The Lifestyle Magazine of Kent, Surrey & Sussex

Holiday antiquing

Holiday antiquing


Top tips for buying antiques abroad – and questions to ask, such as…how will I get it home?

If you’re holidaying abroad this year you might, if you’re anything like me, be excitedly planning to visit local flea markets and antiques fairs. Over the years, I’ve haggled my way round many markets and the thrill of arriving early on a sunny continental morning to begin the hunt is always exhilarating and never loses its appeal.

Of course, buying antiques and collectables abroad is not without its problems. As well as being excited about what will turn up, you also have to ask yourself more prosaic questions such as: can I realistically get the item home? Are there rules prohibiting taking certain items out of the country or into the UK? Less important perhaps, but just as vital, you might also wonder how to haggle.

Here are a few tips to help you get the best out of your holiday antiquing.

To market, to market
First things first. Before you go check where and when your nearest brocante or market will be held. Tourist boards nowadays often have whole sections of their websites dedicated to local markets, antiques dealers and flea markets. Larger markets are likely to run all year but some smaller towns may cancel their markets during August.
When it comes to the language barrier it definitely helps to have a few words of the local lingo. Having a rudimentary idea of numbers in the dealer’s language and being able to say please, thank you and how much, may well get you a better deal. However, if all else fails and you have no idea what figure the dealer is quoting be sure to be armed with a pen and pad so that you can haggle on paper. The dealer will quote, you score it out and put in your own suggested figure. Eventually you will strike a deal.

How about haggling
Just like at markets here, dealers expect you to haggle. If you’re not used to it, it can seem a little intimidating but you should never pay the first asking price. Each country is different so it’s worth watching locals to see how they haggle to get the feel of it. Then, when you’ve spotted a potential purchase, put on your best haggling face and go for it.

Just remember that just like here the dealer will have a price in mind at which they can realistically sell the item so don’t suggest a ludicrously low price. Not only is it rude but you’re unlikely to strike a bargain at all once you have insulted them. I’ve found that deals up to 30% off can be achieved in cities like Paris and Berlin whereas in Amsterdam 15% is more normal. In Italy you really have to make the effort to please the dealer before any discount will be given.

Know the rules
So what can you bring home that won’t land you in trouble at customs? The best place to check is the website of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office ( and the International Air Transport Association (

Under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, there are complex rules governing the trade of items made from endangered species. I’ve found that it’s really best to avoid buying anything that was once alive such as coral, ivory, tortoiseshell and taxidermy.

Home coming
Once you have successfully bought your item you have to get it home. If it’s small, then no problem, pop it in the suitcase, but what if it’s large and unwieldy? Your transport options are to send the goods by air or sea freight perhaps using a courier. If you’re driving of course, you can bring the item home yourself but do be aware that even ferry operators have rules governing the transportation of items such as antique knives and firearms, so do check in advance.

Last but certainly not least, HM Revenue & Customs imposes VAT on any antiques more than 100 years old coming into the UK from outside the EU. Most are eligible for a reduced rate of 5% so it’s important to have the right paperwork, otherwise you may be liable for the standard 20%. When bought for personal enjoyment, most antiques are not subject to customs or excise duty. However, there are a few exceptions, including wine, unused postage stamps, engravings and prints. The rules are complex, so if in doubt seek advice on the government website.

Make sure your precious antiques are insured – they should be covered under your home insurance policy but it’s better to check and don’t forget to let the insurance company know within 60 days of returning home so your cover can be increased.

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