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Christmas travel between France and the UK: What am I allowed to bring?

An anti-Brexit demonstrator dressed as Santa protests outside the British parliament. Brexit has made the transport of goods between the UK and the EU more complicated.
Even Santa would struggle to get British animal products past the French customs agents. Brexit has made the transport of goods between the UK and the EU more complicated. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
This is the first Christmas since the end of the Brexit transition period, so if you're travelling between France and the UK, here's what you should know about the new rules and what you can't pack.

If you’re heading home to spend Christmas with family or they’re coming out to stay with you, be aware of the rules regarding gifts, food, drink, and what you can and can’t bring in and out of Britain and the EU.

Brexit has an impact on what you can and cannot bring, and this applies also to festive gifts.

Travelling to the UK from France

For those travelling to the UK from France, the rules are relatively lax as many border checks are yet to be introduced.

Note, if you’re spending Christmas in Northern Ireland there are different rules on food and animal products. Find them here.

Meat, fish and animal products

If, like many of us, you have friends and family already putting in their orders for stocks of terrine de canard and French cheeses know that the rules on bringing meat, dairy, fish and other animal products into the UK are relatively relaxed.

You can bring in meat, fish, dairy and other animal products as long as they’re from the EU, so your saucisson sec and camembert cheese is safe. 

If you’re a fan of the delicious (but cruel) southern French delicacy of foie gras, this is still OK to take into the UK at present, although the British government has been discussing banning imports. It is already illegal to produce foie gras in the UK.

'Rounds' of camembert lie on a tray, ready for packaging.
Camembert and other French cheeses can be brought into the UK. But if you want to bring cheddar back to France, think again. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

The following products have no restrictions, regardless of where they are produced;

  • bread

  • cakes (without fresh cream)

  • biscuits

  • chocolate and confectionery, but not those made with unprocessed dairy ingredients

  • pasta and noodles, but not if mixed or filled with meat or meat products

  • packaged soup, stocks and flavourings

  • processed and packaged plant products, such as packaged salads and frozen plant material

  • food supplements containing small amounts of an animal product, such as fish oil capsules

Alcohol allowance

For many, the big one, but there are some limits on how much booze you can bring in from France (and the EU more generally) so the days of the French booze cruise are largely over.

How much you can bring depends on the type of alcohol

Limits:

  • beer – 42 litres

  • still wine – 18 litres (or 24 standard size bottles)

  • spirits and other liquors over 22 percent alcohol – 4 litres (or 6 standard-sized bottles)

  • sparkling wine, fortified wine (port, sherry etc) and other alcoholic drinks up to 22 percent alcohol (not including beer or still wine) – 9 litres (or 12 standard sized botles)

It’s worth knowing that you can split your allowance, for example you could bring 4.5 litres of fortified wine and 2 litres of spirits.

The allowance is per person, so if you’re travelling in a car with two people over the age of 18, you can bring back double the amounts listed above.

Travelling into France from the UK

While British borders are not yet checking many things, the rules on food and drink are much tougher when entering the EU from the UK.

The key thing to know is that is you if you arrive in the EU from a non-EU country, you cannot bring any meat or dairy products with you – that means no Wensleydale, no Cornish Brie, and no British bacon to enjoy in France over Christmas.

The EU’s strict rules mean that all imports of animal-derived products technically come under these rules, so even boxes of chocolates are now banned (because of the milk).

Similarly, if you’re planning on asking a friend or family member to bring you over some sweets, cakes, or other home comforts, be aware that the ban includes all products that contain any meat or dairy as an ingredient – which includes things like chocolate, fudge, custard and sweets (because of the gelatine.)

Even classics like Christmas pudding and Mince Pies are banned because they contain suet (unless you find a vegan pudding), so if you’re planning on a British-style feast you will need to source your foodstuffs in France.

You are allowed to bring a small quantity of fruit and vegetables as well as eggs, some egg products, and honey.

Restricted quantities of fish or fish products are also allowed: eviscerated fresh fish products (gutted, with all the organs removed), and processed fishery products are allowed up to 20 kg or 1 fish, so you can enjoy some Scottish smoked salmon in France over Christmas if you want (although this is on sale in many French stores so you may not need to bring it with you).

Don't pack mince pies if you're from the UK to the EU. Photo: Daniel Norris/Pixabay
Don’t pack mince pies if you’re travelling from the UK to the EU – unless they’re vegan. Photo: Daniel Norris/Unsplash

A good rule of thumb is to look for the vegan labelling on anything that you wish to bring over, although this does not extend to fresh fruit and veg. Be aware also that cut flowers and plants are covered by the ban, so that may affect any gifts you bring.

In good news tea bags – lunged for by Brits the world over – are allowed. Marmite, which is vegan, is also OK but Bovril, which contains beef stock, is not.

Booze

Bringing British wine to France may be seen as a little eccentric, but it is allowed while limited amounts of British ales and spirits are also OK.

Travellers arriving in the EU from Britain can, according to the European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC), bring the following quantities of alcohol:

  • 4 litres of still wine (6 bottles)
  • 16 litres of beer
  • 1 litre of spirits, or 2 litres of sparkling or fortified wine

If you’re travelling with kids, note that powdered infant milk, infant food and specifically required medical foods are allowed up to a maximum 2kg. The same goes for pet foods. 

It is worth noting that these strict EU rules also apply to sending products by post, so if you were hoping to get around the newly applicable legislation by having someone send you a delivery of mince pies, they will probably be intercepted and confiscated by the French postal service.  

READ MORE: How Brexit will affect sending Christmas parcels between France and the UK


Member comments

  1. Is the booze limit travelling from UK to France per person or per vehicle? Also, is the pet food limit per pet, per person or per vehicle?

  2. I know we can’t bring mince pies into France (unless vegan), but surely that doesn’t apply to jars of mincemeat?

  3. However, all is not lost….I recently bought a jar of mincemeat (English origin & non-vegan) in our local village Carrefour Contact store, so shop around.

  4. It’s a shame the EU couldn’t bring themselves to sign up to mutual recognition on food and drink ( as they did with New Zealand. However , I think things will change in July when the UK introduces the same restrictions on EU produce. When French and Italian cheese and wine makers start getting hit, they’ll suddenly rediscover reciprocity.

    1. We had a mutual récognition on food and drink. It was called the Single Market. We could have had Brexit while staying in the single market, and that would have solved the Northern Ireland border problem. What fools created this mess and what do they hope to gain from it?

  5. My local U express is about 50 mètres away and is my “corner shop”. It sells 200g packs of “Cheddar Extra Mature (Affine 12 moins minimum)” from Somerset under its own brand “U Saveurs”. A really good Cheddar can stand alongside the finest fromage Français and this is one. Thank you U for finding a way to allow small producers of quality produce into France.

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