Customs Clearance – Import and Export UK

In the dynamic world of international trade, customs clearance plays a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth flow of goods between countries. For businesses and individuals engaged in importing and exporting to and from the United Kingdom, understanding the intricacies of customs procedures is crucial. This blog aims to provide a comprehensive guide to customs clearance, covering essential aspects such as required documents, Incoterms, cargo valuation, commodity codes, and the various tax and duty implications.

The documentation process is the cornerstone of customs clearance. Essential documents include:

  1. Commercial Invoice: Providing details of the transaction, including the description, quantity, and value of the goods.
  2. Packing List: Enumerating the contents of each package in the shipment.
  3. Bill of Lading/Airway Bill: Confirming the transportation of goods and detailing the terms of delivery.
  4. Customs Declaration: Outlining the nature of the goods, their origin, and destination.


Incoterms, or International Commercial Terms, define the responsibilities of buyers and sellers in international transactions. It is important this is established before the cargo is shipped, the incoterms play a big role in the customs clearance on import as they show the customs agent what charges VAT and Duty are applicable to. Key Incoterms include:

  1. EXW (Ex Works): Seller’s responsibility ends at the point of manufacture.
  2. FOB (Free On Board): Seller covers costs until goods are loaded onto the vessel.
  3. CIF (Cost, Insurance, Freight): Seller pays for transportation and insurance until the destination port.

Cargo Valuation:

The value of the cargo is a critical factor in determining customs duties for the customs clearance. It is typically based on the transaction value, including the cost of goods, shipping, and insurance if applicable.

Commodity Code:

Assigning the correct commodity code to goods is essential for accurate customs classification. The UK Trade Tariff provides a systematic classification of goods based on the Harmonized System (HS). It is the shipper’s responsibility to provide the correct commodity code to the customs agent acting on their behalf for the customs clearance.

UK Tax and Duty on Import:

Importers are subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) and potentially Customs Duty. VAT is calculated on the transaction value of the goods, while Customs Duty depends on the commodity code and the origin of the goods. This is why it is so important to make sure you have the correct commodity code for your goods for the import customs clearance and cargo valuation.

Tax and Duty Exemptions:

Several exemptions exist for importing into the UK, including:

  1. Transfer of Residence: Individuals relocating to the UK may be eligible for duty relief on personal belongings. You will need to apply for a TOR (Transfer of Residence) on the GOV UK website and be able to provide the TOR reference number to your customs agent.
  2. US Military Members with Orders: Certain military personnel enjoy exemptions under specific conditions, meaning they will not be subject to import VAT and Duty.
  3. Temporary Admissions: Goods intended for temporary use may be granted relief from duties. You will need to apply for a temporary admission on the GOV UK website and have the approval letter from HMRC to give to your customs agent as proof for the customs clearance.

Successfully navigating the customs clearance process is essential for businesses engaging in international trade to and from the UK. By understanding the required documents, Incoterms, cargo valuation, commodity codes, and the associated tax and duty implications, importers and exporters can streamline their operations and ensure compliance with UK customs regulations. Additionally, exploring potential exemptions can provide valuable cost-saving opportunities for specific scenarios, such as individuals moving to the UK or members of the US military with orders. With this comprehensive guide, businesses can embark on their international trade journeys with confidence and efficiency.

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