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Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Last update: April 2008

UK Import & Export Documentation

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The UK Market in particular does not require allot of documentation for Importation of goods from another country apart from a Commercial Invoice which would then be used to calculate the duty to be paid. 

When the Importer of Exporter tries to claim a preferential rate of duty, then a GSP form A would be required.

Please note that the Information is for guideline purposes only and for further Information please contact:

Mr Peter Moore
Export Documentation Manager
75 Harborne Road,
B15 3DH
Tel: 0121 450 4219
Fax: 0121 248 0284

To find the exact requirements of a particular product, then please go to our Duty page.

The following information is a brief guideline to various issues concerning Import / Export of good from the UK.

Brief guide to the Importing the UK

UK importers customarily handle all import procedures. The following information is provided to further the exporter's understanding of the procedures and time-frames which are involved in importing into the UK.

When an importing ship or aircraft arrives at the UK location where goods are to be unloaded, the goods must be 'presented' to Customs (Her Majesty's Customs & Excise or HMCE) by the person who brought them into the EC or the person who assumes responsibility for their onward carriage (this includes freight haulage companies, shipping and aircraft lines). Goods may be presented by:

  • Using an approved computerised trade inventory system linked to customs; or
  • Lodging Form C1600A at the designated Customs office

All goods must be presented within 3 hours of their arrival at the place of unloading. After presentation the goods must be covered by a summary declaration containing the information needed to identify the goods. The summary declaration should normally be made at the same customs office as presentation. The summary declaration must be made by:

  • The person who conveyed the goods into the EC; or
  • The person who assumes responsibility for their onward carriage
  • The shipping, airline or haulage company; or
  • The representative of any of the above

In the UK the prescribed form of summary declaration is Form C1600. Customs may also accept commercial documents or computer records, if they contain the necessary details. Acceptable commercial documents include:

  • Bills of lading
  • Air way-bills
  • Container manifests
  • Load lists
  • Manifests
  • Consignment records (on computerised inventory systems)

An import declaration is required for goods from third countries. When goods are imported into the UK it is the responsibility of the importer or his authorised agent to declare them to Customs. In most cases a Single Administrative Document (SAD) is used for this purpose. Further information on the SAD can be obtained from H.M. Customs & Excise web site:

In addition to the above paperwork, some products may require import licenses or health certificates, as outlined in Other Regulations and Requirements.

All imported goods are liable to be examined by Customs. If goods are selected for examination, the opening, unpacking and re-packing must normally be done by employees of the dock company or an agent of the importer. The examination of goods normally occurs at the place where they are being declared for importation.

Customs duties and other charges that are due must be paid, deferred or secured before the goods are cleared by Customs. It is advisable to show invoices with no freight costs incorporated, only the value of the imported goods, as import duty will be charged on the total amount presented for that shipment. Charges payable on imported goods may include:

  •  Import duties
  • 'Additional duties' on flour and sugar
  • 'Countervailing charges' on fruit and vegetables
  • 'Variable charges' on processed goods
  • 'Compensatory charges' on oils and fats
  • 'Extra charges' on eggs, poultry or pig meat
  • 'Sugar levies' on processed goods with sugar in them
  • Value Added Tax (VAT)
  • Excise duty on alcoholic beverages

The charges payable are linked to the Commodity Code (similar to an HS code, but more detailed) for a particular product. Exporters will need to find out what the Commodity Code for their product, and the associated import duty, is likely to be. This will be necessary in determining a pricing strategy for the product.

To obtain the Commodity Code for your product, contact H.M. Customs & Excise, Tariff Classification Helpline on Tel: 011 44 1702 366077 This service gives a verbal reading on the appropriate code and respective import duty for a particular product. It is also possible to obtain a written ruling on the product's Commodity Code known as Binding Tariff Information (BTI). This service is advisable for more complex food products, as it involves closer consideration of the product's composite ingredients and is legally binding. This is available directly from Customs & Excise on the telephone number given above.

It is also possible to look up the Commodity Code and relevant import duty for your product on the Internet at:

However, as stated above, rather than making your own estimation of Commodity Code it is advisable to do a BTI for more complex food products.

