Step-by-step guide on importing goods into the UK

Check out this comprehensive guide on importing goods into the UK.

8 March, 2021


When do you import goods in UK? 

You will be making imports  when you buy goods coming from outside the country into the UK and the supplier has made an export in the country of dispatch. It is also possible that you import your own goods after an export made by you in the country of departure of the goods. For example, if you are a French company intending to sell your products in the UK under DDP incoterms, you will be making an export in France and an import in the UK. You will also import your own products if you keep a consignment brought from abroad into the UK.  

This article refers to imports into Great Britain, different rules apply to goods coming into Northern Ireland. This territory remains part of the EU for customs purposes, so different rules apply. Read this guide if you are planning to trade internationally to or from Northern Ireland.  

We are also excluding purchases of services from suppliers outside the UK, for which the former place of supply and reverse charge rules continue to apply in 2021, although they are no longer linked to the European VAT Directive.  

Imports made between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021  

Rules are simplified during 2021. You can delay for 175 days the information sent to HMRC about your imports. You do not have to submit an entry summary declaration, also known as safety and security declaration. This period was extended from 30 June to 31 December last 16 March 2021.  

Intrastat declarations would still be required and you will normally be able to use import VAT accounting in your VAT return.  

Step-by-step actions to import goods in UK  

The following is a list of actions that we recommend taking in order to import your products in Great Britain.  

1. Check if you need a VAT registration 

Before Brexit, many EU businesses used to operate under EU simplifications such as call-off stock or triangulation rules. These rules no longer apply and therefore foreign businesses will need to get a UK VAT number in order to import their products in UK. 

2. Get an EORI number

You should get a UK EORI number in order to make imports. UK EORI numbers are different from EU EORI numbers. You will need to apply for this number if you did not have it before 2021 or if you had only an EU number. The application process is easy and you can get a response from HMRC in a few days.  

3. Understand and agree incoterms with your supplier 

Incoterms are a set of terms and conditions that establish the rights and responsibilities of both the buyer and the seller in international trade. They are important for customs purposes because they may define who is responsible for a given customs obligation. For example, if you are a non-UK company exporting your goods from an EU country under DDP incoterms, you will be responsible for the export in the country of departure and import in the UK (both). If, however, you are selling under EXW incoterms, you will not take care of the export in the country of dispatch, nor the import in the UK.  

This chart by the ICC explains the responsibility of seller and buyer for each incoterm.  

4. Decide if you will use an agent for completing customs documents 

Most businesses find an external provider to handle customs documents on their behalf. This documentation is complex and requires training, staff availability, and an application for a CHIEF badge.  

Most transport companies, freight forwarding companies, and carriers can act as an agent. You can check HMRC's resources to find an agent to help you.

Non-established entities will always need to appoint an indirect representative. 

 5. Check the commodity codes of your goods 

In international trading, goods are classified into categories and subgroups according to their nature and characteristics. Each of these has a number called commodity code.  

You should be sure of what the commodity codes of the goods are that you are trading with, as customs duties will change depending on their category. Check this website to find out what type of goods you are buying.  

6. Evaluate if you can benefit from existing customs simplifications 

There are several regimes that allow for VAT and/or duty suspension. Some examples include inward processing relief, customs warehouses, and temporary admission. 

7. Check if you need a license and make sure your labels are compliant 

Some goods require a license in order to be imported in the UK. These may include animals, certain drugs, waste, or weapons. You should apply for the relevant license before the products enter the country.  

You should also ensure that your labeling is compliant with UK rules. Labeling is now a country specific requirement in the UK and therefore EU labels may not comply with local rules.  

8. Decide if you will use simplified import declarations 

Customs clearance can take a long time, adding delays to your trade and potential logistics costs. Simplified declarations make this process much quicker and also defers the payment of duties. You can apply to use simplified customs declarations via HMRC's website.  It takes a long time to get approval on your application, so we recommend doing this well ahead of your imports. 

9. Check that your supplier made an export 

It is important to comply with export requirements in the country of dispatch. In the EU, these requirements include a customs declaration submitted to the country of dispatch's tax authorities, an Exit Summary Declaration, and ensuring that the supplier has a valid EU EORI number.  

10. Complete a customs declaration 

Your customs agent will normally be responsible for your customs declarations. These are forms with 50 boxes to be completed and submitted electronically with an approved software. If you still want to take care of these declarations inhouse, HMRC put together a detailed list to help you. 

11. Calculate and pay the tax 

You need to work out the value of your goods for customs. You will pay import duties according to the tariffs applicable on the commodity code of the goods you are importing. You should also find out if you can benefit from a preferential rate and explore if you can pay a lower rate of duty.   

In most cases, you will be able to account for import VAT under postponed import VAT accounting scheme. Effectively, this means that you do not have to pay import VAT if you are a fully taxable business. You can find more about this scheme in our UK manual

Additional resources 

In addition to the links included in each of the steps above, HMRC has published good and comprehensive information to help businesses trading internationally: 

Questions?

We would be happy to clarify any of the above or answer any other question you may have.

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