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Bovril, tea… ham sandwiches: What can you bring back from the UK into your EU country?

It's not unusual for British nationals resident in Europe to slip a little taste of home into their suitcase as they return from trips to the UK - but some of these treats are now banned since Brexit. Here's a look and you can and can't fill your bag with.

Bovril, tea... ham sandwiches: What can you bring back from the UK into your EU country?
Customs officials could confiscate your packed lunch. Photo: AFP

A jar of Marmite, ‘proper’ tea bags, your mum’s home-made fudge – most Britons living in the EU have their favourite little treats from home that they either slip in their suitcase after a trip to the UK or ask friends and relatives to bring when visiting.

But since Brexit, imports from the UK now fall under the EU’s strict rules on foodstuffs and animal products.

While companies are battling with the complicated new processes for importing food, items that individual travellers bring with them when they cross the border also count as ‘imports’ and fall under the same rules.

Footage of Dutch customs officers confiscating the ham sandwiches of a driver newly-arrived from the UK has been widely shared, but in fact sandwiches are just one item on a long list of products that are no longer allowed.

So what are the rules?

These restrictions are not due to customs tariffs, but come under what is known as sanitary and phytosanitary rules – measures that aim to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.

The EU has strict rules in place concerning animal health and welfare standards – so for example it does not allow imports of chlorinated chicken from the USA – and on chemicals and pesticides used in food or plants.

As with most Brexit regulations, these are not new rules, it is just the first time that people or goods arriving from the UK have been affected by them.

EU Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen said in speech shortly before the end of the transition period: “The reality is that the EU has the highest food safety standards in the world. Free circulation of animals and food is possible thanks to a stringent system of shared controls.

“When the UK leaves the EU, it will be confronted with an obstacle we got rid of a long time ago: borders.

“Borders are not there to add red tape or slow things down. They are there to ensure that the food we eat is not a danger for our citizens and to protect our animals and plants and thus our extremely valuable agricultural patrimony.” 

Who is affected?

The rules cover any goods brought into the EU. For businesses this means obtaining veterinary certificates for any animal product that they import – a complicated process that is being blamed for the empty shelves at Marks & Spencer stores in France and Ireland.

But they also cover individuals, even if you are just importing small amounts for your own personal use and even if – like the drivers in the video – you intend to consume the import imminently. 

The regulations also cover animal products sent by post – either ordered online or sent by individuals. Parcels containing prohibited items will be intercepted and destroyed at the border.

What can you bring in?

The restrictions on food cover anything that has meat or dairy in it.

So this covers products like ham, sausages and cheese, but also products that simply contain one of the above as part of their ingredients – which includes things like milk chocolate, fudge or fresh custard.

Covered by the prohibition on meat are; 

  • blood and blood products
  • bone
  • animal casing
  • lard and rendered fat
  • gelatine (which is found in jelly and some type of sweets)

In addition to meat and dairy, the following items are covered by the rules only if they are intended for human consumption. These are not the subject of a blanket ban, but have limits in place, usually 2kg per traveller – find the full rules here

  • eggs
  • honey and royal jelly
  • snails
  • live oysters or mussels

There are exemptions for limited amounts of baby milk, baby food or pet food.

So tea bags – that popular import by Brits the world over – are OK.

Marmite, which is vegan, is allowed but Bovril, which contains beef stock, is not (although Bovril has launched a vegan alternative which would be allowed in).

If you’re fond of classic British puddings like Angel Delight check that they don’t contain gelatine, which is a banned animal product.

Likewise a classic Christmas pudding or other suet puddings would be banned because of the presence of suet (although many stores now sell vegan Christmas puddings).

Most types of crisps are vegan (even the beef and prawn flavoured ones) likewise with Pot Noodles.

Bread is generally allowed (as long as it’s not spread with butter and made into a ham sandwich) but most types of biscuits and cakes are not.

Plants are also covered by the rules so this includes fresh fruit or vegetables which are banned, as are cut flowers.

READ ALSO Flowers, seedlings and bulbs – what are the rules on bringing plants into France from the UK?

Alcohol and tobacco are not restricted in this way, although there are limits on the amounts that you can bring in from outside the EU before you need to start paying excise duty – find the limits here. So if you want to bring English wine in to France, customs officials won’t stop you (although they will probably judge you).

Will customs be checking?

Yes – in total 2,000 new customs agents have been installed at the countries most affected – France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Checks are likely to be strict in the next few weeks as everyone gets used to the new rules.

