Customs

What can you take to the UK?

When you enter the UK to take up temporary or permanent residence, you can usually import your personal belongings duty and tax free. Any duty or tax due depends on where you came from, where you purchased the goods, how long you’ve owned them, and whether duty and tax has already been paid in another country. There are no restrictions on the importation of goods purchased tax and duty paid in another EU country, although there are limits for certain goods, e.g. tobacco, beer and wine.

All ports and airports in the UK use a system of red and green ‘channels’. Red means you have something to declare and green that you have nothing to declare (i.e. no more than the customs allowances, no goods to sell and no prohibited or restricted goods). If you’re certain that you have nothing to declare, go through the ‘green channel’, otherwise go through the red channel. Customs officers make random checks on people going through the green channel and there are stiff penalties for smuggling. If you’re arriving by ferry with a motor vehicle, random checks can be rigorous – even to the point of dismantling the vehicle in search of undeclared or prohibited items!

A list of all items you’re bringing in is useful, although the customs officer may still want to examine your belongings. If you need to pay duty or tax, it must be paid at the time the goods are brought into the country. Customs accept cash (sterling only); personal cheques supported by a cheque guarantee card; MasterCard, Visa and, at some ports and airports, Switch debit cards. If you’re unable to pay on the spot, customs keep your belongings until you pay the sum due, which must be paid within the period noted on the back of your receipt. Postage or freight charges must be paid if you want the goods sent on to you.

Your belongings may be imported up to six months before, but no more than one year after your arrival, after transferring your residence. They mustn’t be sold, lent, hired out, or otherwise disposed of in the UK (or elsewhere in the EU) within one year of their importation, without first obtaining customs authorisation.

If you’re shipping your personal belongings (which includes anything for your family’s personal use – such as clothing, cameras, television and stereo, furniture and other household goods) – unaccompanied to the UK, you must complete (and sign) customs form C3, obtainable from your shipping agent, HM Customs and Excise (see address below) or www.hmce.gov.uk , and attach a detailed packing list. If you employ an international removal company, they handle the customs clearance and associated paperwork for you. Any items originally obtained in the UK or within the EU can be brought into the UK free of customs and excise duty or VAT, provided:

  • Any customs duty, excise duty or VAT was paid and not refunded when they were exported from the UK (or the EU in the case of customs duty).
  • They were in your private possession and use in the UK before they were exported.
  • They haven’t been altered abroad, other than necessary repairs.
  • They’re brought back within three years. (This is a condition which Customs & Excise normally waives if the previous three conditions have been met).

The personal belongings you’re allowed to bring into the UK duty and tax free depend on your status, as shown below.

Visitors or Students Resident Abroad

If you’re a visitor, you can bring your belongings to the UK free of duty and tax provided that:

  • All belongings are brought in with you and are for your use alone.
  • They’re kept in the UK for no longer than twenty four months.
  • You don’t sell, lend, hire out, or otherwise dispose of them in the UK.

If you’re unable to export your belongings when you leave the UK, you must apply to the nearest Customs and Excise Advice Centre for an extension.

In addition to the above, students attending a full-time course of study in the UK, can permanently import their clothing and household linen, study articles and household effects for furnishing their accommodation.

People Moving or Returning to the UK

If you’re moving or returning to the UK (including British subjects) from outside the EU, you can import your belongings free of duty and tax provided you’ve lived at least 12 months outside the EU. Your possessions must have been used for at least six months outside the EU before being imported. Tax and duty must have been paid on all items being imported (this isn’t applicable to diplomats, members of officially recognised international organisations, members of NATO or British forces and their spouses, and any civilian staff accompanying them). Articles must be for your personal use, must be declared to customs, and you mustn’t sell, lend, hire out, or otherwise dispose of them in the UK (or elsewhere in the EU) within 12 months, without customs authorisation.

People with Second Homes in the UK

If you’re setting up a second home in the UK, you can bring normal household furnishings and equipment with you free of duty and tax if you usually live in another EU country. If you’ve lived outside the EU for at least 12 months, you can import household furnishings and equipment for setting up a second home free of duty, but not free of added tax (VAT), which is levied at 17.5 per cent.

To qualify, you must either own or be renting a home in the UK for a minimum of two years, and your household furnishings and equipment must have been owned and used for at least six months. Articles must be for your personal use, must be declared to customs, and mustn’t be sold, lent out, hired out, or otherwise disposed of in the UK (or elsewhere in the EU) within 24 months without authorisation from Customs and Excise. If furnishings and effects for a second home in the EU are imported unaccompanied, customs form C33 must be completed.

Further Information

Information concerning customs regulations is contained in a number of booklets, called Notices. They cover personal belongings, household effects, private motor vehicles and people moving to the UK after marriage (Notice 3); pleasure craft or boats (Notice 8); inherited goods and vehicles (Notice 368); antiques (Notice 362); and motor vehicles, boats or aircraft from elsewhere in the EU (Notice 728).

Copies of the notices listed above can be obtained from customs offices or downloaded from www.hmce.gov.uk . The primary source of further information is the Customs and Excise national advice line 0845-010 9000 (or if telephoning from abroad +4420-8929 0152). Email and postal enquiry addresses for your local area can be found by using a search feature on the website. The principal address for written enquiries in London is HM Customs and Excise, Thomas Paine House, Angel Square, Torrens Street, London EC1V 1TA. Customs and Excise can also provide detailed information regarding the importation of special items.

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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