Customs requirements for importing checklist

November 4, 2020
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5-min read

Currently, businesses can move goods freely between EU countries without the need for customs declarations or the payment of duties.

From 11pm on the 31 December 2020, when the Brexit transition period ends, customs declarations will be required to move goods from the EU to GB (import procedures) or GB to the EU (export procedures).

To move goods from GB to Northern Ireland, simplified declarations will be required, however moving goods from Northern Ireland to GB will not require completion of declarations, except for controlled goods.

Customs declarations shall be required regardless of a Free Trade Agreement being reached with the EU.

This breaks down the customs requirements for importing goods, so please familiarise yourself with the process, if your business is currently, or is planning to import goods from the EU or NI, to ensure you're prepared.

1. Obtain an EORI Number

Ensure your business has an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) Number. An EORI number is required for any business trading outside the UK from 11pm on 31 December 2020. Your EORI number will start with GB, followed by your VAT number and three additional numbers at the end (ie GB 234567896000).  The EORI number is used on all customs declarations. If you haven't got one, apply now. It takes 10 minutes online.

You also need to consider if your EU suppliers have got an EU EORI number, this will also be required for any business trading outside the EU. Where a UK business is exporting from GB and also acting as importer on record into the EU, they will need an EU EORI number. Only one EU EORI number will be required for all EU Member States.

To move goods to or from Northern Ireland from 1 January 2021, you will need an EORI number that starts with XI. You will already require an EORI number that starts with GB. If a business already has a GB EORI number and HMRC considers it will require an XI EORI, HMRC will automatically issue one in mid-December 2020.

2. Classify your products using commodity codes

This is an 8-digit code for exports and a 10-digit code for imports. The code system is developed by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) to classify goods into approximately 5,000 different commodity groups. It is crucial to cite the correct commodity code, since this code is used to identify your product, applicable duty rates, licensing requirements or quotas. If cited incorrectly, this could result in delays at the border, disgruntled customers and penalties from HMRC.  

If you experience difficulty determining the appropriate commodity code, assistance can be sought from HMRC, however this is informal advice and not legally binding. To obtain a legally binding decision, you can apply for a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) decision, however this can take between 30-60 days for a decision, potentially longer at present.


The General Interpretative Rules (GIRs) are a set of 6 rules to ensure uniform interpretation of the Harmonised System for accurate classification of goods.

Most products are classified under Rule 1, which states a commodity code is determined by reading the section, chapter notes and heading descriptions.

If you are unable to find a commodity code that represents goods (i.e. a new product) go through GIRs 2-6 in sequence.

If still encountering difficulty check with:

  • Registered Binding Tariff Information rulings for information about existing BTIs
  • Apply for an informal opinion from HMRC
  • Apply for a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) which will be valid for 3 years and is binding on all customs administrators and the holder.

Once you have classified the product and identified the appropriate commodity code, it is recommended you establish a schedule of regular reviews to ensure nothing has changed within the classification, sign up to tariff updates by RSS feed and keep records of your classification decision by reference to a decision tree (see example below).

Commercial Invoices

Are you aware of the changes required to commercial invoicing from 11pm on 31 December 2020? A commercial invoice is the one document that everyone uses to glean information from required by Freight Forwarders, Chambers of Commerce, Customs and Customer for payment.

The commercial invoice must include:

  • Commercial invoice number
  • Commercial invoice date
  • Seller name and address
  • Seller EORI number
  • Buyer name and address
  • Buyer EORI number
  • Country of origin of the goods
  • Number of packages
  • Type of packages
  • Description of goods
  • Gross weight
  • Net weight
  • Volume
  • Goods value and currency
  • Incoterms
  • Commodity codes and breakdown:
  • Commodity code / No. of pieces / Gross weight / Net weight / Value

3. Determine the value of your goods Landed Cost'

This is the cost that customs duties are levied on. The calculation is based on the value of goods (less any discounts) + insurance + freight + delivery costs to the customer's location.

4. Duty Deferment Account (DDA)

This enables importers to defer payment of duties, (excise duty, customs duty and import VAT) for up to 45 days and pay through Direct Debit rather than on individual consignments, easing cash flow. Application is made to HMRC. You will need to estimate the guarantee required, calculated according to how much customs duty, excise duty and import VAT will be chargeable on a monthly basis, double this and approach your bank, building society or insurance company to bank guarantee this figure. If an insufficient guarantee is sought, your goods could be stopped at the border.  

Customs Comprehensive Guarantee (CCG)

New rules are being introduced to allow most traders to use a duty deferment without a Customs Comprehensive Guarantee. This is done through a guarantee waiver application and compliance and solvency checks. There are two schemes:

  • Approval for a guarantee waiver to defer customs duty, import VAT and excise up to £10,000 per month
  • Approval for a guarantee waiver to defer customs duty, import VAT and excise up to a specified amount over £10,000 per month

A CCG is used when customs duty and VAT is suspended, for deferment accounts when using CFSP (see below), customs warehouses, temporary storage facilities and inward processing.

5. Controlled Goods

If you supply military, dual use” or other controlled products or you obtain such goods from suppliers in the EU, either you or your suppliers may need licences, prior to notifications or registrations in order to continue with such trade after the transition period. Such requirements could give rise to delays whilst the relevant conditions are complied with.

6. Establish the origin of your goods

Rules of origin are required to determine how much duty is payable on imports dependent upon where the goods have originated from. Goods imported from certain countries may qualify for preferential treatment, attracting a reduced or zero rate duty.

Rules of origin use two classifications - preferential and non-preferential.

