UK: How to Import Goods into the UK

June 1, 2021

If you’re in the UK and are buying goods from outside the UK (f.e. to sell to British customers), or if you’re a foreign company exporting from your own country and importing into the UK, then you need to know how to handle imports into the UK. 

Since the UK is no longer a part of the EU, this also applies to companies who import goods coming from the EU, or EU companies who sell to British residents. 

In this article, we’ll look into the different things you need to take into consideration when importing into the UK. 

We’ll look into the rules that apply to Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales); for Northern Ireland, different rules apply. 

For imports from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021, 021, a simplified version of the import rules apply, in order to facilitate the post-Brexit transition. If you’re importing goods into Great Britain during that period, you won’t have to file a safety and security declaration, and you can declare your imports within up to 175 days after the import. 

How to import into the UK 

Let’s now look into the different steps of importing products into Great Britain. 

1) Verify whether you need to register for VAT in the UK

For EU businesses who didn’t need a VAT registration in the UK up to now, this is no longer the case. To import into the UK, you need to register for UK VAT at HMRC.

2) Obtain an EORI number

The next step is obtaining a UK EORI number, which, again, is different from the EORI number for the EU. This should only take a couple of days, and you need to apply for it at HMRC. 

3) Define incoterms with your supplier

Incoterms define the terms that apply to international trade which buyers and sellers agree on. They also define the responsibilities of each party for customs and import obligations. For example, under certain incoterms, you’d be responsible for both the export from the country of origin and the import into the UK (DDP incoterms), while if other incoterms apply (f.e. EXW), you’ll not need to deal with either.

4) Decide whether you’ll use the services of an agent to help you comply with customs’ obligations

Customs procedures are complicated; many companies decide to use an agent who handles that for them. Couriers and logistics services suppliers, such as freight forwarding companies, can usually take this role. 

5) Verify the goods’ categories and codes

Check the commodity codes of the products you’re importing. Import duties depend on that. 

6) Check if any simplified customs procedures apply to you

There are a number of simplified customs or VAT procedures that might apply to you, such as customs warehouses or inward processing relief. 

7) Verify whether you need a license

For some products, you’d need a special license before you import them into the UK. The UK has specific labeling rules, as well, with which you need to comply. 

8) Apply for a simplified import declaration if you’ll use one

You can apply for a simplified import declaration at HMRC to simplify customs clearance. These declarations take a long time to process, so we advise you to apply well in advance. 

9) Check whether your supplier is handling the export

When importing goods into the UK, you’re also exporting them from another country. You need to make sure that you or your supplier are respecting the export rules of the country of origin of the goods, such as filing an exit summary declaration, and having a valid EORI number.

10) File a customs declaration

You or your agent will need to file a customs declaration upon import (it’s usually the agent’s role to do this). Customs declarations are filed online, via a certified software. 

11) Pay import duties

The final step is calculating and paying import duties on your goods. These are based on the commodity codes of the products, but you also need to check whether you could benefit from preferential duty rates.