Academy Import

1. How do I start importing goods to the UK?

How do I start importing goods to the UK?

If you want to start importing goods from overseas, either to sell on or to process into new goods, a bit of pre-planning can really helpto smooth the way.

Here’s a few of our top tips to get you started:

Do your research

Whether it’s clothes to immediately resell or soya for your vegan food products, do your research to decide exactly what it is you want to bring into the country.

There are rules about what can be imported, and it’s important to make sure all the paperwork is correct. You need to make customs declarations on everything you import, and there might be excise duty or VAT to pay (more on this here).

Before you bring anything into the country though, you need to find a supplier. Don’t be tempted to just go for the cheapest quote you get – the quality might not be what you need, and the supplier might not be reliable enough to fulfil the contract.

Ask around, seek references and do thorough checks on anyone you are dealing with, and make sure there is no ambiguity in what you require. You also need to make sure the price you are paying leaves you enough of a margin to still make a profit.

Financial backing

Whatever you are importing, and wherever you are getting it from, you will invariably have to pay for the goods you import before you start earning money from them, and you could be out of pocket for a considerable time.

There are various ways you can cover this shortfall. The most obvious is to build up enough cash reserves to keep your business going until you get paid for your finished goods, but this isn’t always easy or practical, especially for a small business or one that is just getting established.

A loan can help you bridge the gap – the British Business Bank is government-backed and exists to help businesses with cash flow issues, and there are lots of options from traditional banks and investment companies. Your IT systems and bank accounts will probably need to be able to handle transactions in different currencies.

Other resource considerations

Money isn’t the only resource you need to consider. You will need to make sure you have enough staff to process the goods after they arrive, and get them out again to your customers. You might also need warehousing space, and a reliable shipping contractor in place.

You will also need someone who has enough knowledge of the rules and regulations to make sure your paperwork is in order.

A good freight forwarder like us can handle letters of credit, shipping documents and ownership of products, and can control freight until all documentation and payments have been concluded.

Take a look at our next article on the Global Freight Trade Academy to check if there are any restrictions on the items you want to import.

Or to have a chat with our friendly, knowledgeable team call 01952 270699.

2. Are there any restrictions on the products I want to import?

Before attempting to import goods from another country, understanding in advance a bit about import regulations will help save a lot of time and money.

It’s important to know what type of goods you are looking to import – are they hazardous and are there rules about handling it.

Some goods are restricted and need licences or certificates before you can bring them into the country so it’s important to check the regulations before you import anything – the penalties for importing unlicensed goods can be heavy.

Licences and certificates

Some of the things which will need a licence or certificate are:

  • Animals and animal products
  • Plants and plant products
  • High-risk food
  • Medicines and controlled drugs
  • Waste
  • Hazardous or volatile substances
  • Guns, knives, swords and weapon


Both you and the person sending the goods to you need to be fully aware of the rules surrounding labelling.

Falsely or incorrectly labelling the consignment could result in your shipment being delayed or rejected at customs.

Still unsure about whether you need a licence or a certificate for the goods you want to import, then get in touch with our friendly, knowledgeable team on 01952 270699.

3. Is my company ready for import?

As with all new processes and procedures, there are a few basic things you’ll need to get set up within your company to be able to start importing goods from around the globe.

 EORI number

The single most important thing you’ll need is an Economic Operators Registration and Identification number (EORI number) that starts with GB to import goods into England, Walesor Scotland.

If you already have an EORI but it doesn’t start with GB, you’ll need to get a new one before you can start importing.

Rules for Northern Ireland changed after Brexit – if you’re moving goods into or out of Northern Ireland, you might need to get an EORI number that starts with XI.

To get an EORI number you will need to be able to show that your business is established in the country you want to import into.

The good news is, it’s really simple to apply for an EORI number and unless any checks are needed on your application, you should receive it within five working days. To apply for yours now visit HMRC here.

Still unsure about what you need to do to get started then get in touch with our friendly, knowledgeable team for advice on 01952 270699 or email

4. What mode of transport do I use to import products to the UK?

The mode of transport you use to import will depend largely on your product – its size, weight, fragility and how quickly you want to get it.

The main methods to move goods are by air, sea, road or, for small items, by courier.

Planes, trains and automobiles


Moving goods by air has the advantage of being quick, so is perfect for time sensitive logistics. Consignments can be sent via direct or in-direct flights, and consignments of various sizes can be transported using passenger, cargo and chartered flights.


The most used mode of transport is sea freight. Large container vessels circumnavigate the globe transporting everything from wine to food, to trainers and televisions. More freight is moved in this way than any other mode and this is by far the greenest mode of transport.

Consignments are moved in shipping containers of various sizes as well as loose cargo. Sea freight options are a lengthier transit but offer value for money for those not so urgent consignments.


