Importing Goods to the UK: A Guide for Businesses

Importing goods is an essential component of many different businesses.

From car manufacturers importing important parts to build their new best-selling vehicle to companies dealing primarily with importing to make a profit, it plays a key role in global business. Unlike receiving a personal parcel through the post there are a lot more factors involved with importing business related items.

If your company operates in numerous countries or has many international customers then following the correct procedure for importing goods into each one is essential. For new start-ups or those expanding to do business abroad for the first time we have plenty of important and helpful information. At TNT we offer import services in over 175 countries worldwide as well as providing customs clearance help for thousands of businesses.

Importing Goods to the UK

Importing vital packages or documents into the UK requires all the appropriate papers to be filled out and the required process followed. This will ensure you or your customer receive such items on time and in the correct location.

CHIEF System

The Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight system was introduced by the UK government in order to allow customs information for all imports and exports to be completed electronically. It automatically checks for errors, includes the calculation of duties, provides currency and quantity conversions and clearance of consignments. Attain the CHIEF badge, role and location codes or use a third party to submit declarations.


As a VAT registered company you will need to inform HMRC of all the goods you import and pay the appropriate VAT. In some cases you will be able to defer, suspend, reduce or fill in a VAT return form. Products from EU and non-EU countries come with VAT rates the same as when receiving from a UK supplier. Depending on the items imported you can often reclaim this amount, though only if your business is VAT registered in the UK.


When duty has already been paid on goods, wherever they originate from, they are in free circulation and do not require additional duty to be paid when arriving in the UK. Any goods produced in the EU don’t require duty to be paid on them either. Importing items directly from non-EU countries does require duty to be paid on goods, which depends on how they are classified under the UK Trade Tariff and will be used. In some cases it is possible to claim duty charges back.

Importing Goods from EU Countries to the UK

Getting a commodity code is vital when moving items from one EU country to another, whether into the UK or elsewhere. This keeps your company safe regarding tax and regulations. Import licences are only required on specific goods, such as firearms, when importing from fellow EU nations. All VAT due from moving goods between EU countries can be reclaimed when they are for use in your business.

Importing Goods from Non-EU Countries to the UK

Imports from non-EU countries must be declared to HMRC. This is done by filling in a single administrative document and submitting it through CHIEF or using a third party to make such declarations. Items which pass through another EU country before reaching their final destination must have an entry summary declaration made in the country. Ensure this is done as otherwise your company or the receiving party will be held responsible.

Duty and VAT usually have to be paid when importing products from outside of the EU. One way to avoid this is by storing all imported goods in a customs warehouse, where duty is suspended, before moving into a customs warehouse in another EU country.

Importing Into EU Countries

If your business has bases in other EU countries and regularly imports products then benefitting from preferential trade agreements within the EU provides an excellent opportunity. Register as an economic operator to receive an EORI number which is used with all EU customs authorities.

An entry summary declaration must also be lodged. This contains advance cargo information which must be presented at the first customs office in the EU it reaches, whether its final destination is in the EU or not.


There are restrictions and bans on importing certain items into some EU countries as well as special procedures required. Shipping invoices are required for the following countries, due to being or having areas which are special EU territories or further reasons:

Canary Islands
Faroe Islands
Iceland (Invoice must show VAT number)
San Marino

There are restrictions and prohibitions for the following nations:

Norway: Permission and an import licence is required to receive alcohol.

Russia: Receiver contact details are mandatory.

Switzerland: Agricultural and petroleum products, firearms, foodstuffs, human remains and pharmaceuticals are prohibited or limited.

Turkey: Pornography and alcohol is prohibited. For food, tobacco, cigarettes, medicines, electronics and medical equipment an import licence for the receiver is required.

Ukraine: Alcohol, tobacco, fish, meat, canned food, milk products, nuts, coffee, tea, spices, grain, starch, gluten, seeds, oil, fat, soft drinks, pastry products, confectionery and animal foods are all prohibited.

Importing Into Non-EU Countries

Every nation outside of the EU will have its own specific requirements for importing goods into the country.


There are special measures and restrictions on importing products into many non-EU countries. These are some of the most popular for businesses:
Australia: Personal effects shipments to Australia must be accompanied by a B534 form.

Brazil: For receivers a CPF or CPNJ number is required for all consignments, which is similar to a national insurance number.

Canada: Foodstuffs, animal skins/furs, firearms, ship spares and pharmaceuticals are prohibited or limited. Alcohol and personal effects must go via SPS.

China: Detailed packing list required for all consignments. A phytosanitary certificate is needed for plants and plant products. An import licence is required for vehicles, radios, TV, fridges, air conditioning, video recorders and computers. Prohibited goods include weapons, imitation weapons, ammunition, explosives, propaganda that ‘may disturb social order’ and pornography.

Japan: All food and plant products are subject to quarantine and can’t move via the express network so must go via special services.

South Korea: Requires receiver’s contact name and number.

Pakistan: Any product of pig origin is prohibited

USA: All Cuban and Iranian goods are prohibited. Medicines, food and alcohol will require FDA licence. All shipments require receivers’ contact details.