WARNING! British Smokers holidaying in Bulgaria Part 2

Readers will remember that l warned British holidaymakers about the Burgas Airport shop in Bulgaria. Since then l've tried to clarify matters but with little success. Below is a letter from the Burgas Duty Free Shop owners Heinemann, Germany (they run Varna Airport too) with my subsequent responses. Below the letter is all the agencies and such l've contacted and state of play.

l find the answers from Heinemann not very convincing and even if l was convinced that still leaves the problem of HMRC/UKBA when you return to the UK. Whether a little till receipt is sufficient for proving EU DUTY has been paid, l simply don't know despite my best efforts to find out. What l do know from talking to HMRC/UKBA is that almost certainly their frontline officers won't accept it as such and will seize the cigarettes/tobacco. l envisage it would end up as a matter for the Magistrates Courts in your Appeal Against Seizure to decide whether this little till receipt is sufficient to prove EU DUTY has been paid. 

Apart from that, there is still the what l can only call profiteering going on at these shops but it isn't at just Heinemann shops in Burgas and Varna Airports. Even at the Sofia Airport shops run by a different company that DO have EU DUTY PAID and DUTY FREE cigarettes, they are still profiteering. They do this by pricing in Euros and when you try to pay in the local Bulgarian currency of Lev they charge you at airport currency exchange rates for converting Lev into Euros! This means that (for example) a carton of 200 Marlboro whose price is fixed by Government regs at 50 Lev wil cost you 60 Lev or thereabouts.

So, what l always do and advise others to do is to buy your cigarettes/tobacco from the Bulgarian Domestic market at reputable supermarkets and such (not street traders!). That way you get your cigarettes/tobacco with the official EU DUTY PAID stickers on (Heinemann call them tax banderols ... see below) and a receipt AND at the correct price!

Now to the letter from Heinemann with my comments in 'blue' :- 

From: ****** ********@gebr-heinemann.de>
To: nothing_2_declare@ymail.com
Sent: Tuesday, 12 July 2011, 8:50
Subject: Antwort: WG: Burgas 11.07.11 ****** *********** - Kundenbeschwerde/Anfrage

Dear Mr ********,

Thank you very much for your feedback regarding your experience at our Burgas Duty Free Airport Shop. We have a quit specific situation with respect to the sales of cigarettes in Bulgaria but we will try our best to explain the situation to you.

Bulgaria has a specific Duty Free law which just allow to sell "Duty Free Merchandise" (without tax banderols) (Err but your shop told me they had tax banderols on but they wouldn't open the carton to show me. Can you please provide a link to this specific Duty Free law which you speak of? ) behind the security control. That means we are selling Duty Free Merchandise to EU-Passengers and Duty Free Passengers as well.(Really? how come there was no DUTY FREE price displayed anywhere or indeed details about this specific DUTY FREE law you mention that Bulgarians supposedly have? Sofia Airport shops (not your company) have 2 distinct areas ... one marked DUTY FREE and the other DUTY PAID. The cigarettes are packaged accordingly and priced accordingly)

On your cash receipt is declared that this merchandise was sold "Tax & Duty Paid" to you. The taxes we are paying to the Bulgarian Country according to our cash system which is supervised by the Bulgarian Customs.(Really? HMRC/UKBA have told me that they would almost certainly seize any DUTY FREE packaged cigarettes even if you have a little till receipt.)

With respect to the price which you paid for a carton of Marlboro I understand that you were not happy with the significant price increase compared to the Bulgarian Domestic Market. The reason for that is that Philip Morris (brand owner of Marlboro) is unfortunately not offering to us the financial support which we need to match the prices of the Bulgarian Domestic Market.(Really? Why? Philip Morris are in Bulgaria and manufacture Marlboro in Bulgaria. Sofia Airport have these cigarettes along with all other brands ... all with tax 'banderols' on showing DUTY PAID. They also have these brands showing DUTY FREE. All the health warnings are in Bulgarian though, unlike yours, that are in English. Where do you get them from?)

