If you are bringing certain goods into the UK, you will need to make an import declaration.

In this guide, we explain the rules on import declarations, when either bringing or receiving goods into the UK, outlining when and what type of declaration needs to be made to ensure customs compliance, and to make sure that your goods are not prevented from crossing the border.

 

What is an import declaration?

An import declaration is an official document in which you specify the value and contents of the goods being imported into the UK, including goods to use within a commercial context, ie; to sell or use in business. You can check if you need to declare goods you bring into the UK using the online tool at GOV.UK.

If, under the rules, you’re required to make a customs declaration, even before your goods enter the UK you may first need to make what’s known as an Entry Summary Declaration (ENS) through the Safety and Security GB (S&S GB) service.

You’ll need to register with the S&S GB service to submit an ENS, although the legal requirement to submit a declaration essentially lies with the carrier. The carrier could be, for example, the rail freight operator, or the airline or shipping company. However, the carrier could be you, either bringing the goods into the UK in your baggage or vehicle.

Once your goods have arrived at the UK border and been presented to customs, you’ll then need to submit an import declaration, although pre-arrival declarations are also possible.

 

How is an import declaration made?

The way in which an import declaration is made will depend on the nature of the goods being imported into the UK, the mode of importation and where in the UK the goods end their journey, ie:

  • Goods imported into England, Scotland and Wales (Great Britain) by a freight forwarder
  • Goods imported into England, Scotland and Wales in your own baggage or a small vehicle that can carry up to a maximum of 9 people and weighing 3.5 tonnes or less
  • Goods imported into England, Scotland and Wales in a vehicle that carries more than 9 people or weighs 3.5 tonnes or more.

When using a fast parcel operator to bring goods into Great Britain, they will typically complete the import declaration for you as part of their service, although you’ll still need to provide accurate details about the goods so that they can complete the declaration.

The importance of declaring the correct information shouldn’t be underestimated, as errors can not only lead to delayed clearance, but the imposition of penalties and the seizure of goods. There are also hefty penalties for making false declarations. Even though a third party can complete an import declaration on your behalf, unless they make a deliberate or unreasonable error — in which case they could become jointly and severally liable — you’ll be solely liable for any mistakes or inaccuracies.

 

Goods imported into Great Britain by a freight forwarder

To submit an import declaration form for goods brought into Great Britain by a freight forwarder, you’ll need access to either the existing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system or the newer Customs Declaration Service (CDS). To register with CHIEF or gain access to the CDS, and before you even start moving your goods, you’ll need an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number starting with GB. In either case, to make an import declaration, you’ll also need compatible software to be able to interact with HMRC’s systems.

It’s worth noting, however, that HMRC is closing the CHIEF system for import declarations on 30 September 2022, where the CDS will be replacing it as the UK’s single customs platform. CHIEF will then subsequently close to export declarations on 31 March 2023.

Having gained access to the necessary system, if you’re using the simplified declaration process, you’ll need to check if the goods you intend to import are eligible. If not, or you’ve not applied or been granted permission to submit a simplified declaration, you’ll need to make a full import declaration.

From 1 January 2022, you’ll need to make a full import declaration before your goods board either a vessel or train departing for a location using the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), or where pre-lodgement is needed. For goods arriving at other locations, a declaration must be made within 90 days of those goods being presented to customs in the UK. You can make a pre-arrival declaration, up to 30 days before your goods reach the UK, although this will only be formally accepted once the goods have actually arrived and been presented.

Declaring goods brought into the UK by a freight forwarder can be complicated, so you may want to instruct either them or a customs agent to deal with this process. However, you’ll still need to give them accurate information about your goods, with any documentation in support.

 

Goods imported into Great Britain in your own baggage or small vehicle

Where you’ve not paid a transport operator to carry commercial goods for you, but instead you’ve travelled to Great Britain carrying the goods in your accompanied baggage or a small vehicle that can transport up to no more than 9 people and weighing 3.5 tonnes or less, this is known as merchandise in baggage. You must declare all merchandise in baggage, as there’s no duty free allowance for goods you’re bringing in to sell or use in your business in the UK. However, the way in which you submit your import declaration will depend on, amongst other things, the value of the goods.