The UK standard rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) is 17.5%. While UK foodservice outlets must charge the standard rate of VAT on everything they serve, retail food products, in general, do not have VAT on them. However, some exceptions which do incur VAT are:

  • Ice Cream and similar products and mixes for using them
  • Confectionery
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Other beverages, and preparations for making them
  • Potato chips (crisps), roasted or salted nuts and some other savoury snack products
  • Products for home brewing and wine making

VAT can also be a value located somewhere between the Standard (S = 17.5%) and the Zero (Z = 0%) rates. For assistance when a case is less straight forward, contact: the VAT Helpline Tel: 011 44 20 7865 4419, Her Majesty's Customs & Excise web site: or write using the address in Useful Contacts.

When giving quotations to a UK importer, note that "Free on Board" (FOB) implies FOB ship not backdoor of country facility, i.e. include freight costs to U.S. exit port/airport. Other common terms for quotation include "Delivered UK port" and "Door to Door with or without duty paid".


Import Export Terms

Revenue & Customs:

Revenue & Customs is the main Government Department charged with controlling imports and exports to and from the United Kingdom, for customs purpose and on behalf of other Government Departments. All goods imported into the United Kingdom must be declared to Customs on arrival in one form or another. The export cannot proceed until clearance is given by Customs.

Imports and exports are subject to various laws and European Countries Regulations. When mistakes happen, Revenue and Customs can under the terms of the laws and Regulations impose various penalties or even seize the goods.

Import and export details are usually collected through the submission to Revenue and Customs, of the Single Administrative Document (SAD). This document, in the same format, is used throughout the European Community, each countries having it printed in their own language. In the United Kingdom it is known as form C8, completed by importers or their agents to declare goods to Customs. It contains information about the parties involved in the import, the means of transportation of the goods and statistical data.

All goods for export must be declared to Customs before they are loaded onto the ship, aircraft or train on which they leave the United Kingdom.

Import Declaration:

Currently 99% of import details are collected through the submission to Revenue and Customs of an electronic import declaration.

The import declaration gives information needed for a complete picture of what the goods are and what is happening to the shipment. Two of the most important pieces of information required are the Commodity Code (also called Tariff Heading, Tariff Code, Classification Code or Harmonized Code) and the Customs Procedure Code (CPC). Both have significant impact on duty due and how the consignment is treated.

Commodity Code:

The Commodity Code for imports is a ten-digit number, which equates to a description of the item. Every item will have a code number.

Against each commodity code, a duty rate is set, as are any restrictions likely to apply e.g. Department of Trade and Industry Import Licence may be needed. Classifying the products to the right commodity codes is very important as the code describes the goods and sets the duty rate. Please take a look at the Duty page for further information.

The Tariff:

The Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom usually referred to as The Tariff, gives general information on tariffs and similar measures affecting the import, export and transit of goods; the valuation of goods for import duty purposes and VAT and excise duties. It contains all the information to help with importing or exporting and includes references to the relevant laws and regulations. The Tariff equivalent acts as a comprehensive point of reference.

All imported and exported goods must be classified by "class" under a range of "headings" or commodity code. Importer and exporter are legally responsible for classifying the goods correctly.

Import Tariffs:

Customs duty is assessed on the fair market value of imported goods at the time they are landed in the United Kingdom. The commercial invoice value is usually accepted as the normal price, but if a preferential arrangement has been established between the overseas supplier and the importer, HM Customs reserves the right to assess a fair market value for duty purpose. The duty is payable at the times the goods are imported, but established importers can defer payment for up to 30 days.

Value Added Tax (VAT)

Value Added Tax was introduced into the United Kingdom in 1973; it is a tax on the final consumption of certain goods and services in the United Kingdom. It is collected at every stage of production and distribution.

VAT is also charged on goods, and some services that are imported from places outside the European Union and on acquisitions and some services, received from the European Union.

Import VAT is the transaction tax levied on imported goods. Import Value Added Taxes includes VAT due on goods imported for the purpose of business, private importations and importations by partially exempt traders. Value Added Taxes is charged on the importation of goods at the same rate as if the goods had been supplied in the United Kingdom.

No VAT or customs duties are charged on goods exported.

Required Documents:

European Community Certificate of Origin:

In order for exported products to qualify, they must have European Country preferential origin and therefore have met the required origin rule.

