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CHRISTMAS

Christmas travel between Italy and the UK: What not to pack in your suitcase

This is the first Christmas since Brexit came into force, so if you're travelling between Italy and the UK and planning on taking some festive goodies with you, here's what you should know about the new rules and what you can't pack.

Passengers carry luggage while travelling during the Christmas period.
If you're planning to travel between the UK and Italy this Christmas, the rules on taking festive goodies with you have changed. Photo: FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP

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 food and drink, and what you can and can’t bring in and out of Britain and the EU.

Some rules have changed recently, following Brexit, so read the Local’s guide below to make sure you aren’t caught out at customs.

Flying to the UK from Italy

For those returning to the UK from Italy, the rules are relatively lax.

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

You can bring the following products from Italy into the UK without worrying about any restrictions:

  • bread, but not sandwiches filled with meat or dairy products
  • 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

Meat, dairy, fish and animal products

If, like many of us, you have friends and family already putting in their orders for Italian treats, 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 Parmigiano Reggiano or finocchiona is safe. 

READ ALSO: Passport scans and €7 fee: What will change for EU travel in 2022

Your friends and relatives in the UK won’t have to go without Italian cheese and salumi this Christmas. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Alcohol allowance

For many, the big one, but there are some limits on how much booze you can bring in from Italy and the EU more generally.

 How much you can bring depends on the type of alcohol, so get up to speed on the limits and make sure your Prosecco or Barolo isn’t taken off you or heavily taxed:

Limits:

  • beer – 42 litres
  • still wine – 18 litres
  • spirits and other liquors over 22 percent alcohol – 4 litres
  • sparkling wine, fortified wine (port, sherry etc) and other alcoholic drinks up to 22 percent alcohol (not including beer or still wine) – 9 litres

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 (both half of your allowance).

Flying into Italy from the UK

While British borders are laid back when it comes to travelling with food and drink, the rules on food and drink are much tougher when entering the EU from the UK.

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

Travellers arriving in the EU from Britain can, according to the European Travel Retail Confederation (ETRC), bring the following quantities of alcohol, so if you fancy a British tipple in Italy over Christmas it is possible, within reason: 4 litres of still wine and 16 litres of beer, 1 litre of spirits, or 2 litres of sparkling or fortified wine.

Brexit: What can Italy’s British residents do about passport stamps?

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 Italy over Christmas.

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

Don’t pack mince pies if you’re travelling from the UK to the EU. Photo: Daniel Norris/Pixabay

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.)

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 Italy over Christmas if you want.

If you’re travelling with kids, note that powdered infant milk, infant food and specifically required medical foods are allowed up to 2kg, as is the case for pet foods.

READ ALSO: How Brexit will affect the postal service between Italy and the UK over Christmas

Even classics like Christmas pudding and mince pies are banned because they contain suet, so if you’re planning on a British-style Christmas abroad, these won’t be making an appearance this year.

It is worth noting that these strict EU rules also apply when 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 Italy’s postal service, unfortunately. 

The Local also continues to receive widespread reports of extra charges still being applied to gift parcels sent to Italy from outside the EU, despite authorities insisting that this should not happen.

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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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