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French Customs: The Dos and Don’ts of “Douane”
At a Glance:
- If you’re from the EU, you will be able to import your household goods duty free with the right paperwork. This includes an inventory with valuations and a certificate from your local French embassy.
- Wedding presents or inherited items need to be declared separately and shipped within a certain period of time from the wedding/death.
- In general, travelers are subject to restrictions on the amount of tobacco, alcohol, and animal products they can bring in to France. Lower limits apply to those arriving from outside the EU.
- Counterfeit items are expressly prohibited. They will be confiscated and a fine issued based on the value of the item that has been copied.
French customs impose restrictions on different items including alcohol, tobacco, and animal products. What you’re allowed to bring in varies depending on the item itself and where you’re coming from. All products must be for personal use or to be given as presents. If customs suspect you’re importing something for commercial use, it’s likely to be seized and you’ll be given a fine.
Making the Move
If you’ve already paid VAT in the EU country where your items were purchased, you’re entitled to import your household goods duty free. Those moving from outside with EU will pay 20% VAT plus duty (about 10%) on all items and will need authorization from French customs before arriving — this can take up to a month.
Be prepared to gather plenty of paperwork to prove you’re really making the move. As well as your passport and visa (if applicable), you’ll also need to put together a detailed inventory showing the value of your goods in Euros. If you have items that were purchased within the last six months, you’ll need the sales receipt to prove you paid VAT.
You’ll also need to pay a visit to your local French embassy to obtain a “Certificate de Changement de Résidence”. This document confirms that you’ve been living in the country of origin for at least twelve months before your move and are changing your country of residence to France.
Allow four to five days for customs to process your goods. The VAT-exemption only applies to the first shipment, so if you have several containers as part of your initial delivery you must inform customs of when they’re due to arrive. If you choose to make an additional shipment at a later date, this will then be subject to VAT and duty.
Don’t Have the Receipt?
Being able to prove that you’ve paid VAT is essential if you want to import your household goods duty free. If you’re bringing items that were given to you, you’ll need to clearly mark them on your inventory and provide additional paperwork.
If you’re relocating after tying the knot, don’t head off on your honeymoon without shipping your wedding presents! To qualify as a duty-free import, you’ll need to ship items within a month of your wedding day and provide your marriage certificate and French resident permit.
The same rules also apply to items you’ve inherited. As well as an inventory and your French residence permit, you’ll need official paperwork showing the date of death of the person you inherited it from and your relationship to the deceased. You have up to a year from the date of death to import these items without paying VAT and duty.
Within the EU
Travelers from EU member states enjoy generous duty-free allowances for tobacco and alcohol. As these products must be for personal use, allowances only apply to travelers over the age of 17. Though the amount of cash is technically unlimited, if you plan on carrying over 10,000 EUR (including checks), you’ll need to declare it.
- 800 cigarettes;
- 400 cigarillos (max. 3g each);
- 200 cigars;
- 1kg smoking tobacco;
- 10 liters of spirits over 22%;
- 20 liters of alcoholic beverages less than 22%;
- 90 liters of wine (though no more than 60 liters of sparkling wine);
- 110 liters of beer.
You’re also allowed to bring up to 10kg of powdered milk / children’s food / special medical food / pet food as long as it does not need to be refrigerated before opening and the original seal is intact.
Outside the EU
Different regulations and limits are in force for passengers from countries and territories where VAT and other EU provisions don’t apply.
- 200 cigarettes or;
- 100 cigarillos (max. 3g each) or;
- 50 cigars or;
- 250g smoking tobacco.
You cannot bring in all of these items — each represents 100% of the tobacco product allowance. You are, however, allowed to bring in a combination of different types of tobacco products as long as it doesn’t exceed the overall limit.
- 1 liter of alcohol over 22% or 2 liters of alcohol that’s less than 22%;
- 4 liters of wine;
- 16 liters of beer.
If you plan on carrying over 10,000 EUR in cash (including checks), you’ll need to declare it to Customs. Any gold also needs to be declared, with the exception of up to 500g in personal jewelry.
Animal products from non-EU countries are prohibited with the exception of limited amounts from Croatia, the Faeroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. The limits are:
- up to 10kg of meat, milk, and dairy products
- up to 20kg of fish which must be gutted or processed, i.e. cured, dried, smoked
- 250kg of caviar
- other animal products up to 1kg
- up to 2kg of powdered milk / children’s food / special medical food / pet food as long as it does not need to be refrigerated before opening and has the original seal intact.
The European Commission’s website has more details on all these items and the corresponding restrictions. You can also call the Customs Info service on +33(0) 172 407850 or visit douanefrance.mobi (website in French) to download the mobile app.
As well as the obvious items, such as drugs and most firearms, any animal products that are not from the EU or countries specified above are not allowed. This is especially true for protected species covered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), including ivory, reptile skin, wood from Amazonian forests, or tortoise shell.
Watch out if you’ve been shopping at markets — counterfeit items are also strictly prohibited. Having just one fake bag will result in it being confiscated by customs and a fine based on the value of the genuine product that’s been counterfeited.
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