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Importing goods into the UK – What you need to know

Being able to buy goods from outside of the UK gives businesses like yours more options, but importing goods into the UK for the first time can seem complicated.

Here are some of the things that you need to know before importing into the UK, and the process of importing goods into the UK. 

Things to consider when buying from outside the UK

Commodity code, restrictions and prohibitions

Not everything can be brought into the UK from everywhere, or without additional paperwork.

Some goods require licences to import, and some commodities cannot be imported from certain countries of origin, due to increased risk. This is especially true for products that require port health or plant health checks. 

Before importing into the UK, find the commodity code for your goods in the tariff and investigate whether there are any restrictions on goods from the area your potential supplier is in. This can save rejection or delays with customs clearances at the UK border. 

Ensuring your business is ready to import goods into the UK


Before importing goods into the UK, your business should obtain an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number. This registers the import against your company, as well as allows you to reclaim the import VAT on a C79 certificate. 

An EORI number can be obtained, with or without being VAT registered, here.

The terms / INCOTERM used with the supplier

Different buying terms allow for better cash flow, easier documentation processes, or more security with the seller. Payment in advance will allow for immediate release of title for the goods but credit terms, like 60+ days, can have cashflow benefits for you. Letters of credit and other documentation may be involved, and incur additional costs, depending on what terms you negotiate.
INCOTERMS provide guidance on where the responsibilities of the shipper and buyer are when importing goods into the UK. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:


– Transportation of goods to the port of departure. 

– Export customs clearance.

– Freight.

– Import customs clearance.

– Inland Freight.

– Insurance.


Being clear on what the buying terms are, and where everyone’s responsibilities are, saves confusion and allows all costs to be factored in from the beginning. 

The process of importing goods into the UK

Exporting the goods from origin

Now that you have agreed a purchase, the goods will be transported to the UK when ready. The INCOTERM chosen will provide guidance on what stages of transport will be the shipper or the buyer’s responsibility. 


Once the export documents are prepared, the export customs clearance will be processed so that the goods can leave the country of origin. The goods are then loaded and transported to the UK by sea, road, rail, or air.


Releasing the goods in the UK


For goods to be released in the UK, they normally need to be released by both the carrier and customs. The exception to this is when goods are arriving by road, when carrier charges are agreed before loading. 

Depending on your buying terms, you may need to pay charges or present a Bill of Lading to the carrier before the goods are released for collection. Once everything is in order, the carrier will issue a pin for the goods to be collected from the terminal.

In order to clear the goods through customs, a declaration must be made through a customs broker, and goods must be cleared by any commodity specific authorities such as port health, plant health, or the forestry commission.

It is during the customs clearance process that import Duty and VAT are paid, and the import is recorded against your EORI number. Find out how to calculate import Duty and VAT here, or use your commodity code in our import duty calculator

Once the goods are cleared for collection by the carrier and customs, you can arrange for transport to your destination. Beware that unloading the goods is your responsibility as hauliers are not usually insured to handle goods on your premises for you. 

If you need help with importing goods into the UK, please contact us for more information.

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