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General arrangements for the holding and movement of products subject to excise duty (until February 2023)



Directive 2008/118/EC – general arrangements for excise duty


It introduces harmonised arrangements for products subject to excise duty in order to guarantee their free circulation and therefore the proper functioning of the European Union (EU)’s single market.


This directive establishes the general arrangements for excise duties that apply to:

These products are subject to excise duties when:

  • they are produced, including, where applicable, extracted, within the EU;
  • they are imported into the EU.

As long as they do not give rise to cross-border formalities within the EU, EU Member States may also apply taxes on:

  • products other than excise goods;
  • the supply of services, including those relating to excise goods, which cannot be characterised as turnover taxes.

This directive applies to the territory of the EU, with some exceptions such as:

  • the Canary Islands;
  • the French overseas departments;
  • the Åland Islands.

Chargeability, reimbursement and exemption

Excise duties are chargeable at the time of release for consumption in the Member State concerned. The person liable to pay the excise duty is generally the authorised warehouse keeper or the registered consignee.

Member States:

  • may remit or refund excise duty on excise goods that have been released for consumption;
  • are free to fix the relevant conditions, including their tax rates, as long as:
    • the taxes are higher than the rates set by the EU,
    • this does not create a new class of exemption (see next paragraph).

Excise goods are exempted from payment of excise duty where they are intended to be used:

  • in the context of diplomatic or consular relations;
  • by international organisations;
  • by the armed forces of any NATO country other than the Member State within which the excise duty is chargeable;
  • by the British armed forces stationed in Cyprus;
  • under an agreement concluded with non-EU countries or international organisations.

Member States may also exempt from payment of excise duty, excise goods supplied by tax-free shops that are carried in the personal luggage of travellers to a non-EU country by flight or sea crossing.

Production, processing and holding

Each Member State sets rules concerning the production, processing and holding of excise goods defined by the directive. Where the excise duty has not yet been paid, the production, processing and holding of excise goods must take place in a tax warehouse.

Movement of excise goods under suspension of excise duty

When excise goods are under a ‘duty suspension arrangement’, the excise duty is being suspended from the production, processing, holding or movement of excise goods.

Excise goods may be moved, under a duty suspension arrangement within the EU, from a tax warehouse or from a place of importation to:

  • another tax warehouse;
  • a registered consignee;
  • a place of exportation from the EU; or
  • a beneficiary of the exemption from excise duty referred to above (diplomatic or consular relations, international organisations, armed forces, etc.).

A movement of excise goods must in principle take place under cover of an electronic administrative document as specified in Regulation (EC) No 684/2009, most recently amended by Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/2265.

The competent authorities of the Member State of dispatch may ask the authorised warehouse keeper or registered consignor for a guarantee that covers the risks inherent to the movement under suspension of excise duty. In principle, the guarantee can be provided by another party.

The guarantee is valid throughout the EU while the detailed rules are laid down by the Member States.

Movements and taxation of excise goods after release for consumption

When excise goods are released for consumption, it means that the excise goods:

  • have left a duty suspension arrangement;
  • are being held outside a duty suspension arrangement where excise duty has not been levied pursuant to the applicable provisions of EU law and national legislation;
  • are being produced outside a duty suspension arrangement;
  • are imported, unless they are placed, immediately upon importation, under a duty suspension arrangement.

Excise duties on goods acquired by a private individual for their own personal use and transported from one Member State to another by them may be charged only in the Member State in which the goods were acquired. To determine whether the excise goods are intended for a private individual, Member States take account of:

  • the commercial status of the holder of the goods;
  • the place where the goods are located;
  • any document relating to the goods;
  • the nature of the goods;
  • the quantity of the goods.

Where excise goods intended for consumption in a Member State are held for commercial purposes in another Member State, the goods are subject to the excise duties of the latter Member State. Excise duties paid in the first Member State may be reimbursed.

In the case of distance selling from one Member State to another, the vendor or his agent must pay excise duty in the Member State of destination.

Member States may require that excise goods carry tax markings or national identification marks.


Directive 2008/118/EC is repealed and replaced by Directive (EU) 2020/262 (see summary) from 13 February 2023.


It has applied since 15 January 2009 and had to become law in the Member States by 2010.


For further information, see:


Council Directive 2008/118/EC of 16 December 2008 concerning the general arrangements for excise duty and repealing Directive 92/12/EEC (OJ L 9, 14.1.2009, pp. 12–30).

Successive amendments and changes to Directive 2008/118/EC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Commission Regulation (EC) No 684/2009 of 24 July 2009 implementing Council Directive 2008/118/EC as regards the computerised procedures for the movement of excise goods under suspension of excise duty (OJ L 197, 29.7.2009, pp. 24–64).

See consolidated version.

last update 08.11.2021