Ever wondered whether you’ll be stopped by customs when trying to bring a swag bag of French ham and cheese across the border? Read up on the government guidelines for bringing food into the UK, plus our tips on what to bring back from foodie holiday destinations.
We think one of the best parts of going on holiday is scouring local markets, independent stores and mega hypermarkets for unusual food items to bring back in your suitcase. If you agree with us, you'll be reassured to know that when the UK joined the EU, its residents gained more freedom to carry food across European borders. However, beyond Europe things get a little more complicated - something the Uruguayan World Cup football team know all too well after their caramel spread was seized by Brazilian customs officers earlier this year. The UK Government have it all covered online, but we've put together an at-a-glance guide to ensure there are no wasted hauls of holiday goodies.
What food can I bring into the UK if I’m coming from a country within the EU?
According to Government body Border Force, if you’re travelling from a country within the European Union, you may bring in any meat, dairy or other animal products such as honey, fish or ‘bivalves’ (oysters, mussels or clams etc).
You can also bring an unlimited amount of alcohol into the UK, as long as it’s for a gift or personal use and transported by you in hold luggage, although if you’re bringing in very large quantities, you may be questioned by a Border Force officer. For more on alcohol restrictions, read the Border Force document on Travelling to the UK.
EU countries are:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal (including Madeira), Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK. Exemption: Gibraltar.
In this context, EU countries also include:
Andorra, Canary Islands, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland.
To read more on bringing food into the UK from the EU, read the Border Force leaflet:
How should I pass through Customs?
If you’re travelling from within the EU and have no banned or restricted food goods, leave border control through the Blue Customs Channel.
What food can I bring into the UK from outside the EU?
As food products can harbour disease or pests that could affect the UK’s environment and economy, there are strict regulations on what items you can bring into the UK from outside the European Union.
The following items are banned:
- Meat products – other than infant food and special pet feed.
- Dairy products – other than powdered infant milk.
- Milk products
If you’re travelling from the Faroe Islands, Greenland or Iceland, you are allowed these items at a limit of 10kg per person.
Endangered food species, such as sturgeon caviar, are subject to additional controls.
The following items are restricted:
- Fruit and vegetables, including live bivalves, egg products, eggs and honey, at a limit of 2kg total weight per person.
- Fish, dead bivavles and fish products at a limit of 20kg total weight per person. Conditions: Fish must be gutted if fresh, or processed, for instance cured, dried or smoked.
For a comprehensive explanation of banned non-EU food products, including an exemption list, visit the Defra information page.
How should I pass through Customs?
It is important you declare any banned food substances by passing through the Red Customs Channel. If you’re unsure about what you have in your suitcase, speak to a Border Force officer.
This information was sourced in July 2014 and may be subject to change. Visit the Government website to stay up to date.
And now for some inspiration... Our top suggestions for food to bring back from holiday:
Saffron from Morocco:
The souks of North Africa are packed with colourful sacks of herbs and spices. Get your best haggling head on and net yourself a deal on lightweight saffron.
Also from Morocco: Rose water, grains.
Read our travel guide to Morocco.
Jamon Iberico jerky
If you want the taste of a full leg of Spanish ham but can’t quite angle that hoof into your suitcase, pick up some offcuts of jamon instead. You can find the chewy, dark ham shards in little cones on Spanish market stalls.
Also from Spain: Anchovies (boquerones), sea salt, manzanilla sherry.
Specialist delicatessens do their bit, but in the UK we’re woefully lacking in unusual pasta shapes. In Italy, you’ll find thousands of shapes, some unique to individual villages.
Also from Italy: Local ham, fresh pesto, grappa.
You can pick up great coffee across pretty much across the globe, but we think this particularly potent rocket fuel deserves its moment in the spotlight. In line with tradition, serve it unfiltered.
Also from Turkey: Pomegranate molasses, spices.
You don’t get much better than a dollop of the sweet stuff over some thick and luscious Greek yogurt.
Also from Greece: Feta cheese, capers, olive oil.
Read our travel guide to Greece
Madeleines from France
French patisserie treats are delicate by nature, so avoid squashed eclairs and obliterated millefeuilles by picking up a box of sturdy madeleines.
Also from France: Regional cheese, wine, fleur de sel.
Am I allowed to eat my own food on the plane?
Many budget airlines don’t provide food, but you’re free to take on your own as sustenance. Be sure to check invidividual airlines for terms - for instance, Ryanair don't allow any hot drinks on board - and remember that only liquids purchased after security will be allowed on board. Finally, try to avoid anything strong-smelling that may offend fellow passengers!
Do you always bring food back from holiday? We’d love to hear the weird and wonderful things you’ve nestled into your suitcase. If you're still planning a getaway, visit our travel section for inspiration.