Road freight is the most popular route for importsinto the UK and from the EU. Using the extensive roll on roll off ferry services, goods can arrive from Ireland, mainland Europe and beyond relatively quickly and at a lower cost than air freight.


Courier services offer transport options for documents and small cargo. This could be local, national or indeed Internationally. Quick collection together with quick transit and delivery times makes this an attractive optionif you want to receive your goods quickly.

There’s some more useful information on all these services including container sizes for shipments and pallet sizes here.

Who you gonna call?

As your goods will be travelling from far away and with lots of links in the import chain, there are various costs and logistics which can make importing tricky to navigate.

As a trusted freight forwarder, we can advise on the best way to transport your goods, make sure you have all the right paperwork in place to avoid any hiccups along the way.

Give us a call on 01952 270699 or email

5. What is a customs declaration and do I need to make one?

Once you’ve decided what goods you want to import into the UK, you will need to make a customs declaration. Failure to do this properly could cause delays, incur extra costs or even mean your goods are rejected at the border.

Anything to declare?

Generally, you need to make a customs declaration for all goods which you are bringing into the UK permanently. The declaration will cover what the goods are, and how much excise duty, or import tax, and VAT you will need to pay.

Post-Brexit, there are different rules in place for goods which come from Northern Ireland even though it is part of the UK.

Who declares?

You will need to decide whether you are going to make your customs declaration yourself, or hire someone to do it for you.

The do-it-yourself option is obviously cheaper, but employing someone with the technical knowledge needed to cover all bases can save you time, stress and money in the long run.

Details, details!

There are a number of important pieces of information which must be included on your customs declaration, such as your EORI number, the commodity codes of the goods, and the amount of duty you owe.

As mentioned in our previous article, before importing, you will need an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number beginning with GB.

You’ll also need to include the commodity code on your import declaration. More on this in our next article on the Global Freight Academy.

You will also need to work out the value of your consignment to calculate accurately how much duty you should pay.

It is also very important that your goods are labelled correctly, so make sure the person sending the goods to you is aware of all the regulations.

Any certificates or licences that are needed to import your goods should also be kept with the customs declaration, as well as invoices.

You must keep all commercial invoices, declarations and licences for goods you import, as well as evidence of ownership for controlled goods such as firearms.

While it’s important to get your customs declarations right, the process doesn’t have to be difficult and if you need help, we’re alwayson hand. Our friendly, knowledgeable team can be contacted on 01952 270699 or email

6. What is a commodity code and why are they important?

If you want to start importing goods into the UK, you’ll need to understand a little bit about commodity codes and why they are important.

This brief guide should help:

What is a commodity code?

Commodity codes are the key to getting goods into and out of the country. They are internationally recognised reference numbers, which quickly identify what is in a consignment and help with the calculation of excise duty.

The code applies to a specific product and is used on any import declaration. It is used to work out the rate of customs duty and import VAT, taxes and any preferential rates which might apply, so it is important to get it right.

Lots of countries are signed up to the system, but only the first six digits are used worldwide – the commodity code from an overseas supplier might be different to the UK code for the same product, so will need to be checked.


Do I have to do it myself?

The process for finding the correct commodity code can be complicated. You can hire a specialist to help you, such as a freight forwarder like us here at Global Freight, a customs agent or broker or a fast parcel operator, depending on what you are moving and where.

Whether you find the commodity code yourself or employ someone else to do it, the code must appear on each consignment you send and the paperwork.

Failure to display the code, or displaying the wrong code, could lead to delays, extra costs or your consignment being rejected at customs completely.

It pays to get it right!

Still unsure about what you need to do then get in touch with our friendly, knowledgeable team for advice on 01952 270699 or email

7. How do I pay duties and taxes on imported goods

Paying your dues

Bringing goods into the UK without making a customs declaration and, if needed, paying excise duty and VAT, is smuggling and is a criminal offence.

But, there are steps you can take to reduce or delay the amount of duty you need to pay and, if you overpay for any reason, you can apply for a full refund.

There is no duty, or reduced rates, when you import from some countries with which the UK has a trade agreement. To take advantage of these rates, you must make sure that you use the correct commodity code and that your goods meet the rules of origin – can you prove that they originated in the relevant country?

If you do make a declaration using these preferential rates, you must keep all the relevant paperwork for at least four years, including a copy of the declaration, proof of origin and all supporting documents, in case HMRC makes a check.

There are other situations which might mean no duty is payable, such as on goods which are being imported for repair, or goods which are only being brought into the country temporarily.

An experienced freight forwarder can help you navigate all of the options, so if you’re looking for some friendly, knowledgeable advice, do get in touch with us on 01952 270699 or email