container shipping

If you’re new to importing, here’s an overview of the steps involved in getting your goods through customs and paying any duties or taxes involved. Your goods may also need a clean bill of health from the Port Health and other authorities like Trading Standards, Forestry Commission and Animal & Plant Health Agency before the goods can be released to you – so we’ll cover that as well.


HM Revenue & Customs can be a pretty daunting organisation to deal with. But don’t worry Enquire if you don’t have a customs agent, we can deal with them on your behalf.

We’ll need your help in compiling all the information needed for customs clearance.

Your information will be compiled into a customs entry that we’ll send electronically to HM Revenue & Customs with a follow-up with any original paperwork they require.

HMRC may come back with more questions, but the information we supply will often be sufficient for them to release your goods to you.

In some cases, they might want to examine the goods and/or containers involved Enquire to make sure the goods are what you say they are and to ensure that nothing untoward has been hidden in the shipment on-route to the UK.

Useful information on HMRC website

The information we need

Your EORI number.The EORI number is allocated by HM Revenue & Customs and will uniquely identify an importer and exporter to HM Revenue & Customs and to authorities controlling other borders your goods might cross.

All types of businesses big or small, whether they are Limited companies or Sole Traders, if they are Importing or Exporting should be registered and have an EORI number. If you’re already registered for VAT, your EORI number will be linked to your VAT registration number. However, just because you are VAT registered does not mean you are EORI registered they are two different registrations and are completed by different departments of HM Revenue & Customs.

Check if your VAT Number is also registered for EORI

The EORI application process is available on the HMRC website, a search for ‘Get an EORI number’ would give you a link to the HMRC website or

Businesses and Traders registered for VAT can apply here

Non VAT Registered Businesses, Sole Traders or Individuals can apply here

Additional Information available from HM Revenue & Customs website here

Personal Imports Enquire do I need an EORI?

A private individual importing items for their own personal use or consumption or where goods are not for any commercial purpose would in most situations not need an EORI number.

A customs commodity code

HM Revenue & Customs use the Commodity Code to determine the rates of duty and VAT payable on goods imported into the UK.

The codes are listed in Volume 2 of the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom. and also on the EU Taric data

UK tariff codes consist of 10-digits, they identify items being shipped in a way that every customs authority understands.

The process of choosing a code can be fairly straightforward, but some types of goods can be very confusing especially if you have limited knowledge of the tariff.

You can contact the HM Revenue & Customs Tariff Classification Service on email for advice

Freight and insurance costs

Customs need the details of the amount you paid to transport and insure the goods from the point of origin to the port of arrival in the UK. This amount is used to calculate and determine the amount of import duty and VAT you have to pay.

Deferment authority

You can either pay duty or VAT amount directly to HM Revenue & Customs or it can be charged to something known as a Deferment account Enquire like a ‘bar-tab’ you open with HM Revenue & Customs.

If you have a deferment account, we will need written authority from you to charge any Duty and VAT to this account.

If you don’t have a deferment account, don’t worry Enquire there are other ways to pay.

Talk to us and we’ll provide a solution for you.

Bill of lading (original bill of lading)

When agents, air- or shipping lines overseas accept goods for shipment they issue the exporter with a Bill of Lading or Air waybill this is like a receipt and it also forms part of a contract of terms and conditions under which shipping- and air-lines agree the movement of your goods.

Bills of Lading can be issued as originals or more commonly as a Sea Waybill or Express Bill. If you have an Original Bill of Lading issued at Origin then the shipper must forward these to you so you as consignee can surrender the Originals to the line to enable your goods to be release to you from their control. If the goods are on an Express Bill or Sea waybills you do not have to present a Bill of Lading just satisfy the line that you are the consignee and are entitled to the goods.

So if an original bill has been issued we will require you to send the Original Bill document to us or direct to carrier or liner agent to release your goods once it has arrived in the UK. The Bill of Lading proves you have ownership of the goods.

The firm or individual that exported the goods will normally send the Bill of Lading directly to you by post, but if purchase of the goods was arranged using a letter of credit, you will need to get Bill of Lading from the bank involved with the Letter of Credit.

Commercial invoice

The person or company who sold the goods to you, often referred to as the Supplier, Shipper or Consignor must give you an invoice showing at least:

The supplier’s name and contact details.
Your name and contact details.
A description of the goods.
A statement of the number of packages they are packed in.
The value of the goods Enquire both value and currency.
HM Revenue &Customs have rules of how goods are valued for Import Duty & VAT calculations, these are available here

The Terms of Shipment

Normally the Incoterms 2010 are used. For example, CIF (cost, insurance and freight) or FOB (free on board)

Details of the shipment, such as the name of the vessel and the container number.

Packing list

Your supplier should send you a packing list. For customs purposes, it should include:

The supplier’s name and contact details.
Your name and contact details.
A description of the goods.
The number of packages included in the shipment.
The net (total) weight.
Details of any shipping marks.
Details of the shipment, such as the name of the vessel and the container number.
We might also require…

In some cases additional documentation will be required.

An original preference certificate

Preference certificates entitle importers to a reduced rates of duty.

The reduction is only applicable to certain types of goods from certain countries. There are several different types of certificate. The main ones are the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) certificate and the EUR.1 certificate.

If your goods can be considered as preference and we are arranging the shipment we can help you by getting the Certificate raised and stamped/endorsed in the country of origin.

