Passing through luggage control without problems

Anyone traveling by air should be familiar with customs and safety regulations. What can be carried in hand luggage? What are the rules for liquids? Which souvenirs and how much alcohol are allowed?

People on vacation abroad carry personal items in their luggage, and many take a souvenir home with them on the return trip. This often leads to problems at the security check at the airport or at customs. Which goods may be imported tax- and duty-free?? Which souvenirs are better to do without??

What not to take in your hand luggage on flights?

Cosmetics in a clear plastic bag with a seal. © dpa - Report Photo: Holger Hollemann

Air travelers are only allowed to take liquids onto the plane in their hand luggage in containers of no more than 100 milliliters each. This also includes creams, toothpaste, cream cheese or lip gloss. All containers must be packed in a transparent, resealable plastic bag with a maximum capacity of one liter. These bags are available, for example, in drugstores. Only one bag is allowed per passenger. Medicines for personal use are exempt from this rule.

In addition to weapons of all kinds, pocket knives and other knives with a blade length of more than six centimeters, pointed objects such as nail files, scissors, knitting needles and bottle openers are taboo in hand luggage. They belong in the suitcase that is checked in, just like larger quantities of liquids. Basically prohibited are gas containers for camping stoves, toy weapons, fireworks, gasoline lighters, wet batteries or bleach. A gas lighter, a disposable lighter or a pack of matches are allowed in hand luggage.

How much alcohol and tobacco are free of charge?

When it comes to alcohol and tobacco, the countries of the European Union are more accommodating than others. Up to 800 cigarettes, 10 liters of spirits, 60 liters of sparkling wine and 110 liters of beer may be brought home for personal use without having to pay customs duty. For coffee it is 10 kilos. There is no maximum quantity for wine. If you are returning from a non-EU country, you are only allowed to bring 200 cigarettes and 1 liter of spirits with more than 22 percent alcohol by volume or 2 liters with an alcohol content of less than 22 percent, plus 4 liters of wine and 16 liters of beer. Special regulations apply to some areas such as the Canary Islands or France’s overseas departments.

What souvenirs are prohibited?

The import of corals, ivory or even stuffed wild animals such as birds of prey or crocodiles is strictly prohibited. Anyone who takes species-protected animals or plants home with them – whether dead or alive – faces heavy fines. Since laymen do not recognize the difference, customs advises: Hands off animals and plants! Even some seemingly harmless souvenirs can cause problems: For example, travelers need a permit to import orchids and cacti. Potatoes and vines may not be imported into Germany from non-EU countries. Dangerous diseases and pests can be introduced with the plants, which can cause great damage here.

Fossils and worked stones can also be problematic. Some countries, such as Egypt, have strict guidelines to protect their own natural and cultural assets. It is therefore advisable to obtain more detailed information on the respective entry and customs regulations in the vacation destination, for example on the website of the German Foreign Office.

Customs app provides overview

In addition, goods from non-EU countries must be declared to customs upon entry if their value exceeds 300 euros. For sea and air travel, the limit is 430 euros worth of goods. For the U.K., the rules for the movement of goods with third countries have applied since January 2021. All regulations have been summarized by German Customs. Furthermore, it offers a smartphone app that shows exactly which goods may be imported and in what quantities – and which goods are completely banned, for example, for reasons of species protection.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, a subheading suggested that only a certain amount of alcohol and tobacco may be imported at a time. In fact, the figures are the respective travel allowances, i.e. the quantities that may be imported duty-free.

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