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PostSubject: Know your rights   Fri Jan 21, 2011 11:01 am

Know your rights

Restrictions on the export of cigarettes before January 1 2010 used to mean that only one carton of cigarettes (containing 200) was allowed when leaving Bulgaria.

On January 1 2010, these restrictions were lifted, meaning that any quantity of cigarettes could be bought. The export of cigarettes for private use is no longer limited, provided EU duty is paid in Bulgaria.

Unfortunately, the relevant authorities seem ignorant of the new rules. Mick Walker contacted The Sofia Echo to tell us his experience of the hazards of what could be called cigarette tourism.

"
When I buy my cigarettes, I buy for six to 12 months. And as I smoke more than two cartons a week (400+) l purchase at least 50 cartons at a time,"
Walker told us. "
When these are running low in approximately six months' time, I return to purchase more. Why do I do this? The answer is simple financial sense. The cigarettes I smoke in the UK that I get from Bulgaria cost 4.90 leva* for a pack of 20 cigarettes (a carton of 200 cigarettes costs 49 leva). In the UK the same pack of 20 cigarettes would cost me 14.11 leva and a carton of 200 would cost me 141.10 leva!"


In May 2010, however, Walker was prevented from taking his cigarettes and returning to the UK.
"
Bulgarian customs stopped us from taking them as they were imposing the pre- January 1 2010 regulations whereby only 200 cigarettes were allowed. We had documentation to prove otherwise but they would not listen and they tried every trick in the book to confiscate them. They even tried to get us to board the aircraft without our purchases as the flight departure was imminent. My friend and I refused to take the flight and left the airport."


Walker then contacted the UK embassy. "
We had to show them the changes. Eventually we got a letter of apology from the UK embassy and the deputy director of Sofia airport's customs. They said we could fly the next day as all customs officers at the airport had been informed of our situation and the new regulations. We flew out the next day with no problems whatsoever."


Unfortunately, Walker was stopped again on a subsequent trip to Bulgaria. Only showing them the letter persuaded the staff to let him proceed. Walker has a friend who says that British Customs (UKBA) have also tried to rob them of their cigarettes.

"
I dread to think how many people have suffered and how much money is involved? A suitcase of 50 cartons is worth 7055 leva. If one's friend had the same, the total would be 14 110 leva,"
he said. "
We shall continue to shop for our cigarettes in Bulgaria because we have our magic letter. Others are not so fortunate and when they have their cigarettes illegally confiscated by Bulgarian customs they will never shop in Bulgaria again. This damages the Bulgarian economy."


The British Embassy in Bulgaria, contacted by The Sofia Echo, confirmed that the UK customs requirements on the British Embassy travel advice on their website was incorrect at that time and that Walker had alerted them to this fact. The travel advice was then updated within 24 hours.

The UK’s rules on importing cigarettes from another EU country are set out on HM Customs and Revenue’s website.

"
The customs authorities in Bulgaria, like in all other EU member-states, have jurisdiction to check commercial cigarette exports and to check that all exports have had the duty paid in Bulgaria. The customs authorities follow Bulgarian legislation, not UK travel advice, stated by the UK embassy .

*Readers are also reminded that prices shown at Sofia airport are quoted in euro, not leva.

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