Original certificate of origin

In some cases, you will need to prove the country of origin of the goods. This is particularly the case if you are importing textiles.

Like preference certificates, certificates of origin are issued by authorities in the countries where the goods come from.

Again, we can help you to get the paperwork, if you need it.

Original import licence

When you choose a customs commodity code, you may find out that for some types of goods you require an Import licence to import your goods. For the majority of goods you don’t require an import licence.

Port Health & other Agencies & Authorities

The movement of goods through ports and airports is governed by HM Revenue & Customs and local Port Health authority together with a few authorities such as Trading Standards, Forestry Commission and Animal & Plant Health Agency.

These authorities take a particular interest in shipments of specific commodities for example foodstuffs, animal products, plants, electrical goods, copyright goods. This is all to ensure commodities are of a standard and meet legislative requirements in the UK and EU.

For the majority of products of non- animal or plant- origin all that is required to customs clear and release your goods are copies of the commercial invoice and Bill of Lading to identify the goods.

For food or food ingredients be it fresh, frozen or chilled Enquire for example, eggs, milk, animal skins, meat, honey and mayonnaise Enquire the authorities will need a more details, please take a look at our guide on Food, Fruit & Vegetable, Goods of Animal origin to assist you further.

Customs Clearance

The final clearance and release from the UK Border Force and HM Revenue & Customs is only approved once all Authorities and Governing bodies at the Port Border have released their control on the goods.

After clearance

When applicable duty or tax has been paid and your cargo has been released by Customs and the Airline or Shipping Lines have received the Original Bill of Lading or Express release waybill the goods will be ready for delivery.

It’s up to you to arrange delivered of your goods. You can ask us to assist you, or you might want to arrange this yourselves or make your own collection at the port. Please note some types of goods are not possible to collect direct from the port.

Either way, an appointment needs to be made for the goods to be collected and the shipping line or airline’s costs must to be paid in advance. In most cases will can do this for you.

For a full container load, bookings can be made to pick up the container from a port at an allotted time period. For less than a container load or Airfreight, we normally get a delivery date and offer either a morning or an afternoon delivery slot. Timed deliveries can be arranged and also specific handling or delivery vehicles can be provided.

Please note

If your cargo is not collected from the port or warehouse within a certain free period of time, rent and demurrage will be charged. This free time varies from line to line, but is normally between five and seven days, however there are some shipments which can be as little 3 days. For airfreight goods it is only 24 hours!

To avoid these costs, please discuss your delivery requirements as soon as you can with us and ideally a week before your goods due to arrive in the UK. Send the documentation to us as early as possible Enquire preferably, before the consignment arrives, so we can prepare the import process. This will leave us time to calculate the costs and sort out any problems with the documentation.

Customs Clearance Documents Required for Importing and Exporting

Customs Clearance Documents
Whether you are importing or exporting it is imperative to have the right paperwork in place whilst transporting cargo. Time is money and the last thing you want to happen is problems with your shipments! Missing or inaccurate documents can lead to delays and extra costs, or even prevent a shipment from arriving at all. When it comes to running a business that imports, exports, or both, you need to understand what paperwork is required. Even if you use a freight forwarder or a customs agent, it’s still up to you to make sure the right documentation is prepared and available upon demand.

Required Documents
The documents required for shipments being imported and exported are the commercial invoice, bill of lading or airway bill, packing list, insurance documents, and, when required, special certificates of origin, sanitation, phytosanitary, etc.

Also be sure to include all necessary information on your commercial invoice, since this is how customs authorities will identify and process your shipment. Something that should always be taken into consideration is that unclear descriptions are a common reason for shipments being held without customs clearance. This means that a clear description of the goods is important, the description should be able to be easily understood by an individual who may not necessarily understand a particular industry or article. A description of goods should satisfy three basic questions: what the product is, for what is it used, and what is it made of.

Vital Documentation for International Trade
The right paperwork is an important part of being paid in a timely fashion.
It is important that there is a clear written contract between the buyer and seller, including details of the shipment delivery address, terms of sale, quantities, weights and parties involved etc
It’s possible that specific documents may be needed for your goods to pass through customs, and to determine the right duty and tax charges. There may be requirements both for the country the goods are being exported from and the country they are being imported into.
Different goods can be eligible for duty preferences with the right certification
Goods may require additional certification such as Certificates of compliance, Health and or processing certificates, Organic certificates etc. This all demands upon the type of products that you are importing or exporting and it is always better to do your research and ensure that you are familiar with the industry-specific requirements.
It’s of the utmost importance to have a strong working relationship with any business partners operating in countries that you are shipping to and from, having the correct paperwork in place on both ends is imperative. Shipments from EU countries can usually be brought into the UK with minimal paperwork. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to ask your supplier to send a copy of the invoice and any other transit documentation.

VAT is paid on imports from outside the EU to HM Revenue and Customs at the same rates as goods within the UK. If you are registered for VAT you can reclaim this in the same way as you would for goods purchased within the UK. Instead of having a VAT invoice from your supplier, HMRC provides a form C79 demonstrating the VAT that was paid. The exports of goods are generally zero-rated in regard to VAT. It is important that you keep copies of your VAT invoices and proof of goods you’ve exported. This helps you prove that your shipment left the country, and that you do not have to pay any output VAT on them.

Please contact 0207 856 0589 to discuss your requirements or alternatively email

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Express Freight Forwarders Ltd
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