Importing from the EU

UK imports from the EU have permanently changed under the UK-EU TCA which came into effect on 1 January 2021.

The headlines on Christmas Eve 2020 all focused on that duty free trade had been agreed with Europe provided companies met the rules of origin. Every trade deal includes a clause on claiming origin and they can vary by agreement and by product within each agreement. Rules of origin are the criteria needed to determine the national source of a product. Their importance is derived from the fact that duties and restrictions depend upon the origin of the goods.


During 2020 the government introduced the Border Operating Model as a guide to how the border with the EU would work post transition. They introduced a new staged approach to imports with effect from 1st January 2021. While there was and will still be considerable changes that importers will need to adjust to, the Border Operating Model introduced some of the changes in stages:

October 2021:
Pre-notification requirements for Products of Animal Origin (POAO), certain animal by-products (ABP), and High-Risk Food Not of Animal Origin (HRFNAO)
Export Health Certificate requirements for POAO and certain ABP will come into force on the same date.

January 2022:
Extending the option for business to use deferred declarations for up to 6 months after the goods have been imported until Jan 2022
Safety and Security Declarations
Physical SPS checks for POAO, certain ABP, and HRFNAO will not be required until 1 January 2022. At that point they will take place at Border Control Posts.

March 2022:
From March 2022, checks at Border Control Posts will take place on live animals and low risk plants and plant products.
Once this all comes into force then then everything will default to the agreed terms within the TCA.

Around 143,000 companies in the UK previously traded with the EU and have or had no experience in import or export documentation. Post transition there have been difficulties on both sides of the channel which hopefully we are now seeing subside. However, there it seems that some traders are still oblivious to the requirements for customs documentation. Every shipment coming into the UK now requires import customs clearance, failure to do so will incur penalties.

In addition, all imports require a Safety and Security Declaration (SSD) used by border authorities to analyse the potential risk caused to their territory by goods crossing their border. It is not about the duties and taxes.


If you do not already have one, apply for an EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification system) number issued by HMRC (it starts with GB). It is simple to apply online and takes only a few minutes.

Check if your goods need an import licence/certificate, for example if you are selling food or livestock?

Appoint someone to handle your customs clearance, you can do this yourselves but there is an investment needed in software and training which would usually only suit larger importers. An intermediary can be your logistics company or an independent broker or organisations such as the local Chamber of Commerce.

You can at this point decide to either submit a full declaration or delay it for six months.  If you are not importing regularly, it is recommended that a full declaration is done at the time of import.

Classify your goods and obtain the commodity code (also referred to as a tariff number).  This can be done through the UKGT (UK Global Tariff) and assistance can be provided by HMRC if you are unsure how to do so.

If duty is payable, you can either pay this at the time of import or apply for a duty deferment account.

Import VAT is also payable on most imports and can either be paid on arrival, through a deferment account or, Postponed VAT accounting (PVA).  Postponed VAT accounting is a way for UK VAT-registered businesses to account for import VAT on their VAT Return rather than paying it immediately upon entry of the goods into the UK.

Finally, ensure that you have an invoice with full value, terms of trade (INCOTERMS), and commodity code shown. If you are claiming duty free entry through EU origin the invoice must show the correct declaration as per the TCA as follows:

The exporter of the products covered by this document (Exporter’s reference number ERN) declares that, except where otherwise clearly indicated, these products are of UK preferential origin.

In the EU the ERN will be the exporters Registered Exporter (REX) number. These are allocated if the exporter has exports consignments with a total value exceeding 6,000 euros.

If in doubt we are available to help. 


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