All other brands (Lucky Strike, Lambert & Butler, Silk Cut, Superkings) are on the price level of the Bulgarian Domestic Market as those cigarette houses are supporting us in an adequate way.(Really? these other brands you talk of are still marked DUTY FREE and are priced above the Bulgarian Domestic Market by a margin of around 10%)

We hope our explanation was clear enough to understand our specific situation in Bulgaria and we hope you enjoyed your holiday and as well your shopping at Burgas Airport.(No, your explanation is not clear enough)

We would be very happy to welcome you again at Burgas Airport or in another shop of Gebr. Heinemann.

Should you require any further questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact us. 

(l did, immediately, along with the above points (albeit not so forcefully and sarcastically) and ever since you've remained silent!) 

Best regards from Hamburg,

****** *********

Who l've contacted and subsequent results

HMRC/UKBA    At first got a complete muppet who told me l can bring back my DUTY FREE Alowances from Bulgaria! Told the muppet that she didn't know what she was taliking about and to put me on to someone who did. The next representative did know more and said the frontline officers would seize any DUTY FREE packaged goods regardless of the till receipt as it would be viewed as very suspicious. Went on to say they have no jurisdiction in Bulgaria. Seems that doesn't stop them involving themselves restricting British brands in Belgium, Lux etc does it?
Also wrote to them and they responded with "All tobacco products from EU must be DUTY PAID. if you have any further questions you should contact Bulgarian Authorities"  (helpful, aren't they?)

Bulgarian Customs    ... no response.

British Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria   .... no response

Philip Morris International    .... responded and are investigating and will reply after investigation.

Burgas Airport Management  .... no response

Balkan Holidays   ... the company l got my flight only deal with. They send thousands upon thousands of British holidaymakers to this area (Sunny Beach) through Burgas Airport ... no response

Sofia Echo ... no response

Note:- no phones were hacked to produce this article


  1. l had 1000 fags taken off me by Customs when l got back from Sunny Beach cos they were duty free that l bought at that airport. l didnt appeal cos it didnt seem worth it but now l think l should have

  2. @ ANON 13:50 SH may know better but I'd guess it wouldn't have done any good appealling because, for once and just for once, The Skeds are actually in the right....sorta anyways.

    Hence SH's warnings. It doesn't matter if domestic duty *has* indeed been paid, if there isn't proof (ie a duty paid tax stamp) or worse still it says 'Duty Free' then you can't bring it in without paying duty/going through the red channel etc. A till receipt showing duty paid isn't enough proof.

  3. PS SH, next time you need to write to a German firm then you could email me the letter/email and I'll translate it and get it back to you within 24 hours or so. Yes everyone speaks English these days but it's easier for them to answer questions in German and to be able to reply in German....hell they might even make some sense then.

  4. Keep up the excellent work. You single-handedly provide more help for cross-border shoppers than the rest of the sites put together. Truly well done sir.

  5. anon 16,17 yeah l second that

  6. You put journos to shame SH. Kudos

  7. SH didn't set out to help everyone. He tends to avoid responsibilities. A saint he is not.

    One day he'll walk away from this mission, but not til he's badly damaged that great myth that Customs can do what they like.

    I don't think this is really about helping us lot. It's about punishing Customs for daring to try to rip him off. (More than once, FFS!) :-)

  8. Graceful written content on this blog is really useful for everyone same as I got to know. Difficult to locate relevant and useful informative blog as I found this one to get more knowledge but this is really a nice one. Online tax free cigarettes


"In the eyes of the Tribunal the review letter contained several preconceptions, prejudgments and non-sequiturs"

"the absurdity of this reason is demonstrated by simply stating it"

"We therefore find that Mr Sked misdirected himself as to the Policy in carrying out the review and his decision is therefore one that no reasonable review officer could have arrived at."

... commonly known here at N2D as 'Skeds' ... that is to say these are Judges comments regarding UKBA Review Officer Ian Sked's reasons for rejecting peoples appeals against seizures.

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