Can I still take a ‘booze cruise’ to buy alcohol abroad post-Brexit?

Feb 14, 2021

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The Great British “booze cruise” is a long-held tradition of “nipping” to either France or Belgium to stock up on alcohol and tobacco because of the respective countries’ much lower taxes.

As a result, in pre-COVID-19 times, it was common for people to take the ferry from Dover to Calais in their car and basically load up on goodies before coming straight back.

And with day fares to Calais at off-peak times being very reasonable, it made economic sense for many to take advantage of the super cheap beer, wine and cigarettes available — even if it means leaving the U.K. briefly.

As long as the purchases were for personal use and not to sell on, you could buy unlimited amounts of alcohol with a minimum of 110 litres of beer, 90 litres of wine and 10 litres of spirits before likely being questioned about its use.

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How much wine can you fit in your car? (Photo by Peter Dench/Getty Images)

Other major ferry ports where booze cruising is big business are Boulogne, Dunkirk and Ostend in Belgium and the exit route from Calais passes numerous huge warehouse retailers selling oceans of cheap booze — so it was incredibly popular for things like weddings.

But since Brexit came into effect on 1 January 2021, what does this mean?

Can I still go on a booze cruise?

In a nutshell, yes. There is nothing to stop a person travelling to France or Belgium by car or ferry since the U.K. left the EU. You still will not need a visa for trips of 90 days or less. But remember that your U.K. passport must have six months or more on it, according to the government’s website.

If you are taking your car, your U.K. driving licence will be valid in both France and Belgium though it’s worth noting that if you hold a paper licence or if your licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you may need an International Driving Permit.

(Photo. by Peter Dench/ Contributor/Getty Images)

Can I bring alcohol back now the UK isn’t in the EU?

Yes, you can and you may find prices are even lower now as you will not need to pay duty on alcohol when leaving the EU for the UK. However, that comes with a snag, there are now much tighter restrictions. As of 1 January 2021, there are new personal limits on alcohol:

  • 42 litres of beer
  • 18 litres (24 standard bottles) of still wine
  • 4 litres of spirits or 9 litres (12 bottles) of sparkling wine, fortified wine or any alcoholic beverage less than 22% ABV

There will also be limits on the amount of tobacco you can bring into the U.K.

  • 200 cigarettes; or
  • 100 cigarillos; or
  • 50 cigars; or
  • 250 grams of tobacco; or
  • 200 sticks of tobacco for heating; or
  • Any proportional combination of the above.

What about other goods?

If you plan on hitting the designer shops in Paris, be mindful, too, that you can only bring in other goods worth up to £390, or up to £270 if you arrive by private plane or boat. And the government has warned that if you go over your allowance, you pay tax and duty on the total value of the goods, not just the value above the allowance.

What about the other way round — from the UK to Europe?

If you buy alcohol or tobacco in the U.K. to bring into the EU, you will no longer need to pay duty — which is good news if you fancy bringing your favourite British ale or cider with you to France or beyond.

The U.K. government says that as a result of these changes, alcohol purchased duty-free on the way to the EU could be up to:

  • £2.23 cheaper for a 75 centilitre bottle of wine
  • £2.86 cheaper for a 75 centilitre bottle of Champagne or Prosecco
  • £2.28 cheaper for six 50 centilitre cans of 4% ABV beer
  • £11.50 cheaper for a bottle of 40% ABV spirits.

Related: Brexit will bring big changes to duty-free shopping from January 2021

Bottom line

While the 1990s trend of going to Calais for a year’s supply of booze has changed, it’s still possible, just with different rules. Keeping an eye on them means you won’t face any hassle at the border and have to hand over your delicious cheap Bordeaux.

Feature photo by Peter Dench/Getty Images.

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