Until now when arriving from EU to the UK I was walking green corridors and life was good.

Now gov.uk website says this (https://www.gov.uk/duty-free-goods/arriving-in-Great-Britain):

You can bring in other goods worth up to £390 (or up to £270 if you arrive by private plane or boat).

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.

You may have to pay customs duty if you exceed your allowances.

You may also have to pay import VAT.

Does that mean that now I should go in the red corridor and declare my iPhone 12 and my Apple Watch Series 6? And pay every time I move through the border? Or keep receipt?

  • 2
    Do you return 'home' to the UK or are you going to be a visitor who will take the phone out again when you leave the UK?
    – Willeke
    Jan 4, 2021 at 18:39
  • I live in the UK. Don't see how this is relevant though. Jan 4, 2021 at 18:59
  • 1
    Do you mean your phone and watch that you use personally? Or are you frequently bringing in new phones and watches for resale or gifts?
    – xngtng
    Jan 4, 2021 at 19:10
  • 4
    It is usually not considered "goods" if you return with a personal item previously taken out of country, as is the case for your clothing and luggage cases however expensive they are (subject to certain limit on precious metals etc.).
    – xngtng
    Jan 4, 2021 at 19:32
  • 2
    Weren't you supposed to walk the blue corridor?
    – Relaxed
    Jan 5, 2021 at 9:08

4 Answers 4


From the comments, you say the following:

  1. You are a UK resident
  2. You purchased the items in the UK

In this case, you already paid UK tax (or someone did, or should have, when the items were purchased new or brought into the country for the first time) - they are your personal items and you are not "importing" them into the UK when you are returning from travel.

The gov.uk page you refer to in the question is about importing of newly purchased items into the UK for the first time - if you purchased the items outside the UK and are bringing them into the UK, and you are a resident of the UK, then you are supposed to pay import duty and taxes on the items just as if they had been purchased in the UK (where they are built into the distribution and purchase costs).

As an aside, you can potentially use some ignorance in this area to your advantage if queues are long - when I visit Australia for conferences (I live in NZ, but am a UK citizen), I always declare my laptop, phone, watch etc deliberately so as to push myself over the declaration limit, which means I have to join the "something to declare" line. Why does this benefit me? Because the "something to declare" line is always shorter than the "nothing to declare" line in Sydney, and once the customs officer has established that I intend to remove these items with me at the end of the conference, I get waved through with no issues - takes about a quarter of the time of waiting at the "nothing to declare" line.

  • Since you did purchase the items in the UK, you’re fine. But someone who is planning to avoid paying duty and VAT by saying that they bought their phone and laptop in the UK when they actually bought them elsewhere and are importing them needs to be aware that UK Customs has access to databases linking serial numbers to countries of sale, so they will probably be caught and fined.
    – Mike Scott
    Jan 6, 2021 at 18:08
  • @MikeScott is there evidence that custom had access to serial number and location of sale? Only for iphone? What about samsung, huawei, xiaomi or nokia?
    – vasin1987
    Jan 11, 2021 at 18:31

As you are an UK citizen you return home with items you bought in the UK, you have already paid the taxes on them. It might be hard to proof it, as you likely did not take the paperwork with you.
If you have online banking and a payment that shows this phone or watch being paid in the UK, you can keep that or a print out of it handy.

If you bought your phone and/or watch in the EU before Brexit, you may try to argue that you have paid the tax while it was still part of the same system.

Next time you leave the UK with new or rather new expensive items, either take the paperwork from buying it, or get proof you did own it before you leave the country. You do not need to pay repeatedly for the same items.

As a foreign tourist you would normally not need to pay for items you take with you on travels, as long as you plan to take them out again.
Again, having an expensive item and staying long in the country you go to, like as a UK citizen who has the right to stay in an EU country, bringing proof you owned it before this travel will help.

New phones and watches do go down in value quite fast and the border officials will not blink an eye if you pull out a phone which is a few years old.

If you buy a new phone and watch and/or other things that take you over the limit you need to go to the red channel, tell the officer what you bring and how much you paid, and if you can not show paperwork, they may assume a value, and pay tax over what you bring in. If you do not go through the red channel, they may take it off you and still fine you. If in doubt, declare and they will tell you what you need to pay, or nothing.

These rules are now new between the EU and the UK but have been normal for years for travels from either the EU or the UK to other countries and what I write here is standard, learned over the years, no links.

