Q On arrival by ferry at Santander from Portsmouth, my van was inspected alongside numerous other vehicles. I was taking some old household stuff down to deliver to my daughter as she has moved to the Algarve in Portugal. I also thought it would be nice to take three used electric bikes so that while I was there we could enjoy the countryside. These were my bikes and I was going to bring them back after the two-week visit.
Spanish customs clearly had a “thing” about electric bikes, and insisted I pay 21 per cent duty on their value. I ended up with a bill for over €400 (£340). Was this correct, or should I have refused and no doubt suffered a long stay in the port? I offered to show them the bikes on my return through the same port, but no interest. The staff muttered something about “carnets”. Other holidaymakers were getting stopped for the same reason.
A I am sorry to hear about your unwelcome surprise, but I am sure the UK government would applaud the Spanish officials’ professionalism. This situation is entirely in line with what our ministers asked for in the Brexit deal. Whatever you may have heard about remaining in the customs union before the EU referendum, the government had none of it and decided the UK would leave this tariff-free zone.
The result is a profound effect on moving goods from Great Britain to Spain and every other EU country plus Northern Ireland. Anyone taking reasonably high-value goods (which includes used electric bikes) from England, Wales or Scotland to the EU or Northern Ireland is required to declare them and pay the required tariffs. If you had been able to prove that the e-bikes were largely of British manufacture (and not simply assembled in Great Britain) then, with the help of some paperwork, you should have been able to avoid duty. But in the absence of proof the customs officials were correct to impose the charge.
For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a new European Union rule; it is simply imposing the customs regulations that the UK helped to draft while a member of the EU. As the border officials indicated, you could have avoided the duty by paying for a customs carnet. This is basically a document listing temporary imports (including serial numbers) that is checked against the contents of your van on the way in and on the way out of the EU. Unfortunately, it is an expensive and cumbersome way of demonstrating your intention to remove the goods rather than selling them within the EU.
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