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

Sep 17, 2020

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The government is changing up the way we shop duty free as of 1 January 2021. Changes to the limits of what Brits can bring back into the country, VAT claiming for tourists leaving the U.K. and goods on sale in duty-free outlets will all be coming into place from 1 January.

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The change that will affect everyone is the removal of duty-free sales of electronics, clothing, bags and fragrances. The change has been made over “concerns that the tax-concession is not always passed on to consumers in the airport”, according to the treasury. “In some instances these tax-free goods are brought back into the country by U.K. residents, putting high street retailers at a disadvantage”.

This means that as of 1 January 2021, alcohol and tobacco will be the only goods available at duty-free prices in airports, ports and Eurostar stations throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland. U.K. citizens will now be able to purchase such products when travelling to EU countries at duty-free prices, which is currently not allowed.

According to the government, this is likely to save travellers around £2.23 on a 75 cl bottle of wine and up to around £11.50 on a bottle of 40% ABV spirits. Still not a great saving, considering that when in many countries across Europe, you can buy bottles of wine for just a couple of euro.

Related: Travel to Europe will be very different from 1 January 2021: Here are the government’s new regulations

As of 1 January, the government is setting a limit of what you’re allowed to bring back to the U.K. from the EU without paying U.K. duties. The new limits will also apply to passengers returning from non-EU countries, which is a significant increase. For example, you’ll be able to bring up to 42 litres of beer, 18 litres of still wine and four litres of spirits or 9 litres of sparkling wine or similar of less than 22% ABV.

However, duty-free shopping will be more restricted for tourists and foreign nationals leaving the U.K.

“Overseas visitors will still be able to buy items VAT-free in store and have them sent direct to their overseas addresses”, the treasury said. This, rather than bringing purchases with them in their suitcases. Claiming back VAT at airports, ports and Eurostar stations will no longer be available on items that have already been bought by visitors on their trips.

Related: Where’s the cheapest duty free? We checked 50 airports to find out

The move may come as another blow to airports and the aviation sector, which has already been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association expressed her concern for the changes, saying the move shows “a complete lack of awareness for the jobs and business on the line in the aviation sector”, as reported the Independent.

Featured image by Loop Images/Getty 

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