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As I understand it, the limits for duty free for both the UK and France for people arriving from outside of the EU is a maximum of 1 litre of alcoholic beverages over 22%. As such, on a single direct flight into the EU, one person wouldn't be allowed to enter with 2 litres of spirits without paying duty. However...

Consider a trip which was USA to Paris with a few hours stopover in London, then the next day a flight from Paris back to London. Assume two pieces of checked luggage.

On your flight from Europe to the USA, you buy one litre of duty free spirits. Before leaving the USA, you put that in bag #1. At the airport, you short-check bag #2 to London, and have bag #1 (with the duty free) checked all the way to Paris. After checkin, you then buy another litre of duty free spirits.

On arrival in London, you clear immigration, collect your short checked bag, clear customs with just the USA-purchased 1L of spirits, pop the duty free in that bag and leave it in left luggage. You then re-clear security and carry on to Paris. The next day, you fly from Paris back to London, with the other litre of spirits still in your other piece of checked luggage.

When you go to customs in London for the second time, with the other bottle, are you permitted to exit without paying any duty? Does the side trip to France with the second bottle reset your limit?

  • 2
    Another funny scenario: What if you drink the whole bottle while in Paris? – Relaxed Feb 28 '15 at 9:03
  • @Relaxed If I drank it alone, I probably wouldn't be in a fit state to get the plane back to London...! – Gagravarr Feb 28 '15 at 9:31
  • There's a much easier scenario (altough just as illegal): fly into Paris through another Schengen airport and have your friend join you on the direct flight from that airport with an empty suitcase. You both pick-up the luggage from the carrousel, then go to the toilet, and place all of the alcohol into their luggage. Then your friend leaves the airport with a suitcase full of booze, which is untaxable as it arrived on a direct Schengen flight. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Feb 10 '16 at 11:47
  • @JonathanReez Why does it need to be a Schengen flight? Surely any EU flight would count, as they'd have the magic green bag tags? (Schengen is about immigration, not about customs) – Gagravarr Feb 10 '16 at 16:25
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If I follow you correctly, you entered the EU with two litres of spirits. Enforcement might be complicated by your complex bag checking wizardry but your legal position seems clear to me: You have crossed an external border once, there is no reason for any limit to be “reset”. Even if you only have to clear customs with your second bag on your final destination and nobody will search it in London, you are not in transit to anywhere outside the union and that's when you violated the rules.

More interesting, you could in theory buy everything you want in London and then show up in Paris with a lot more alcohol than you had the right to import from the US. You better keep all the receipts in case your luggage gets searched!

And for even more arcane ways to fraud: Leave the extra bottle with a friend in Paris or send it by post to yourself! But you would in any case have entered the EU with more spirits than allowed without paying duty, there is no doubt about that in my mind…

  • Any chance you could dig out a reference to it being an "entering the EU" allowance, and not a "entering a specific EU country" allowance? – Gagravarr Feb 28 '15 at 9:32
  • @Gagravarr There is a directive but it's not particularly explicit. – Relaxed Feb 28 '15 at 9:48
  • It does however provide that “For the purposes of the application of the exemptions, personal luggage shall be regarded as the whole of the luggage which a traveller is able to present to the customs authorities upon arrival, as well as luggage which he presents later to the same authorities, subject to proof that such luggage was registered as accompanied luggage, at the time of his departure, with the company which has been responsible for conveying him” – Relaxed Feb 28 '15 at 9:48
  • As far as I can tell, the second part of the sentence is intended to cover delayed luggage but it still seems to apply to your scenario. It does leave the question of drinking the bottle in Paris open… – Relaxed Feb 28 '15 at 9:49
  • @Gagravarr Maybe the way I looked at it was not exactly right, the limits are still implemented by each country but the thing is that you haven't left the EU so how could there be a new allowance? For the more generous internal rules to apply and cover your extra bottle, the products must have been sourced within the EU. – Relaxed Feb 28 '15 at 9:59

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