lt would be over 10 years ago now. We were in the EU and there was free trade within the EU. If you bought your goods in any EU country and paid the tax in that country, you could bring them back to the UK with nothing more to pay. This included alcohol and tobacco. Good, l thought, it's much cheaper over in the EU so l'll get my cigarettes there and have a little break in glorious sunshine
l'd checked up on it and the law did indeed state that there was no limit as to the amount you could bring back as long as it was for personal use. l also noted that UK Customs had set a guideline of 800 cigarettes. After doing some maths l realised that this was 4 cartons. Why put 800? ... it's not as though you can buy them in ones! What was guideline l thought? Well a guideline is just that, a guideline and nothing more. Then l found reference to UK Customs taking all the cigarettes off EU Shoppers returning to the UK because they were over the guidelines and the UK Customs had concluded that they were for a commercial purpose ...which is another way of saying smuggled :~)
Delving deeper l found that UK Customs had a set of questions they asked and if your answers weren't satisfactory (in their eyes) then you would be deemed a smuggler and your goods confiscated. This perturbed me as l didn't want to lose my goods when l went on my shopping trip to EU.
lt was then l had a brilliant idea. There was a Customs office in my city so if l went to see them and told them exactly what l was bringing back and gave them all the information they required l could then go on my shopping trip with no worries. So, next day off l went to see them armed with all my intentions and relevant details.
l went to the front desk and asked to see an officer who could help me with my proposed shopping trip. l told the person at the desk what l had come for and looking back l now realise he was thought l'd arrived from Mars. Nevertheless, off he went to fetch someone who knew the EU Law regarding EU Shopping and bringing the goods back to the UK.
I waited ... and waited ... and waited. lt was now beginning to dawn on me that they had never had anyone do this before so they were obviously having a discussion about it. l waited a while longer and eventually someone turned up.
Here's the jist of the conversation (C.O. short for Customs Officer)
C.O. " Yes, can l help you"
Me "Yes, l'd like to go to the EU and buy 50 cartons of cigarettes and .."
C.O. interrupts "The guidelines say only 800"
Me "Yes l know that but they are only guidelines and l want to buy 50 cartons"
C.O. "The guidelines say 800 and anything over that you will have to answer questions. If your answers don't satisfy us that they are for personal use they will be confiscated and destroyed"
Me " That's why l'm here"
Me " l'm here to answer your questions now. Anything you require l can then produce. lf not today, then tomorrow. Then l can go on my shopping trip with no worries because l've cleared it with you"
C.O "No, you can't do that"
C.O. " Because it won't be me that you see when you come back"
Me " So? why is that a problem?"
C.O. " Because it won't be me"
Me "Yes but your a C.O. he/she will be a C.O.. what's the difference? l've been here and given you all the info you ask for and so that should be fine"
C.O. " Yes, but it won't be me"
Me " Yes you've said. OK, tell me what l need to take with me so it won't be a problem upon my return"
C.O. " l can't because l don't know what the C.O. that stops you will want'
Me " What? It is the same law regarding EU Shopping everywhere in the UK isn't it"
C.O. " Yes"
Me "So, what's the problem?"
C.O. " It won't be me"
Me " So what your saying is that l go do my EU Shopping and when l return l have to hope everything is ok?"
C.O. "lf you keep to the guidelines of 800 ..."
At that point l give up and cut him dead by laughing and said something like "what a bloody farce" and walked out.
lf l walk into a police station and ask them what do l have to do to stay within the law regarding a certain action l intend to take ... they will tell me. What they won't do is tell me to take the action and see what happens .... unlike UK Customs!
From that point on l knew it was going to be a battle ... in fact many battles ... and so it was.
EU Cross-Border Shopping Guide
- What Amount of Cigs/Tobacco Can I Buy?
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