Member comments

  1. Moan, moan, moan. It’s exactly the same entering America and Australia and has been for years. They voted for Brexit so suck it up.

  2. Can you tell us what we will not be able to bring back from France…we enjoy packing the car with lots of local delicious things.

  3. Who is moaning? This article was just a useful list of what we cannot bring in which I for one appreciated. I suspect that not many people affected by this did vote for Brexit and are – like me – really saddened. America and Australia are not really relevant as we haven’t had nearly 50 years of freedom of movement and goods with them.

  4. We have felt penalised for the last 17 years, ever since we moved over to France, for choosing to live here. Brexit is a disaster and will make it worse. I am still waiting to hear what the advantages of Brexit are. Does anyone know ?

  5. On the front page summary it states that tea is not allowed, but in the txt above it says tea bags are ok – please clarify!

  6. The front page doesn’t actually say teabags aren’t allowed. it just gives a by-line of items saying basically, read on to see what is effected. OMG if the British in the EU couldn’t bring teabags, I think many would have to sell up and go back! Hope that clears thing up for you PennyB (on the teabag front at least)

  7. Will taking foodstuffs into the UK actually be equally regulated? After all, we will be taking items out of the EU, not bringing them in.
    Cakes and biscuits?? We’ll have to read the ingredients lists very closely.
    It’ll be hard to remember *not* to bring that bar of Dairy Milk and bag of Percy Pigs with you to eat on the Eurostar.
    And can someone tell me the point of vegan Bovril? Marmite & hot water presumably tastes the same.

  8. Pat – given the UK don’t make decisions (like closing their border to protect their citizens) but rather wait for everyone else to do things for them, I think you will be fine taking anything into the UK, provided you get past French customs on the way out.

  9. UK animal husbandry standards are higher than in the EU. At the very least there should be ‘mutual recognition’ as the EU does with New Zealand.

  10. I appreciate that Brexit does make a difference, but all of these products have been accepted in the EU since the UK joined, why within a few days have the supposed content of these products changed? OK six months down the line and the UK states that it isn’t going to enforce the disciplines that have obviously been in place then I’d understand. I would have voted to remain but this is just an example of the EU being, getting it’s own back! I do remember not being able to take a ham sandwich into NI, so long ago I can’t remember why!

    1. It’s the uk that has changed its position, the rules are the same, in fact the uk helped draw up these rules. Now the uk is a third country, without equivalence with the EU, this is what was the ” oven ready” deal. Therefore the uk can change its safety regulations and food safety standards at will, if the deal had included equivalence , non of this would be happening. The problems lay exclusively at the door of number 10.

  11. Les Philo:
    They had to make that cut right away,as any store in the UK could have changed the raw materials they used for their products, like chlorine chicken from the US.
    Its unlikely that is the case, but they had to draw that line on day one.

  12. But food from the Caribbean New Zealand South America South Africa Morocco Tunisia Turkey etc are all imported into the EU no problem.

  13. Les wrote “I appreciate that Brexit does make a difference, but all of these products have been accepted in the EU since the UK joined, why within a few days have the supposed content of these products changed? …..I would have voted to remain but this is just an example of the EU being, getting it’s own back!”. I don´t think so – it´s just the same rules and regulations applied to Britain by the EU as applied to any other non-EU country. Frictionless transport of goods is an essential part of the EU. Britain voted “out” – did people not realise what it actually meant? I do wonder if Britain had not prevented citizens resident in EU countries for 15 years voting in the 2016 referendum whether this would have affected the overall result. Welcome to the post-Brexit world everyone. But don´t blame the EU. “Be careful what you wish for”.

  14. Les wrote “I appreciate that Brexit does make a difference, but all of these products have been accepted in the EU since the UK joined, why within a few days have the supposed content of these products changed? …..I would have voted to remain but this is just an example of the EU being, getting it’s own back!”. I don´t think so – it´s just the same rules and regulations applied to Britain by the EU as applied to any other non-EU country. Frictionless transport of goods is an essential part of the EU. Britain voted “out” – did people not realise what it actually meant? I do wonder if Britain had not prevented citizens resident in EU countries for 15 years voting in the 2016 referendum whether this would have affected the overall result. Welcome to the post-Brexit world everyone. But don´t blame the EU. “Be careful what you wish for”.

  15. Any advice for diabetics crossing borders when many cafés etc might be closed – a sandwich can be a life-saver

  16. Hi can we take crisps into France ? I am only able to eat naked types ie no salt! So if not available in France , can I bring some ? Many thanks hopefully one day we will be back in the EU, if they will have us 😊

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BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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