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At Heathrow, after collecting your baggage, there are three exits.

Green - nothing to declare

Red - something to declare (not sure of text)

Blue - arrivals from the EU

What is the blue one for? Is it if you have something to declare, and have come from an EU country? I saw no signage to tell me when I was there last week.

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You're referring to the three customs exits at Heathrow Airport:

Heathrow Customs (photo: Diane Phillips)

Blue is for arrivals from the EU with nothing to declare. People who can use this queue will see a green stripe around their luggage tag. Yes, this is slightly confusing.

Green is for arrivals outside the EU with nothing to declare.

These are based on the country where your air journey originated.

Red is for arrivals from anywhere who need to make a customs declaration.

Taken from Heathrow Airport: UK Customs processes at Heathrow

The UK has significantly different procedures for admitting people from the EU and from outside the EU. Since Heathrow has the largest amount of international air traffic of any airport in the world, it's important to not make people wait any longer than necessary. Separating them here helps keep the queues moving faster.

  • Why, if I have nothing to declare, would I need to go through a separate exit? Why not just go through one that says "nothing to declare"? – VictorySaber Jun 10 '14 at 14:47
  • @MichaelHampton Gatwick and, IIRC, London City and many other ports of entry do have blue channels too and Schiphol or Charles-de-Gaulle aren't that far behind Heathrow so the amount of international air traffic does not seem to explain much. – Relaxed Jun 10 '14 at 15:18
  • @Relaxed Yes, I'm sure it has mostly to do with the UK's customs and immigration rules. But moving people through the airport quickly is important too! – Michael Hampton Jun 10 '14 at 15:18
  • But there are no procedures if you have nothing to declare, you just walk through. For example I went through the green "nothing to declare" which I supposedly shouldn't have... no difference. You just walk through. Separating those from EU/Non-EU who HAVE something to declare makes sense, but not if you have nothing to declare. You just walk through! – VictorySaber Jun 10 '14 at 15:23
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    The only somewhat confusing scenario would be walking through the green line with something you are allowed to have but only because you come from the EU (e.g. too much alcohol). – Relaxed Jun 10 '14 at 17:53
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The blue channel is for travelers from the EU who have nothing to declare. If you have something to declare you should in any case go through the red channel.

The difference between travelers coming from the EU and other travelers is that some procedures like declaring cash are unnecessary and the limits, e.g. for alcohol, are much higher than when coming from outside the EU. You can basically import just about anything for your personal use. Other EU countries do not offer separate channels, however, and for the system to work it seems you would need some way to make sure that people coming from outside the EU do not simply sneak through the EU lane.

I don't have any particular insights into the reason the UK organized things in that way but the blue channel could be a way to sort out travelers that are less likely to be importing something illegally. Baggage tags from EU airports are marked with green stripes so people who go there by mistake or try to cheat (without being too clever about it) can still be spotted easily.

The only difference I could find between the UK and some other EU countries without separate channels is that in the UK, declaring cash is only mandatory if you come from outside the EU (it's EU law) whereas in France or Germany it's also mandatory if you come from another EU country. But it's not clear to me how this could explain the blue channel.

  • Both if you have nothing to declare in both cases, the process is identical surely? You just walk through the exit. – VictorySaber Jun 10 '14 at 15:24
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    What differs in which procedures? If you are taken aside for customs control in the green or blue lane, the custom officer will probably anyway check where you're coming from. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 10 '14 at 16:35
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I would guess so yes, where did I suggest otherwise? A procedure that differs is the need to inform officers if you have a large sum in cash. Another one is the need to declare alcohol over a certain limit, even if it's for your personal consumption. But like I said, if it comes to an actual control, border guards in other countries don't need a separate channel to implement those differences. – Relaxed Jun 10 '14 at 17:49
  • The "procedure" is that you have to select the red lane if you bring anything susceptible to import tax. If you don't, you use the green or blue lane depending on where you come from. Except that you are allowed to bring other products or e.g. more alcohol and tobacco from EU countries without paying import tax, there is no obvious difference between what's expected from you when go through customs. The question was for the purpose of separating the green and blue lanes and there is nothing in your answer, which addresses exactly that issue. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 10 '14 at 18:11
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    @Relaxed: If you carry too much cash, you go through the red lane to declare it. That does not answer what the blue lane is for or why there is a difference between the green and blue lanes. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 10 '14 at 19:02

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