uk import guide

If you are establishing UK-based operations and plan to start importing goods into the UK, you will need to familiarise yourself with the import rules.

Failure to follow the rules, however unintentional, can lead to additional expense and legal issues.

In this guide, we summarise what businesses need to know about bringing goods into the UK from overseas.

Starting to import

Import rules apply to companies bringing in goods from the EU and globally.

The main steps to importing require a business to:

Stage DetailsĀ 
Check UK trade regulations Check if the goods you want to import are subject to any UK trade restrictions, requirements or bans.
Register for an EROI number This can take between 3 to 5 working days to come through after registration.
Identify the correct commodity code for the items being imported This will determine how much duty is to be paid and whether an import licence is needed. Use the government’s online trade tariff tool to find the relevant code.
Submit the required documentation and declare your imports Note that it can take a few weeks for inventory to clear customs.
Pay all the required taxes and customs duties. The amount to pay will be determined by factors such as the type & value of goods and their country of origin. Inventory will not be released until all taxes and duties have been paid.


How much is UK import duty?

Under current rules, UK import duty rules vary depending on where the goods being imported are coming to the UK from.

In general, goods coming to the UK from the EU (referred to as ‘acquisitions’ rather than imports) are not subject to import duty, while goods from the rest of the world are.

The system is expected to change as the UK negotiates trade deals with countries across the globe, resulting in varying arrangements and tariffs with different countries.

Importing goods from the EU

To import goods into the UK from the EU duty-free, you will need to have documentation travelling with the items at all times that proves they are EU acquisitions and originate from an EU member state. A commodity code will still be required to categorise the goods for tax and regulation purposes.

Where goods have passed through Europe, having originated from outside the EU, import duty has to be paid when they first enter the EU. Proof of payment should be retained with the goods for the duration of the journey.

Importing into the UK from outside the EU

UK import rules and tariff system for goods originating outside the EY are complex. In general, you will first need a government-issued EORI number for the goods to clear customs, which you register for online.

You then have to pay the relevant amount of import duty. The level of duty will depend on a number of factors, including the type of goods being imported, the value of the goods, how they will be used and their country of origin. Some goods are exempt from duty, such as books.

Duty is payable in GBP.

You will also need to identify the relevant commodity code and then declared the arrival of the goods to customs.

Minimum thresholds

The UK operates minimum thresholds for business imports, below which duties and VAT may not be payable.

The thresholds depend on the value of the goods and how they were transported to the UK.

Goods with a value of more than GBP 18 that are transported by air, sea or road freight are subject to VAT and duty.

Goods imported by post that are valued above GBP 135 are due VAT and import duty, whereas those valued below GBP 15 do not incur VAT or duty (except for alcohol, tobacco and perfume, which are VAT payable). For goods valued between GBP 15.01 and GBP 135, VAT is payable but import duty is not.

Documents needed for customs

The following forms will need to be completed to clear customs:

C88 form

To declare your goods, you will need to complete form C88. This applies to all importers and agents. the form requires information about all parties involved in importing and transporting the inventory.

To certify the inventory as cleared, the customs official will stamp the paper C88 form or, if the form was submitted electronically via (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight), an Entry Acceptance Advice will be issued as proof of acceptance and clearance by customs.

Once accepted, all relevant taxes and duties must be paid in GBP before the inventory can be released.

Businesses that import regularly generally use a Deferment Account to make the payments.

Suppliers invoice

A copy of the invoice must be provided for VAT purposes.

The invoice has to comply with British standards. This includes stating clearly that the document is an invoice, with a date of issue, reference number and details of the supplier and purchaser.

Commodity code

The goods are to be classified appropriately to ensure that the correct tariff is applied.


An import licence is required for certain, restricted goods, even when originating from the EU. Examples include firearms, animal products and medicine. If any special licences are required to import the goods, these will need to be provided.


Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal or financial 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 or other advice should be sought.

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