If bringing commercial goods into Great Britain you must either make:

  • a full import declaration before your arrival if the goods have a value of more than £1,500; weigh more than 1,000 kilograms; are restricted, excise or controlled goods; or are being put into a customs special procedure. You’ll also need to submit a full declaration if you’re claiming relief, delaying paying duty or accounting for VAT on your VAT return;
  • a simple online declaration by using the ‘merchandise in baggage online declaration service’ if the goods have a value of less than £1,500, weigh less than 1,000 kilograms, are not restricted or excise goods. If you don’t need to make a full import declaration, you can make a simple online declaration in the 5 days prior to arriving in the UK with your goods. By declaring online, this allows you to pay in advance, go through the “nothing to declare” green channel, as well as add goods to an import declaration that you’ve already submitted provided the combined total value of the goods doesn’t exceed £1500, nor weigh more than 1000 kilograms and are not controlled goods.
  • an oral declaration at the “goods to declare” red channel or the red point phone in the customs area at the UK port to declare your goods and pay what’s owed, although this is only possible if the value of the goods is £1,500 or less and meet the other criteria for making a simple online declaration.

You must electronically submit a full customs declaration using a customs agent or intermediary if you don’t have the specialist software to make the import declaration yourself. After you’ve declared your goods, you’ll need to file your declaration on the CHIEF system having reached a point of entry into Great Britain within 24 hours of presenting your goods at the border. You may do this yourself or with the help of your customs agent. You can also ask a Border Force officer to do it for you where there is a red channel or red point phone, although it’s your responsibility to check if these are available at your particular point of entry before you depart. You can arrive your declaration on CHIEF using the customs facilities available at Stop24 in Folkestone if entering Great Britain through the ports of Dover or Eurotunnel Calais Terminal Coquelles, or you or your agent are unable to do so within the deadline.

 

Goods imported into Great Britain in a large vehicle

To submit an import declaration for goods brought into the UK in a vehicle that carries more than 9 people or weighs 3.5 tonnes or more, you’ll again need to access either the CHIEF system or CDS having invested in compatible software. Depending on the nature of the goods and what permission you have, you’ll then need to submit either a simplified or full import declaration.

Declaring goods brought into the UK by large vehicle can again be very complicated, so you may want to get a customs agents to deal with matters on your behalf.

 

What are simplified declarations?

If you regularly make import declarations there are processes that can make clearing customs quicker and easier to manage. These include simplified declaration procedures where, on arrival in the UK, your goods will be released directly to a specified customs procedure without having to provide a full customs declaration at the point of release. However, to use simplified declarations, you’ll need authorisation from HMRC, where it can take up to 60 calendar days to complete the necessary checks.

Before you import goods using simplified declarations, you’ll still need access to computer software that enables you to interact with the CHIEF system or the CDS, as well as a duty deferment account for paying duty and VAT for monthly direct debits, rather than paying for individual consignments.

Once authorised, you can submit a simplified frontier declaration usage the CHIEF system or CDS before your goods board either a vessel or train departing for a location that uses the GVMS or a vessel departing for a location where pre-lodgement is needed. After you’ve submitted your simplified frontier declaration, you’ll need to complete a supplementary and final supplementary declaration.

Further guidance to find out if you can use the simplified declaration procedure to declare your goods, and on ineligible goods and procedures, can be found at GOV.UK.

 

Delaying import declarations

From 1 January 2022, if you’re importing non-controlled goods into Great Britain from the EU, you’ll no longer be able to delay making your import declarations by up to 175 days under the Staged Customs Controls rules that have applied during 2021. The only exception to this rule is if you’re importing non-controlled goods entering Great Britain from Irish ports, where there are no changes to the rules, provided you make an entry in declarants imports at the time of import.

This means that for those importing from Ireland, but only Ireland, they will be able to delay the payments of customs duties. Most people importing goods, either from within the EU or outside the EU, will now have to make import declarations and pay the relevant tariffs at the point of import.

 

UK import licence FAQs

What is an import declaration UK?

An import declaration is an official document setting out the value and contents of the goods being imported into the UK. In many cases, goods will not be allowed to cross the UK border without one.

What is the purpose of the import declaration?

The import declaration is designed to helps customs monitor, control and place a levy on the goods that enter the UK, not least where goods can affect the country's economy, security or environment.

Do I need an import declaration?

You’ll need to submit an import declaration for most goods that you intend to to sell or use in business in the UK. You can check if you need to declare imported goods using the online tool at GOV.UK.

How do I submit a customs declaration?

The way in which you submit a customs declaration will depend on how the goods are being imported into the UK, although you may want to get a customs agents to deal with this process on your behalf.

 

Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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As editor of Xpats.io, Gill is passionate about helping individuals and organisations overseas explore and pursue opportunities in the UK. She is a content specialist in the fields of immigration, law and business.