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A Guide to Importing Goods into the UK

Wednesday, 14th January 2015

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The UK is a great market for people looking to import. It is the world’s seventh largest importer, and as only the 12th leading exporter, the UK is a country with a significant appetite for foreign goods.

The total value of UK imports sits at around $650 billion, with manufactured goods, machinery, fuels, and foodstuffs bringing the most significant import opportunities. Germany accounts for the single most significant trading partner to the UK (12.5%), followed by China (8.2%), Netherlands (7.1%), US (7%), France (5.7%), Belgium (4.8%), and Norway (4.7%).

As with any country, there’s a process to go through if you’re looking to import for commercial purposes, and a limit to how much you can import for personal use. When it comes to importing for personal use, there are different rules for people entering the UK from EU nations and from nations outside the EU. This is most evident in regards to alcohol and tobacco, and it is worth checking the formal limits before you try to enter the country. There are also strict limitations to meat products, pets, fish, coats, and fur or leather clothing made from the hides of protected animals.

Commercial imports

The rules for importing are different depending on whether you’re moving goods from within or outside of the EU.

Generally, you will need to follow these steps to import to the UK:

  1. Check if the goods are banned or require an import licence
  2. Determine the commodity code for your goods, which can be found here
  3. In some cases, you will need to pay VAT and duty
  4. Fill in a VAT return if you’re VAT registered
  5. Register with the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system for importers (if you’re importing from outside the EU). This can be done here.
  6. Declare the goods you import

The regulations and steps to follow differ when importing services.

Customs Duty and VAT

In most cases, you will need to pay an Import Customs Duty & VAT on the arrival of the goods into the country. Note that you’ll also need to include the shipping costs by both air and sea freight to determine the total taxable value of the goods.

Different categories of goods have a different duty percentage, which you can find through the European TARICwebsite. The HM Revenue and Customs VAT will then be 20% of the total value.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to these duties and VAT payments to keep in mind. These include:

  • Goods that are manufactured within the EU, or have already been imported into an EU member country and have had taxes paid on them are considered to be ‘free circulation’ from that point on. Of course, you will need to maintain records that prove the status of these goods as free circulation.
  • Low value goods - goods valued at less than £18.
  • Temporary admission - goods that are being imported temporarily, for example for an exhibition.
  • Raw materials - goods that will be made into a finished product.

For other exceptions and duty relief, see the UK government website.

Be aware of food restrictions

Food imports are the most complex process for commercial import into the UK, as there are numerous restrictions based on a wide range of criteria. There is a significant list of ‘high-risk’ products that have legislation that needs to be considered, which is detailed here.

There are also a specific set of rules that cover products of animal origin, fishery products, and wine. The best resources for further information on each of these categories are the official Government pages, which outline specifically what the restrictions are as well as labelling requirements.

If you need more help and advice on importing to the UK, contact us today.

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