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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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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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