Standard Customs Allowances
Don’t forget that you the buyer are responsible to comply with your destination’s incoming Customs Allowances. Otherwise, you have to pay the applicable duty and/or taxes due on any over run, whether in quantity or value. Moreover, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Customs allowances apply only to those products bought Duty Free. The incoming Customs regimes don’t distinguish between goods bought duty free or duty paid.
Customs allowances are generally expressed as quantities for the original Duty Free products of tobacco and alcohol. Perfume allowances are only occasionally expressed as a quantity since they are generally no longer subject to excise duty. Everything else is part of the value allowance, which is in addition to the quantity allowance.
Many retailers post allowance information on their websites or in-store, but it’s not always complete nor accurate. In my opinion, the Dufry global site has very good allowance information:
Dufry Global – Customs Allowances
Since for some reason, they missed out Hong Kong, here are the Hong Kong allowances. There is no value allowance since Hong Kong has no VAT.
You should be careful with the discounted multipacks of tobacco and alcohol offered by many retailers. Standard cigarette and spirit allowances are typically 200 cigarettes and 1 liter, respectively. Some countries permit more. Check the allowance link above to be sure that it’s OK to bring in more than those quantities.
Reduced Tobacco Allowances
If your interested in this Read More
A number of countries have reduced their tobacco allowance, whether for fiscal, health, or political reasons:
- Australia – one unopen packet of up to 25 cigarettes (or the equivalent of 25 grams of tobacco products), and one open packet of cigarettes
- Barbados – No allowance for cigarettes or other tobacco products
- Estonia – 40 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 50 grams of tobacco
- Hong Kong – 19 cigarettes; or 1 cigar or 25 grams of cigars; or 25 grams of other manufactured tobacco
- India – 100 cigarettes, 25 cigars, or 125 grams of tobacco
- New Zealand – 50 cigarettes or 50 grams of tobacco or cigars or a mixture of all three weighing no more than 50 grams
- Romania – 40 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco
- Singapore – No allowance for cigarettes or other tobacco products
An even more stringent regime, though, is Sri Lanka. The government completely prohibits the importation of foreign cigarettes, apparently to protect the single local producer. Media reports say that if you’re caught with foreign cigarettes, even on the street, you face possible arrest. That might include a few days in jail, and a fine – so watch out.
Also, remember that certain Muslim countries prohibit the importation of alcohol (Iran, Kuwait, Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia)
For some reason, Singapore has no Duty Free alcohol allowance for travellers coming from Malaysia.
Intra-EU AllowancesRead More
If you’re travelling within the EU (irrespective of your nationality or residence), there is no limit on the amount, type, or value of goods (other than tobacco and alcohol) you may import from one EU country into another for personal consumption. The assumption is that you have paid VAT somewhere in the EU. However, goods imported for commercial purposes (resale) are subject to excise duty and VAT. For alcohol and tobacco, the burden of proof is on you to show that they are not for resale if you bring in more than the following indicative limits:
- 800 cigarettes
- 400 cigarillos
- 200 cigars
- 1 kilogram of tobacco
- 10 liters of alcoholic beverages stronger than 22%
- 20 liters of fortified wine up to 22%
- 90 liters of still wine (including a maximum of 60 liters of sparkling wine)
- 110 liters of beer
These quantities may seem a bit large to bring on a plane. However, they were actually introduced to cover cross-border and ferry travel, like the UK cross-Channel booze cruises.
The European Union Member States
For those of you who may not be familiar with the 28 countries in the EU, they are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK (in a transition period until the end of 2020).
There are certain territories which are associated with EU member states but aren’t part of the EU for tax purposes. These include places like the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, and the Channel Islands. Therefore, you can buy Duty Free when travelling between them and the 28 EU members in either direction.
Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland are the only Western European countries not in the EU.
The U.S. Value Allowance in Detail
If you’re an American, you probably already know that the US value allowance, or personal exemption, is a bit complicated. Howver, it’d be worth your while to familiarize yourself with it. It’s a lot more generous than most other countries. If you’re interested, Read More
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website is not the easiest one to navigate, and it’s become worse. The following extract from the previous version summarizes the exemption for most returning residents:
“For instance, if you are returning from countries other than the Caribbean countries or U.S. insular possession you are entitled to an $800 duty-free exemption and the next $1,000 worth of the goods you purchased is subject to a flat rate of 3%. If the value exceeds $1,800, the remaining duty will be determined based on duty rates in the harmonized tariff schedule, which are generally between 0-10% (except for clothing and textiles, which can be much higher, up to 25%).”
The Joint Family Declaration
In addition, U.S. Customs permits a joint family declaration to take advantage of the flat duty rate. It doesn’t matter matter which family member owns the given item, with no age limit specified. This extract from another CPB webpage describes the concept:
“A joint declaration is a Customs declaration that can be made by family members who live in the same household and return to the United States together. These travelers can combine their purchases to take advantage of a combined flat duty rate, no matter which family member owns a given item. The combined value of merchandise subject to a flat duty rate for a family of four traveling together would be $4,000. Purchase totals must be rounded to the nearest dollar amount.”
So if you’re a family of four, you can bring in a total of $7,200 worth of goods before things get complicated. You’ll only have to pay $120 duty – or 1.7% overall, which isn’t too bad.
The Harmonized Tariff Schedule
As the first extract says, for the value over $1800 per person (or $7,200 for a family of 4), duty would be based on the rates in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. This is an extremely complicated document, however, the rates on luxury items like watches, jewellery, and handbags are not excessive. For example:
- Watches and precious metal jewellery are around 6%
- Leather bags are 9%
- Cloth bags, including canvas, are 5 – 7%.
Consequently, you’d be smart to declare these sorts of goods and pay the duty.