Preferential rules of origin are used where a free trade agreement (FTA) exists between the importer and exporter of the goods. The aim of an FTA is to give preferential access for goods between parties in the agreement.

Non-preferential rules of origin apply according to the economic nationality of the goods. It is often used to determine the origin of the goods and monitor commercial policy measures (anti-dumping or quantity restrictions).

7. Customs procedure code (CPC)

The Customs Procedure Code (CPC) is a 7-digit code used to identify the reason for export/import and applicable customs regime. The code describes the shipment and how it will be processed by customs. It will also indicate whether duties or taxes are to be collected, suspended or waived.  

If a CPC is cited incorrectly on a customs declaration in CHIEF, changes can be made any time before the import or export has been accepted by the system. It is crucial the code is correct, otherwise it could impact the way goods are handled by customs, whether duty and VAT need to be paid, whether duty can be reclaimed and additional responsibilities for an importer.

CPC Code examples

CPC Code 10 00 001 is the standard export procedure

CPC code 51 00 000 for goods imported under Inward Processing

CPC code 40 00 000 for goods imported for home use

CPC code 31 51 000 goods being returned (re-exported) under Inward Processing or Simplified' Inward Processing

CPC code 61 23 F01 Reimportation for entry to free circulation

CPC code 71 00 000 Customs Warehousing procedure

CPC code 06 10 040 for Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP)

8. Declare your imports to customs

An import entry is made using a Single Administrative Document (SAD)/Form C88. From 1 January 2021, importers moving non-controlled goods can use delayed declarations or complete a full customs declaration.

Those wishing to benefit from the delayed approach using the Customs Freight Simplified Procedure (CFSP) to simplify declarations and clearance, will need to make a record in their own commercial records, known as Entry in Declarants Records (EIDR). The EIDR will require all essential customs information to be captured in an excel spreadsheet. A supplementary declaration will be required within 6 months of the point of import. This will allow businesses who import non-controlled goods time to adapt. To be eligible, a duty deferment account will be required together with a good record of compliance or in the event of new traders with no compliance history, these traders will be permitted, subject to no links to previous history of non-compliance. Those with a history of serious or repeated records of non-compliance need not apply. While tariffs will need to be paid on all imports, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made.

For those importing controlled goods, including alcohol, tobacco and certain chemical products, will require full declarations and live animal and high-risk plants will require pre-notification to Customs from 1 January 2021. Controls will take place away from the GB border to avoid congestion.

Customs declarations are time consuming and complicated. The consequences of non-compliance will result in fines, penalties, potentially imprisonment, bankruptcy and strike off. Businesses may feel more comfortable using an intermediary such as freight forwarders, brokers, customs agents or fast parcel operators to submit declarations on their behalf.

Who can complete customs declarations on your behalf?

Freight Forwarders or a forwarding agent is a company that organises shipments and will arrange to clear your goods through customs. Their expertise lies in the logistics, however many can also act as customs agents.

Customs agents or brokers have expertise in international trade and are well versed with changes in rules and regulations to ensure their clients have the appropriate paperwork in order to import or export goods. Customs agents can check the classification and valuation of your goods to ensure you use the correct commodity code, can advise on necessary licences for restricted or dangerous goods, prepare and submit customs documents on your behalf and help to arrange payment of duties and VAT.

Fast Parcel Operators (FPOs) transport documents, parcels and freight across the world in a specific time frame. They can deal with customs for you, as part of their delivery.

The government publish a list of authorised customs agents and FPO's, on the GOV.UK website, although they are not approved bodies. Whomever you use, will require written instruction from you to show if they are acting directly or indirectly.

9. Import duty payments

Import duty payments may need to be paid prior to release of your goods by HMRC, unless your goods benefit from the duty suspension regime or are utilising the Duty Deferment Scheme. A Duty Deferment Account (DDA) enables importers to defer payment of duties, (excise duty, customs duty and import VAT) for up to 45 days and pay through Direct Debit rather than on individual consignments, easing cash flow. Alternatively, you may be able to utilise your logistics company duty deferment account, however this will attract additional fees.

10. Maintain records

HMRC requires all businesses to keep and preserve records and accounts for at least 4 years for customs, unless there is a criminal investigation, then the 10-year rule applies. Excise records should be kept for at least 6 years, as should VAT records. It is crucial to maintain a robust system to enable HMRC to conduct audits effectively. Records must be accurate and up to date; legible; readily accessible and available for inspection at all reasonable times. Although record-keeping is your responsibility you should be aware that if you use an agent or freight forwarder, you're liable for any incorrect information they provide to HMRC.

Customs Grant Scheme - Apply Quick! Only 10% of Funds Remaining

This is available for eligible businesses to apply for funding for recruitment, employee training and IT in preparation for additional customs declarations. The scheme closes for applications on 30 June 2021, or sooner, if funding is exhausted. The recruitment grant provides funding for the cost associated with hiring new employees to complete customs declarations or other declarations associated with the customs declaration procedure. The recruitment grant extends to recruit employees already working within your business previously unrelated to customs declarations or supporting customs work. These costs include advertising and marketing, employment agency fees, and on-boarding processes for external hires, plus gross salary costs of a newly employed member of staff up to £12,000 with a minimum 12-month contract.

Training costs are available to employees who complete customs declarations and other declarations required in the customs process in the UK or EU and to manage customs processes and use customs software and systems. External training is capped at £1000 per trainee, per training course. Internal delivered training is limited to £250 per trainee, per training course.

The IT grant provides funding towards the first year licence of packaged software solutions to increase the automation or productivity of the business, for hardware required to operate the software, to install and configure both software and hardware and software training.

Applications are made online at:

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