  • I haven't done a lot of international travelling but I've never had to argue tax for obviously used items. They can see the fact it's out of the box, the scratches etc, if really needed you could boot it up and show it's got apps installed, ...
    – user253751
    Jan 5, 2021 at 16:40
  • It is not common but it is not unheard of, I have seen a few online questions in the past. (Likely not on this site.)
    – Willeke
    Jan 5, 2021 at 17:18
  • @user253751 The fact that an item appeared to be out of box and used alone can still attract customs scrutiny (e.g. in China, when you are suspected to be a personal shopper, simply wearing a luxurious watch recently bought abroad won't help you pass the customs). However, in the case that it qualifies for no other exemptions, the tax and duty usually should in principle be assessed for its used value, which may be well under the duty free limit for quickly depreciating electronics (but not so much for certain jewleries).
    – xngtng
    Jan 5, 2021 at 19:02
  • @zhantongz the reason it's relevant that it's used, is because it makes it apparent it's a personal item. I think the EU has an exception for personal items for immigrants though (as well as the usual exception for temporary visitors), which other countries might not.
    – user253751
    Jan 5, 2021 at 19:18

Even if they are considered goods, You would usually be eligible for re-importation relief:

Goods imported in baggage

You do not need to make a formal customs declaration to claim relief on your own personal belongings re-imported in accompanied baggage if the conditions for relief are met.

These are usual rules but it strongly depends on the country, so you should still check the rules in detail.

Same principles apply to your phone and watch as to the clothes and jewelries you wear (but for certain jewelries many countries have special rules).

If it is an item from abroad brought in for sale in the country, it is usually an import subject to customs control. Gifts are also usually subject to customs control but usually with some exemptions.

If it is a restricted or banned good, it is subject to customs control and declaration regardless.

If you bring an item out of country and later return with the same item substantially unmodified, it is not usually considered a new import, at least for individuals.

If you bring an item for personal use as a non-resident and will leave the country with it, it is usually also not considered goods in the customs sense.

If you are a resident and bought a new item outside the country, it is usually considered an import and subject to customs control, even though if you used it already outside of the country as a replacement the customs usually won't care about it (this depends on the country).

If you are establishing or re-establishing in a country, your personal belongs are usually exempt but procedures differ.

  • I don't think re-importation relief is terribly relevant here. That's for goods that were formally exported by professional traders and does require a lot of paperwork, that's not the basis for the de facto tolerance around taking personal belongings on a trip abroad nor is it the procedure you would use if you are moving into the country.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 5, 2021 at 9:25
  • @Relaxed The relief applies to personal effects does not require formal exportation, although proof of the goods being previously in free circulation may be required. The relief also applies concurrently with the transfer of residence relief (they were in the same notice before 2017), many "ordinary" people used it for vehicles that did not meet the requirements for ToR.
    – xngtng
    Jan 5, 2021 at 16:07
  • Are we talking about the same procedure? The “how to claim” page on the website does mention the need to produce an export declaration. Transfer of residence or vehicle imports/exports are similar, it's true that you don't necessarily need to be a professional but you need at least some paperwork. I think those are totally different use cases.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 5, 2021 at 16:28
  • @Relaxed The post-brexit guide is a bit confusing but later on they mention alternative evidence of export can also be accepted. And as also mentioned, accompanied personal belongings are not subject to formal declaration and can use green lanes.
    – xngtng
    Jan 5, 2021 at 18:55
  • Admittedly I am not an expert but if it's anything like Canada (for which I have clear answers from CBSA), personal effects of returning resident travellers are legally exempted under relief for returned goods and those of non-resident travellers are exempted under relief for temporary imports, both of which usually require formal declaration for personal effects only under specific conditions.
    – xngtng
    Jan 5, 2021 at 18:56

There are two main factors to take into account: where you reside and where you bought the device.

  • UK resident, device bought in the UK: It was properly taxed already. If it was manufactured abroad, the retailer (or their provider) took care of importing it. Only issue might be proving that you did indeed buy the device in the UK.
  • UK resident, device bought outside the UK (e.g. US): The device has to be formally imported (and dutied/taxed as appropriate). It's not allowed to import an item woth more than £390 without declaring it. If you go back and forth, you only need to pay once but you might need to prove you did in fact pay the first time around. If you didn't, it's entirely possible to get caught on a subsequent trip.
  • UK resident, device bought in the EU: before Brexit this wasn't an issue, now the EU is treated like any other country in the world. That means two things: more thorough checks are possible when coming from the EU and you are much more limited in what you can import duty and tax-free from now on. However, a device that has been bought elsewhere in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period should still be treated as a device that was bought in the UK.
  • EU (or third-country) resident (that's resident, not citizen, it could still apply if you are British), device bought in the UK: no problem at all on the UK side but you'll have to deal with similar issues on the EU side.
  • EU (or third-country) resident, device bought outside the UK: you're presumably on a short visit, if you will take the device back with you when leaving the country, you don't need to pay tax or duties (and usually don't need any paperwork). If what you bring will remain in the UK (it's a gift) then the regular import rules apply: £390 allowance (£270 if you arrive by private plane or boat), restrictions on alcohol or cigarettes.
  • 1
    Also I don't know about the UK specifically, but in general, if you are not on a shopping trip then there is often a reasonable chance they will wave you through and not ask you to pay tax, even if the law says you should. In that case (again, don't know about the UK) you should be in the clear because you presented the item truthfully to customs and they made a decision.
    – user253751
    Jan 5, 2021 at 16:37

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