The importers usually require a Certificate of Origin to meet customs requirements in the importing states, to meet "quota" requirements imposed by the importing country, to comply with banking requirements or to require one for other official reasons.

In the United Kingdom, the officially designed authorities for the issue of European Community Certificate of Origin are Chambers of Commerce. The service is available to all businesses in the United Kingdom.

Electronic Certificates of Origin:

Since 2003 exporters can apply electronically for European Community Certificate of Origin directly from their PCs connected to the Internet. On the 1 November 2005, a further development of e-Cert was launched called e-Cert eXpress. This new development allows the exporter to apply for a Certificate of Origin on line, the Chamber can now check, approve and stamp the Certificate of Origin electronically and return direct to the exporter on line, who then prints it out at their own premises. A Cert eXpress is currently being developed and will be launched in the near future.

Electronic Certificates of Origin cover goods being exported from the United Kingdom and are essential for exporting companies to comply with customs requirements in the importing state, as well as meeting banking and other commercial criteria.

Import Licence:

The United Kingdom has progressively abolished almost all import licensing controls. Most goods can be imported into the country without restriction and without a specific licence. The Import Licensing Branch of the Department of Trade Industry (DTI) is responsible for import licensing policy in the United Kingdom and will be able to advise whether a licence is needed.

Restricted goods, which cannot be imported without authority such as a licence, include firearms, explosives and ammunition; animals outside the Pet Travel Scheme; live birds; endangered species and derived products (under the CITES Convention, see page 284); certain plants and their produce; and radio transmitters not approved for use in the United Kingdom

Whether you need a licence can also depend on where the goods are coming from.

If a licence is needed and is not presented at the time of importation, the goods will not be allowed to move from the port/airport. It is worth remembering that goods being imported from one country may need a licence, whereas the same goods coming from another country may not.

Export Controls:

Exporters of goods, including those of goods that are leaving the European Union via other Member States, must present an export declaration to Customs before the goods leave the United Kingdom. Exporters may be prosecuted for failure to present the declaration.

Most exports are cleared promptly by Customs via the electronic New Export System, but licences, permits and certificates are required for some goods, either for exportation from the United Kingdom or for presentation in the importing country.

Customs now operate the New Export System (NES), which means that nearly all goods for export outside the European Union must now be declared electronically.

Export Licence:

If the export from the United Kingdom of particular goods or technology is subject to control, then those goods or technology may not legally be exported without a licence.

The export of other types of goods and certain activities are subject to control as well as a result, for instance, of the imposition of European Community or United Nations trade sanctions or arms embargoes against particular countries or regions.

These controls apply to a wide range of goods, components and spare parts, technology, military or paramilitary goods, technology, artworks, plants and animals, medicines and chemicals.

Licences to export arms and other goods controlled for strategic reasons are issued by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (DTI) acting through the Export Control Organisation (ECO).

Licence requirements may depend on the potential use of the item - e.g. if it has a military application - and where you are exporting to.

Customs Regulations

The documents required for shipments include the commercial invoice, bill of landing or airway bill, packing list, insurance documents, and, when required, special certificates of origin, sanitation, ownership, etc.

A copy of the commercial invoice should accompany the shipment to avoid delays in customs clearance. No special form of invoice is required, but all of the details needed to establish the true value of the goods should be given. At least two additional copies of the invoice should be sent to the consignees to facilitate customs clearance.

Certain Products - Specials Requirements

Some goods, such as weapons or certain indecent or obscene materials, counterfeit and pirated goods and goods that infringe patents; and meat, milk and their products from outside the EU (with some exceptions) are prohibited and cannot therefore be imported.

Departments responsible for restrictions in force on other goods (e.g. Home Office for Drugs) may issue and/or require the presentation of licences permits or certificates for goods that cannot be imported.

The United Kingdom participates in the Wassenaar Arrangement for the control of dual-use exports, the Australia Groups (AG) for the control of chemical and biological weapons, and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) for nuclear-related goods, preventing the export of restricted goods and technology to countries of proliferation concern. The United Kingdom also supports United Nations' sanctions restricting exports to certain other destinations.

 Last update: April 2008

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