The rules governing what you can and can’t import into the UK vary depending on whether you’re importing commercially or for your own use. In both cases, however, there are a number of items that are banned or at least require special licenses and permits in order to be imported. This article will look at those items in more detail.
What you can import
First, however, let’s look at what you can import into the UK providing you follow the correct procedures and pay required taxes and duties. UK Customs classifies products into the following broad categories, and other than items that have restrictions attached, these categories constitute the majority of what you can safely and legally import into the UK.
Live animals and animal products - Including meat, offal, fish crustaceans, mollusks, dairy produce, birds eggs, and natural honey.
Vegetable products - Includes live trees and plants, bulbs, roots, flowers, foliage, vegetables, fruit, nuts, coffee, tea, spices, cereals, malt, starches, oil, seeds, straw, fodder, gums, resins, and saps.
Animal or vegetable fats and oils and their cleavage products - Includes prepared edible fats and animal or vegetable waxes.
Prepared foodstuffs - Includes beverages, spirits, vinegar, tobacco, sugars, cocoa and preparations of meat, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, cereals, flour, starch, milk vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
Mineral products - Including salt, sulfur, earth stone, lime, cement, ores, slag, ash, bituminous substances, and mineral fuels, oils, and waxes.
Chemical products - Includes pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, tanning or dyeing extracts, paints, varnishes, putty, inks, essential oils, perfumes, cosmetics, toiletries, soap, waxes, candles, explosives, pyrotechnics, and matches.
Plastics and rubber - Includes plastic, rubber, and other articles thereof.
Rawhides and skins - Includes leather, fur skins, saddlery and harness, travel goods, handbags, and articles of animal gut.
Wood and articles of wood - Including wood, charcoal, cork, straw, basketware, and wickerwork.
Wood pulp and cellulosic material - Includes paper, paperboard, paper pulp, books, newspapers, pictures, and manuscripts.
Textiles and textile articles - Includes silk, wool, animal hair, yarn and woven fabric, cotton, man-made textiles and fibers, wadding, felt, twine, ropes, cables, carpets, lace, and knitted or crocheted fabrics.
Miscellaneous - Including footwear, headgear, umbrellas, walking sticks, whips, riding crops, prepared feathers, artificial flowers, and articles of human hair.
Natural - Includes articles of stone, plaster, cement, asbestos, mica, ceramics, glass, and glassware.
Jewelry - Including pearls, precious or semi-precious stones, precious metals, imitation jewelry, and coins.
Base metals - Includes iron and steel, copper, nickel, aluminum, lead, zinc, tin, and articles, therefore.
Machinery and mechanical appliances - Includes electronic equipment, boilers, and machinery.
Vehicles and transport equipment - Includes trains, trams, tracks, signaling equipment, aircraft, spacecraft, ships, and boats.
Optical - Including photographic, cinematographic, measuring, medical and surgical apparatus, clocks, watches, and musical instruments.
Arms and ammunition - Includes arms and ammunition and parts and accessories thereof.
Miscellaneous manufactured articles - Includes furniture, furnishings, bedding, lighting, prefabricated buildings, toys, games, and sports requisites.
Works of art - Including collectors’ pieces and antiques.
What you can’t import
Despite the lengthy list of things that can be imported into the UK, there are a number of items that are banned and cannot be brought in under any circumstances. These include:
- Illegal drugs,
- Offensive weapons such as flick knives,
- Self-defense items like pepper spray and CS gas,
- Endangered animal and plant species,
- Rough diamonds,
- Indecent and obscene materials,
- Personal imports of meat and dairy products from non-EU countries,
- Goods that infringe intellectual property rights (e.g. pirated films or music),
- Food and plant products that weren’t grown in the EU or that contain pests or diseases.
Imports that are subject to conditions
While some items cannot be imported at all, there is a group of items that can be imported subject to special conditions such as appropriate licenses and permits. Some of these conditions include:
Import license and surveillance - Firearms, ammunition, explosives, industrial waste, and radioactive products including isotopes for medical use.
Compliance with EU standards - Toys, agricultural and industrial machinery, tractors, gasoline-powered materials and equipment, sports and recreational personal protection equipment, pleasure craft, medical apparatus, electrical and electronic equipment, and equipment pertaining to telephone networks.
Compliance with British safety standards - Cars, trucks, telephone equipment, fertilizers, baby chairs, prams, children’s beds, outdoor equipment, ladders, scaffolds, barbecues, extinguishers, motorcycle helmets, pyrotechnics, products containing asbestos, gold jewelry, and measuring instruments.
Registration and compliance with EU regulations - Chemical substances both on their own and in preparations.
CFIA certification - All meat, fish, and dairy products.
Heat treatment and phytosanitary certification - Wood and wood products from outside the EU.
Import license and Quarantine Release Certificate (QRC) - Plant-health controlled fruit, vegetables, plants, and plant products.
Quota license from the European Commission - Ozone-depleting substances.
Registration with the European Chemicals Agency - Importers of more than one tonne of chemicals a year.
Steps to importing goods into the UK
If you’re planning to import goods into the UK, you first need to find out whether they can be imported, what kind of restrictions, if any, are placed on them and how much duty and VAT you’ll have to pay to import them. The steps involved in importing are as follows:
- Determine the correct commodity code for your goods - this code classifies goods and determines the regulations and taxes that apply to them,
- Fill out a VAT Return if you’re VAT registered, and
- If you’re importing goods from outside the EU, you’ll need to register with the CHIEF system for importers (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight). This system allows importers to complete customs information electronically and automatically checks for errors.
If you’re new to importing, a good source of help and information is the UK government website which you can access here. You should also consider hiring an import agent to help you avoid the pitfalls and guide you through the maze of regulations that surround the UK import/export scene.