Importing goods from outside the EU

Imports from outside the European Union (EU) are treated differently than EU imports. You have to make an import declaration and may need to pay import duty and import VAT.

Guide

3 min read

1. Disclaimer

This guide contains information relating to the EU that may be out of date due to Brexit. We are working to update our guidance as the situation unfolds. For urgent assistance please contact your local Business Gateway office or visit https://www.prepareforbrexit.scot/.

2. Overview

Within the European Union (EU) most goods are in free circulation. Importing goods from the EU is often referred to as a movement of goods, or as an acquisition. The term 'importing' typically means that the goods have come from outside the EU.

You must:

  • make an import declaration to customs
  • pay import duty and import VAT (plus VAT on import duty), although use of some customs procedures may suspend or relieve you from these taxes

To take advantage of simplified customs procedures, you might want to consider registering with HM Revenue & Customs as an Authorised Economic Operator.

3. Import declarations

Imports from outside the European Union (EU) into the UK must be declared to HM Revenue & Customs. This is usually done using the Single Administrative Document (SAD), also called form C88. SADs can be submitted either electronically using the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight system, or manually.

To make the declaration the correct customs classification is required.

The declaration also includes a customs procedure code explaining what is being done with the goods, eg import to free circulation or use of one of the customs procedures such as temporary admission. Together with the commodity code, this helps determine what rate or type of import duty is to be charged and how the goods are to be treated.

You can use an agent, such as a freight forwarder, to make the declaration on your behalf. This can make importing simpler and faster if you are not authorised to make electronic declarations yourself.

4. Taxes and duties on imports

You will need to know whether you have to pay import VAT and duty on your goods before they can be cleared for entry into the UK.

Import duty

You might be liable for import duty, depending on the classification of the goods and where they come from. Your goods might also be liable to additional duties such as anti-dumping duties. Download a guide to anti-dumping from the Europa website (PDF, 677K).

You can pay a reduced or zero rate of import duty on imports of certain goods from some countries, though there may be a limited annual quota. You usually need to provide documentary proof showing where the imports originated from.

You can get information on tariff preferences from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

Goods are not normally released by HMRC until you have paid all the charges due. However, you can defer payment.

VAT

VAT is charged on goods imported from outside the EU at the same rate as if you bought the goods in the UK. VAT-registered businesses can reclaim the VAT as input tax in the same way as VAT is paid on UK purchases. You will also have to pay VAT on any import duty.

Import VAT is paid directly to HMRC, whereas domestic VAT is normally paid to a supplier of goods. Goods such as tobacco and alcohol products are also subject to excise duty.

5. Reliefs on imports for export or re-export

There are a number of customs procedures that can benefit traders who plan to send their goods out of the UK.

If you are importing goods that you will later export or re-export, you may be able to claim relief from customs charges due on importation.

Temporary Admissions (TA)

If goods are to be temporarily imported for use, relief from import duty or VAT may be available provided the goods will remain in the same condition as they are imported. TA does not remove the need to comply with any import/export prohibitions or restrictions, for example for drugs, counterfeit/pirated goods or endangered species.

You can read more about Temporary Admissions on GOV.UK.

One method of TA is the ATA carnet. The carnet is issued in the country of dispatch usually by local chambers of commerce and industry and is used in place of customs documents normally required at import and/or re-export. ATA carnets are only applicable in countries which are signatories to the ATA Carnet or Istanbul Conventions.

Processing and re-exporting

If you are importing goods that you intend to process and then export, you can claim Inward Processing Relief (IPR). There are two methods of duty relief - suspension and drawback.

Onward supply to the European Union (EU)

If you are importing goods that you plan to supply to another EU member state, you may be able to claim Onward Supply Relief (OSR). This allows you to import the goods without paying import VAT. Instead, VAT is paid when you supply the goods to your customer.

Read our guide Exporting: the basics.

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