly, how some visitors can reclaim some of the tax they might pay on goods while in Scotland. To get a truly comprehensive picture, visitors also need to know what restrictions their own national customs authorities place on goods they take back with them: which is outwith the scope of this page.
The first thing to remember is that customs and duty are only an issue when you initially enter the UK, whichever part of the UK you first arrive in. There are no formalities of any sort, including customs, when travelling between one part of the UK and another (e.g. from England to Scotland).
Having got that out of the way, let's look at restrictions on what can be brought into the UK. If you are travelling from outwith the European Union (including Gibraltar, the Canaries and the Channel Islands), you are restricted to bringing in the following without having to play UK tax or duty:
- 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco.
- 60cc of perfume.
- 250cc of eau de toilette.
- 2 litres of still table wine.
- 1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs over 22 per cent volume or 2 litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine or other liqueurs such as port or sherry.
- £145 worth of all other goods including gifts and souvenirs.
These include any duty-free goods you might have purchased on your outward trip and brought back with you. Travellers aged under 17 don't get the tobacco and alcohol allowances. If you go over any of these limits you are legally required to go through the "red" channel in UK customs.
If you are travelling from within the European Union then you do not need to pay UK tax or duty on goods on which tax has been already been paid in an EU country. However, and it is a big however, you must be able to show that any alcohol or tobacco you bring into the UK from the EU is for your own use and has been transported by you. If the customs conclude that you are bringing in goods from the EU for commercial purposes, they can seize the goods and the vehicle being used to transport them. The Customs and Excise website linked above left sets out amounts which, if exceeded, can be viewed as indicating commercial purposes rather than own use. You should additionally be aware that there remain in place restrictions on the import of cigarettes and/or some tobacco products from some recently joined EU member state.
Since June 2007, anyone travelling to or from a non-EU country has been required to tell HM Revenue & Customs if they are carrying more than 10,000 Euros (or the equivalent) in cash, bankers' drafts or cheques including travellers' cheques.
Most goods sold in the UK have Value Added Tax (VAT) added to the price at the rate of 20%. It is possible for visitors from outside the European Union to use a scheme that allows VAT paid on some goods while they are here to be reclaimed after their visit. The scheme only covers goods of above a certain value, purchased at participating stores, and it involves a number of formalities and the completion of a certain amount of paperwork.