I have found a dialog in Roberto Rossellini's 1954 film Journey to Italy where the character played by George Sanders says it's expensive to stay abroad too much. That would seem natural, only the spending mentioned is explained as being determined by the British government.

Man and woman eating, captioned, "We can't stay very long"

Man and woman eating, captioned, "Our government doesn't make it possible for us to stay abroad very long"

Man and woman eating, captioned, "10 pounds a day for a month, you know."

— Only a few days?

— We can't stay very long.

Our government doesn't make it possible for us to stay abroad long.

Ten pounds a day for a month, you know.

That doesn't seem to be a joke. The film is realistic enough, this is not a poetic license or fantasy. The character in the movie is a well-to-do businessman, that daily sum is not his salary, it looks more like a tax the government might impose.

What kind of sum these "10 pounds a day for a month" could be?

What is this about?

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    Right, he's not referring to the "high cost" per se, he's referring to a limit.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 12:59
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    As a related curiosity. Regarding the iconic third Bond film, Goldfinger (1964). The entire plot of the film revolves around the fact that, similarly, you were not allowed to move gold around in that era. (So, Goldfinger is an incredibly evil villain because ................... he is moving some gold!) While the movie is a masterpiece, this just seems completely bizarre / confusing to the modern viewer!
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 13:01
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    The plot of The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) also revolves around gold/capital controls, as well. Without that, it would be a much less interesting run-of-the-mill heist film... Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 13:24
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    Sanders' character is pretending that £10 per day is a serious restraint. The audience of the day would understand the irony that a) it's a poor excuse, and b) the vanity/absurdity of being 'limited' by that sum. It's classic English Comedy of Manners.
    – benwiggy
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 14:16
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    It's extremely confusing to ask a question, and then, edit the question so that instead of now asking the question, the question gives (what is now known to be) the answer to the question.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 15:42

2 Answers 2


Currency restrictions existed between 1939 and 1979.

The main goal of these restrictions after 1945 was to insure that enough foreign exchange was available to finance needed imports from non-sterling areas.

This meant that sterling currency that could be exchanged to foreign currency was greatly limited.

Starting 1945, this was £100 per year.

Between 1952 and 1959 it was £25 per year.

From 1966 £50 per year.

There were many exceptions and special rules, so the named sum is realistic.

In the 1960's, only package tours were really possible, since foreign exchange was needed to finance imports.

Parliament: OVERSEAS TRAVEL ALLOWANCE (Hansard, 19 June 1967)
Of course, it fell to the Tories in the early 1950s virtually to abolish the nonsense inaugurated by the late Lord Dalton and Sir Stafford Cripps after the war in trying to restrict what British citizens should spend abroad. We abolished it. We kept a notional limit of £250 per person per annum on the travel allowance, but anybody could have more if he wanted it.

On 20th July, 1966, the Prime Minister decided, for no economic reason as far as I can tell, to impose a £50 limit on the travel allowance for British citizens abroad. That £50 was computed thus. The total number of British citizens travelling outside the sterling area was divided into the aggregation of expenditure and it was decided that the average expenditure per person was a trifle less than £50. The Chancellor therefore decided on a £50 limit.
Third, it is clear that the £50 allowance greatly restricts the choice of places where British tourists can stay. The hon. and learned Gentleman may not be aware of it, but I have been looking at a booklet published by Sir Thomas Cook & Son which shows that British tourists are restricted to relatively modest hotels costing less than £3 a day. If they want to go to a better hotel, they can afford to stay for only one week. For example, France, Italy and Switzerland are very expensive countries, and many British tourists find themselves in difficulty. In Lucerne, out of 16 hotels listed, in seven of them a British tourist can only afford to stay for one week. Similarly, in Greece there are 22 hotels shown in Thomas Cook's booklet, in 12 of which British tourists can only stay for one week, the reason being that many of the hotels cost a little more than £3 a day.

There were some Monty Python sketchs about this topic, where the customs man asks the traveler where they got the money (foreign exchange) to buy the goods that the traveler was bringing back.


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    Exactly my thoughts. But could you highlight that there is a mismatch between either: 'a tax for staying abroad' (misunderstanding by QP) & that this was discussed as eg: "£50 travel limit"/"foreign travel allowance" api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1959/apr/21/… and thus not a direct match for the exact sum mentioned in the movie? (Or how does the calculation work out?) Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 11:59
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    @LаngLаngС There is a parliamentary report, from around 1969, that goes into further details. (Will try tomorrow to read it through). Movies are never accurate, but with 2 peaple (£200) the sum could work out. Often the amount was changed as the need arose due the financial situation. Peaple living abroad also had special allotments, just as business travel etc. Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 12:13
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    Another point: according to the Bank of England's inflation calculator, the equivalent of £10 would be £280 nowadays. This would be € 326,66 today. I'm not sure about the average prices in Italy in 1954, but i think that's enough money to have some decent fun. So, if i understand the movie scene correctly, the main character complains about being "restricted" to spent "only" € 326,66 a day...
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 12:57
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    @tohuwawohu £10 was a lot of money in 1969 (400 loafs of bread at 6d each). 1952 you could safely double that. But assume also that the movie characters were not living in a cheap hotel. The point is, that in 1969 the yearly rate was £50. The weekly wage was £32 in 1970. So how many days will it take to exhaust the £50 for a summer vacation (including travel there and back, accommodations and meals)? Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 13:19
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    @tohuwawohu - you are absolutely correct. The point of the scene is that the aristocratic, rich character is complaining about a limit, which, is actually rather high!
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 13:05

Just to precisely answer the question,

Was there a British tax for British citizens staying abroad in the fifties?

No, there was absolutely no tax.

The line of dialog is referring to the limit on how much could be spent abroad.

(Via the limit on exchanging currencies.)

Do note that furthermore, the limit mentioned was actually quite high.

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    (-1) No, if you have ever watched the film, you would know that statement was made as an excuse to leave as soon as possible. Please note that this is not a political site, but a historical site. Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 13:49
  • hi @MarkJohnson ! (1) as I'm a new user on this site, I removed the part you have mentioned. (2) I certainly know the film; yes it's an excuse to leave and the joke is that it doesn't make much sense since the figure mentioned. (3) I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean by your reference to politics? Cheers
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 15:19
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    "Quite high"? As a not-so-snobbish bitch, I'd say, I wouldn't be able to live at all without spending all that little pittance within the hour… (IE: I guess you should qualify what you mean by high/much, as such terms are relative, and with any depiction of English people: consider the class they represent in that movie. By coincidence, I also guess that this would be a chance to add some references to your answer.) Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 15:56
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    @LаngLаngС 10£ in 1954 correspond to roughly 280£ today.
    – Nico
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 9:00
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    @Nico Maybe. But I am less fond of learinng such things unreferenced in comments, but quite eager to read such info with refs contextualised to the question within an answer. Perhaps you might help and suggest an edit to the unreferenced assertion in the last line in this A? Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 10:30

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