Purchases inside and outside the EU: limits and VAT

When you buy a product in Europe, whether in a shop or on the Internet, you pay value added tax (VAT). What rates apply in the EU? Are the rules the same for purchases outside the EU? What is a duty free purchase? How much tobacco and alcohol can you bring into France? Main information on purchase limits and VAT rules in this article.

No limit for purchases within the EU

If you buy for your personal use (and not to resell), there is no limit to the number of products you can buy while you travel between countries of the European Union. Taxes (VAT and excise taxes) are generally included in the price. You pay all taxes for your product in the country of purchase.

Good to know: each European country sets its own VAT rates. Normal, reduced, super-reduced rates... Consult the rates applicable in each EU Member state on theyoureurope.eu website

Be aware: The rules are different:

How much tobacco can I bring back to France?

For the purchase of tobacco in Europe and its return to France, the quantitative thresholds set by the General Tax Code apply. These thresholds are used to determine whether the products purchased are for your personal or for a commercial use.

You cannot bring back to France more than:

  • 200 cigarettes (= 1 carton)
  • 100 cigarillos (cigars of a max weight of 3 grams each)
  • 50 cigars
  • 250g of smoking tobacco

In July 2020, France decided to limit the importation of tobacco to these lower thresholds compared to Article 32 of the European Directive 2008/118 to fight against the consumption of tobacco in France and to support French tobacco sellers.

In the event of customs inspection, if you are transporting more than the authorized quantities, you will have to explain your intended use of these products. If they are not for your personal consumption, they will be seized and you may pay a fine (up to 750€).

New rules in 2025

From 2 July 2025, restrictions on imports of cigarettes, cigarillos, cigars and smoking tobacco will be abolished. This forthcoming abolition of restrictions does not mean that it will be possible to buy unlimited quantities of tobacco in Europe.

The French customs authorities, contacted by the European Consumer Centre, have indicated that a person over 18 years of age does not risk any penalties if he or she imports for personal consumption :
- 800 cigarettes (4 cartons) or
- 400 cigarillos or
- 200 cigars or
- 1kg of smoking tobacco.

Given the current uncertainty, the ECC nevertheless recommends consumers to limit themselves to 200 cigarettes (= 1 carton) or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250g of smoking tobacco.

Attention: Ban on buying tobacco on the Internet!

The purchase of tobacco on the Internet is prohibited in France, on both French and foreign websites, even during the coronavirus crisis. In France, you can only buy tobacco from authorized tobacco sellers and resellers. More information in French on the customs website.

Can you buy an e-cigarette on a foreign website?

You can purchase an e-cigarette on a site based in another EU Member state if this country considers it a current product of consumption AND if it allows the cross-border sale of it. Each country is free to authorise or prohibit this.

Examples: Belgium prohibits the on line sale of e-cigarettes. France considers the e-cigarette to be a current product of consumption, not subject to the regulation of tobacco shops and authorises the online, cross-border sale of it.

Practical advice

  • Before you purchase, check if the seller is established in the EU and the characteristics of the vape products offered for sale.
  • Keep in mind that certain goods are subject to standards (sanitary, industrial, technical…) in force within the EU. Customs services may block or even destroy goods not respecting the regulations (national/international).

How much alcohol can I take back to France?

Like tobacco, the importation of alcohol into France is limited.

Unless you can prove that the purchases are for a particular event like a wedding, you cannot bring into France more than:

  • 10 litres of spirit beverages (whiskey, gin, vodka, etc.)
  • 20 litres of intermediate products (vermouth, port, Madeira, etc.)
  • 90 litres of wine (of which 60 litres maximum of sparkling)
  • 110 litres of beer

Beyond these limits, you must pay taxes.

For more information, you can contact the French Customs Info Service at 0 811 20 44 44 (outside of the French metropole/or from abroad 33 1 72 40 78 50 or consult the customs website.

Buying online in the EU: which VAT to pay?

When you buy on the Internet, you pay a price including VAT. As each country sets its own VAT rates, the price of your order may vary depending on the rate applicable to your purchase. With the entry into force of the VAT Directive (2006/112/EC) on 1 July 2021, the VAT rules for cross-border e-commerce have changed.

Until 1st July 2021

If your seller had a turnover between 35.000 € and 100.000 €, you paid the VAT of the seller's country, unless the seller decided to apply the VAT of the country of supply, i.e. French VAT.

Above these thresholds, the VAT of the country of supply applied. 

Since 1st July 2021

A threshold of 10.000 € (amount of distance sales made by the seller in the EU) determines the country of taxation:  

  • Less than 10.000 €, the VAT of the seller's country applies.
  • More than 10.000 €, the VAT of the country where the goods are delivered applies.

Example: A German online seller with an annual turnover of more than 10.000 € must apply French VAT (usually 20%) when selling and delivering to consumers in France.   

Exception for dropshippers: they will be able to apply French VAT if their company is established in France, regardless of the threshold.

How much can you buy in duty-free or in a third country and bring back to France?

If you are returning to France from a non-EU country, such as the United Kingdom, you will have to pay taxes and customs duties if you bring back more than the authorised quantities for certain products such as tobacco or alcohol, even when purchased duty free.

If you return to France from a non-member state of the EU, know that you cannot bring back:

  • products of a global value of more than 430€ by plane or ship, 300 € by car, train or other transport mode. Travellers of under 15 years of age cannot exceed 150 €. 
  • more than 200 cigarettes or 100 cigarillos or 50 cigars or 250 grams of smoking tobacco;
  • more than 1 litre of alcohol of 22% alcohol or 2 litres of 22% or 4 litres of wine or 16 litres of beer.

Beyond these limits, you will have to pay customs duties. To simulate the amount, consult the French customs website.

VAT from the 1st euro for online purchases outside the EU

Any purchase in a third country, such as the United Kingdom, delivered or imported into France is in principle taxed: VAT on imports and possible customs duties. These costs are usually claimed on delivery by the carrier who invoices you for an administrative fee for the completion of these customs formalities.

From 1st July 2021, the VAT rules changed. The exemption granted so far for non-EU purchases of less than 22 € is removed. If until June 30, 2021 you could order separately from an online seller established outside the EU, via a marketplace for example, several low-priced items to avoid import VAT, from July 1st, you pay VAT from the 1st euro.

Exception for purchases under 150 € with Import seller registration. VAT and any customs duties are not due if:

  • Your package has a value of less than or equal to 150 € (price excluding VAT, without transport and insurance costs if   they are invoiced separately);
  • your seller based in a third country is  registered in the new VAT payment system called "IOSS" (Import One-Stop-Shop). This system takes into account the new VAT payment ruleswhich provide that from 1st July, beyond 10 000 € of sales in an EU country, the seller must pay VAT in that country.

If you order for less than 150 € from a seller registered in "IOSS", you pay online a price including VAT without normally risking the blocking in customs of your order when it is delivered to France. Problem: it is difficult or even impossible for the consumer to know if the seller is registered on the IOSSplatform!

For parcels with a value of more than 150 €, check in the general terms and conditions of the webseller if customs duties and VAT are included in the sale price or will have to be paid upon receipt of the package.

Buying on marketplaces or via dropshipping

From 1st July 2021, online sales platforms that bring buyers and sellers together, marketplaces as well as dropshipping sites, are considered to have bought and sold the products themselves.

Thus, if you order from a French or European seller on a marketplace, or from a dropshipper, for less than 150 € of products coming from a third country, you will pay a price including VAT, and the marketplace will have to collect, declare and pay the VAT instead of the sellers.

The same applies if you buy on a marketplace from a non-EU seller, regardless of the amount.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.