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Import/Export in United Kingdom

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Import/Export in United Kingdom

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Importing and Exporting


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  • Overview

    The UK Government agency responsible for the collection of customs and excise duties is HM Revenue & Customs. For detailed information on the full responsibilities of businesses that intend to import or export please see:

    The UK is one of the leading trading nations in the world. It is the second largest exporter and third largest importer of commercial services, and the tenth largest exporter and sixth largest importer of merchandise.

    An important aspect of the UKs import and export policy is its membership of the European Union, a customs union where imported goods can circulate freely within European Union member states once customs duty and any other charges have been paid.

    Goods that are exported from the UK are not charged customs duty. Due to the UKs multiple international trading agreements, many exports from the UK also receive preferential tariff rates of duty (often nil) in their country of destination.


    Imported goods that enter European Union member states from outside of the European Union are subject to a common external tariff entitled the Common Customs Tariff (CCT). In order to calculate the CCT, the European Union annually publishes a Combined Nomenclature that is based on the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System used by most trading nations worldwide. The Combined Nomenclature shows the conventional duties payable across the European Union and also gives general information on tariffs and other measures affecting the import, export and transit of goods, the valuation of goods for import duty purposes, VAT and excise duties. Duties are usually calculated as a percentage of the value of the goods imported, although some goods are liable to specific rates (for example, euros per kilogram).

    In order to fully establish the level of customs duty to be paid, the European Union applies rules of origin to identify the country in which a product has originated (or has acquired origin). Once this has been established and the requisite tariff has been paid, the goods can move between European Union countries without further duty having to be paid (although the goods may still be liable to national taxes). The two main types of European Union rules of origin are preferential rules and non-preferential rules.

    Preferential rules

    The European Union operates preferential agreements with many countries (known as preferential partner countries). These include:


    • members of the European Free Trade Area,
    • many developing countries,
    • the African, Caribbean and Pacific states,
    • overseas countries and territories of European Union member states
    • Central and Southern America.


    The preferential agreements allow industrial goods originating in preferential partner countries and being imported into the European Union to pay less duty than the common external tariff, or no duty at all.

    A product acquires origin if it is wholly produced or sufficiently processed or worked in a preferential partner country. Generally, for a manufactured product incorporating imported components, sufficiently processed or worked means that the final product must be classified under a different tariff heading from any non-originating components (components not manufactured in the preferential partner country from which the final product is being imported).

    Non-preferential rules

    The non-preferential rules apply to goods imported from any country outside the preferential partner countries. Non-preferential countries include Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA.

    For non-preferential rules, there are two main categories of goods:


    • goods wholly obtained or produced in a single country
    • goods whose production involved more than one country.

    The rules state that the originating country of goods is the country where the last major process took place. For each consignment of goods imported into the European Union, a customs declaration (the entry) must be made in order to assess the duty payable, identify any claims for relief (see below) and help checks on controlled goods. A customs declaration is not necessary for most consignments from within the European Union.


    The UK has progressively abolished almost all import licensing controls although some national import restrictions for public health and security reasons have been retained. Most goods are included in the Open General Import Licence (OGIL) and can be imported without further licensing formalities. Some goods, including agricultural and certain textile products, are excluded from the OGIL and require a specific licence for importation.

    There are various forms of relief that may be available on payments of import duty, such as:


    • Temporary Importation relief (Customs Notice 200),
    • Inward Processing relief (Customs Notice 221),
    • End-use relief (Customs Notice 770),
    • Returned goods relief (Customs Notice 236), and
    • Outward Processing relief (Customs Notice 235).


    Businesses operating in the UK can also choose to take advantage of the import benefits offered by Free Zones and customs warehouses,

    Free Zones

    There are five Free Zones in the UK in which non-European Union goods are treated, for the purposes of import duties, as being outside of the customs territory of the European Union (meaning that import duties are not payable until the goods are released for free circulation).

    Customs warehouses

    Customs warehouses allow businesses to hold non-European Union goods without payment of the duty or VAT due at import. Goods can be stored in a specific customs warehouse or in an inventory system authorised and approved by HM Revenue & Customs. Duty and VAT must be paid at the time goods are delivered for use in the UK or, under deferment arrangements, within a fixed time afterwards.

    Deliveries for re-export outside the European Union are free of all duties and VAT. Various operations such as cleaning, stocktaking and packing may also be undertaken while the goods are stored in the customs warehouse, although manufacturing is not allowed.


    Exporting from the European Union and the UK is a straightforward process. Many exports from the European Union receive preferential tariff rates of duty (often nil) in their country of destination. The goods must meet the specified rules of origin contained in the European Union agreement with the particular destination country.

    In the UK, exporters of goods must present an export declaration to Customs before the goods leave the country (this also applies to goods that are leaving the European Union via other member states). Most exports are cleared promptly by Customs via the electronic New Export System, but licences, permits and certificates are required for certain goods (either for exporting from the UK or for presentation in the importing country).

    Businesses in the UK must, for VAT purposes, maintain proof of exports, incorporating a valid commercial or official evidence of export, supported by relevant commercial documents. These may include the customers order, contract correspondence, copy export invoices, advice notes, consignment notes, packing lists, insurance and freight charges, evidence of payment and receipts from abroad. All documents must clearly identify the exporter and the goods.

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Organisations that can assist with Import/Export

  • > Export Advice Services

    Looking to start exporting to this country? Need export advice? We can advise on: Pricing structures,Import/ export duty,Shipping, customs and documentation, Routes to market – finding the right agent or distributor, Partner management.

    More Details Visit Website
  • > Ubuy

    Ubuy UK comes with a huge inventory of 100 Million products sourced from across the globe.

    More Details Visit Website
  • > Worldwide Parcel Services

    Worldwide Parcel Services offer a highly discounted, competitve, door to door parcel service importing and exporting around the world.

    More Details Visit Website
  • > Parcel Hero

    ParcelHero gives you the fastest transit times from the world’s best carriers and, what’s more, we make life easier by selecting the best carrier for each shipment so all you have to do is select the service and transit time to suit your budget.

    More Details Visit Website
  • > Alibaba UK

    Launched in 1999, is the world's largest global trade marketplace and the leading provider of online marketing services for importers and exporters.

    More Details Visit Website
  • > Parcelcompare

    Parcelcompare offers global parcel delivery services to consumers and businesses through the world’s most reputable carriers UPS, DHL, TNT & FedEx. We have been in business for over 28 years and established a reputation of excellence within our industry.

    More Details Visit Website
  • > easyStorage

    easyStorage takes the hassle away from storage with their all-inclusive mobile service.

    More Details Visit Website
  • >

    When expanding your business to the UK, don’t forget to protect your brand. We provide Trademark Registration Services in the UK and in the entire European Union.

    More Details Visit Website

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