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

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
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.

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.

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

  2. 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”.

  3. 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”.

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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