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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

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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