Festive booze cruise rules

We all know that Christmas is an expensive time of year. Aside from the presents, turkey and tinsel, there’s all the alcohol to think about too, which can amount to a small fortune.

crates of wine in back of van

If you’re getting wise to the idea of hitting the French hypermarkets in the run-up to ‘The Big Day’, then you’re not alone. Taxes on alcohol in European countries like France and Belgium are much lower than here in the UK, making a ‘Booze Cruise’ to the Continent a wise choice if you’re looking to save a pretty penny or two.

However, before you grab your passport and hop on that ferry, we’re going to play Santa by giving you some advice to help keep you on the right side of the law.

Source your sleigh

It’s more than likely you’ll need a van to make the trip so if you usually drive a car, think about whether you can borrow one off a mate – they’ll just need to make sure you’re insured on it and that all the necessary legalities are in place. Another option is to hire a van.

Already got a van? If so, it’s a good idea to insure a friend on a temporary basis, so you can share the driving.

A first step is to check that your mate doesn’t already have a policy with a ‘driving other vehicles’ clause.

Even if they do have this clause, you’ll need to identify what it covers and the criteria they need to meet. It may be that they can’t drive certain vehicles, or are excluded from driving in certain countries, so it’s worth knowing the limitations.

If you do need to take out temporary cover, it should be a fairly simple process – just make sure that you have the following ready to go:

• Van information
Usually the registration plate will be sufficient, along with the van’s make and model.
• Period of cover required
This can range from 1 to 28 days.
• Personal details
The name, address, date of birth, occupation, contact email address and driving history for the named driver will all be required.

Check you (and your elves) are covered

Provided that you have a valid UK driving licence, you should be able to drive in most European Union countries.

It’s worth double-checking that your van insurance covers you for driving in the country you’re travelling to. It shouldn’t be a problem if it doesn’t, you can usually ask your insurer to provide a stand-alone policy or arrange it on a temporary basis.

Before you head off, don’t forget to take the right paperwork with you, and it’s a good idea to pack some extra supplies and provisions, just in case you break down.

Refrain from festive excess

The good news is that you’re legally allowed to buy as much alcohol and tobacco as you like from most countries in the EU, as long as it’s for personal use.

beer cans in shop

However, even if you’re feeding (and watering) half the neighbourhood over the festive season, you’ll need to make sure you stick to HMRC’s limits on how much you can bring back into the UK.

To help you stay on the right side of customs, these are the guidelines they use to decide what’s acceptable for personal consumption:

• 3200 cigarettes
• 400 cigarillos
• 200 cigars
• 3kg smoking tobacco
• 10 litres of spirits
• 20 litres of fortified wine
• 90 litres of wine
• 110 litres of beer

There may be a little wiggle room, but you’ll have to explain yourself if you do get stopped.

Lose a little Christmas weight

Make sure you do some simple maths before you hit the road, just to make sure you aren’t overloaded on your return. With bottles, cans and people in the mix, the weight can really stack up.

For example, even if you stick within the HMRC guidelines, and head to France in a 1000kg payload Transit with a couple of friends, you can easily exceed your capacity:

• 3 x 90 litres of wine, including some sparkling wines: Approx. 500kg
• 3 x 100 litres of beer, in cans (lighter than bottles): Approx 360kg
• Three people: Approx. 250kg
• Total Load Weight: 1110kg (estimated weights only)

If you are involved in an accident while driving overloaded, you could invalidate your insurance – and if you’re stopped for a routine check, you’re at risk of a fine and having the excess load confiscated.

Stick to these simple hints and, fingers crossed, you’ll keep Scrooge at bay this festive season – ho ho ho!

Next page: European van insurance