A couple of weeks ago, and seemingly very quietly (notwithstanding there are a few other big news stories at the moment!), the UK Government issued the new legal duty free cigar allowances for those travelling to and from the UK from January 1st 2021. You would have had to have been living in a fairly big vacuum for a few years to not realise this will be the new duty free allowances post Brexit!
As I caveated in my recent piece about The Legalities of Illegally Importing Cigars, whilst I'm not a lawyer, my company, New World of Cigars Ltd is a licensed importer of cigars in to the UK. I'm (painfully) very experienced at reading and interpreting customs law! Below is my take on the new rules and what it means for UK cigar smokers and also a link to the Govt announcement.
The headline for cigar smokers (indeed all smokers) is not good news. From 1st Jan 2021 no matter which country you enter the UK from - yes, including European countries, tobacco duty free limits have been globally harmonised. In short, no matter where you come from, you will now only be able to bring a maximum of 50 cigars per adult, back in to the UK, in person before they have to be declared and the appropriate excise duties paid. As is the system now, 50 cigars would be your entire tobacco allowance. If you have 200 cigarettes you can bring back zero cigars because you have used all you tobacco allowance on cigarettes. You will still be able to split the tobacco allowance, so 100 cigarettes and 25 cigars for example.
There is within this buried a tiny piece of good news... well.... sort of. If you buy your limit of 50 cigars from a duty free outlet they will be even cheaper (in theory) than the country you are in, because duty free is just that, free of any local duty. This was not the case if you were in a European country before. As many of us know though, cigar smokers are not well catered for in duty free outlets, and in all but a few places the conditions cigars are kept in, in duty free leave a lot to be desired! In countries like Spain where duties are already very low, buying duty free at the airport may be cheaper than a cigar shop where you're staying, however the marginal additional cost may be worth it if you want your cigars in tip top condition and a far bigger selection.
It is also worth noting that you will now also be able to buy duty free on your way out of the UK to any country (again including European countries). Depending on which country you are flying to, whether the airport you are flying back from has a good humidor and what the tax regime is in the country you are going to, it may be worth raiding the humidor at your UK departure airport and bringing them back with you on the return journey. In my experience humidors at the bigger UK airports tend to have a fairly good selection and quality is certainly better than many foreign duty free stores I've encountered. Remember though, the 50 per adult limit is not each way - it is the total you can bring back irrespective of where and when you buy them. Also do be careful of any limits countries have when you arrive in them that apply to tobacco. I nearly got caught out asking a colleague to bring a quantity of cigars from the US to me in Romania where I was working. Turns out you can only take 40 cigars in to Romania not the 50 I'd asked her to bring... slightly embarrassing to put your colleague in that situation!
Often with customs change notices, what's not included in them is as important as what is in them. Before anyone starts any nonsense on social media, no, nothing in this means you can now ship up to 50 cigars. There is no suggestion anywhere that there will be any change to the non face to face transaction laws governing excise on cigars and tobacco more broadly, which again is covered in my piece The Legalities of Illegally Importing Cigars
So after a slightly depressing update, 1 piece of good news. The amount of spirits you can bring back from anywhere in the world, duty free, has jumped to 4l per adult! At least we can drown our sorrows.
While the old school cigar industry is rubbing it's hands with glee at the chance to try and screw more money out of hard pressed UK cigar smokers with this announcement, we're here for you, because I am one of you! I remain committed to bringing directly to you the best new world cigars I can find around the world, at the lowest possible prices. I remain equally determined to drive the change the UK cigar industry desperately needs to happen. Namely driving down the cost of cigars for UK smokers. Tax is not the only reason cigars in the UK cost so much...
As always, stay smokey, stay safe. Pete