Guide

Starting to import

Last updated: 16 May 2017

Importing from non-EU countries

When importing goods from non-EU countries, you'll need to:

  • declare your imports to customs
  • pay VAT and duty on them

You'll also need a commodity code and you may need an import licence.

Commodity codes

You need a commodity code for all imports from non-EU countries. The code classifies your goods for tax and regulations.

Import licences

Some goods might need an import licence.

Import declarations to customs

You must declare all imports from outside the European Union (EU) to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) using the Single Administrative Document (SAD).

You submit your SAD through CHIEF.

Use the UK Trade Tariff to find the duty charges, tax, custom rules and paperwork for imports from non-EU countries and classify your goods.

You can use a freight forwarding agent to make the declaration for you.

If your goods go through another EU country before coming to the UK, your supplier or the business responsible for transport must make an Entry Summary Declaration in the country. Check that this is done because the receiving business can be responsible for it.

In some cases you can apply for simplified import procedures through Community Transit.

HMRC has more information on importing procedures via CHIEF.

Paying duty on imports from non-EU countries

You normally have to pay duty on goods imported from non-EU countries when they're first brought into the EU.

The amount of duty you pay depends on how the goods are classified under the UK Trade Tariff and how they'll be used.

You may be able to apply for reduced or zero rate duty for goods from certain countries as long as you can prove their origin. This is known as 'preference'.

Your goods will not be released by customs until you've paid all duty and UK VAT.

You might be able to claim duty charges and VAT back or delay payments for some imports from outside the EU, for example if you are temporarily importing goods with the intention of moving them to another EU country.

Customs warehousing

It's possible to import goods from non-EU countries without paying duty or VAT as long as they stay in a customs warehouse. These warehouses are places where duty is suspended.

For example, you could import goods from the USA, store them in a customs warehouse in the UK and move them into a customs warehouse in Spain without paying duty.

Import Duty and VAT will only be paid when the goods are put into 
free circulation within the EU.

Paying VAT on imports from non-EU countries

You'll have to pay VAT directly to HMRC at UK rates on goods imported from outside the EU when they're first brought into the EU.

To work out the value of the goods you've imported so you know how much VAT to pay, include:

  • the costs of importing the goods, such as commission, packing, transport and insurance
  • any duties or levies payable on importation into the UK

Read more on the value of goods imported from outside the EU.

If the goods are for you to make taxable supplies or use in your business, you can reclaim the VAT paid on your VAT Return. You'll need the import tax certificate (form C79) to prove you paid the import VAT. HMRC will send you this form.

You can import works of art, antiques, and collectors' items from outside the EU at a reduced rate of VAT.

Advice on imports from non-EU countries

Business Gateway offers advice on importing goods from outside the EU.

Starting to import
Importing from non-EU countries