Top Tips for Importers

Competitive rates combined with high quality overseas manufacturing, has created an influx of many UK, Irish and EU firms sourcing products from newly industrialised countries such as Brazil, India and China to name but a few.

There are a number of challenges to overcome for first time Importers, such as the mechanics of ordering and paying for the respective product, declaring the goods to Customs and paying the import duty (if applicable), VAT and any other charges which may be due. For customs purposes the word import defines the process of bringing goods from outside the EU into the EU. Goods moving between the EU are described as acquisitions.

Imports must be formally declared or entered to Customs. Import entries are usually submitted electronically by a forwarder.

Most importers will employ an import agent/forwarder to declare the goods to Customs on their behalf and to calculate the taxes due. Once the taxes have been paid the goods can be released from Customs control to free circulation within the EU. Whilst the VAT paid at importation is usually recoverable on the VAT return, other charges are not, so any mistake made will affect the bottom line. Furthermore whilst Customs can raise assessments for underpaid import duty (capped at three years) it is much more difficult to recover overpaid duty. The message therefore is get it right first time!

Information about importing to the UK can be found on the HMRC website There is also a useful HMRC publication which Neptune Shipping Agency recommend called ìBreaking down the Barriers’ which can be downloaded from their website.

The following top tips will help importers get it right:

  • Get your tariff classification right
  • Imported goods are classified using a ten-digit commodity code (sometimes known as a tariff heading) which is entered on the import declaration.
  • There are in excess 65,000 commodity codes.
  • All goods from carpets to computers, no matter how obscure will have a commodity code. Codes are internationally agreed and detailed for customs purposes. The code will determine both the duty payable and any restrictions (such as the need for an import licence) that apply to the goods. Getting the code wrong will result in the wrong amount of duty being payable. 
  • You can check the respective commodity code at:
  • There are also HMRC classification guides for certain products which are available at: (Guidance from HMRC can be found in Notice 600).

Get the value right

  • Import duty is chargeable on the CIF (cost, insurance and freight) value of shipping the imported goods to the port of importation. This value must be adjusted to take into account costs such as royalty and licence fees and materials supplied free of charge to the manufacturer, which must be added to the import value whilst buying commission and post importation transport costs can be deducted from the import value.
  • The value will not be accepted as an open market value if the importer is related to the seller. A special valuation method may therefore need to be agreed. There are 6 methods of valuation for importation purposes which must be used in strict sequence. Getting the value wrong will result in the incorrect amount of duty being made payable (Guidance from HMRC can be found in Notice 252).

Claim preferential duty rates

  • Many developing countries or countries in the process of joining the European Union have preferential trade agreements with the EU. Under these agreements goods that meet the specific origin rules can be imported into the EU at a reduced or nil rate of duty provided a valid preference certificate issued in the exporting country is obtained and submitted with the import entry.
  • Customs may check preference documents if they suspect that the origin rules have not been met. 
  • If documents are subsequently found to be incorrectly issued additional duty and penalties may be payable.
  • Some preferential duty rates may be subject to a tariff quota. This is a pre-set value or quantity of goods, which may be imported into the EU during a specified period at a reduced rate of duty. When the quota is exhausted the full rate of duty will be payable.

Check out any import licensing restrictions

  • A number of goods require a licence before they can be imported into the EU. Licensable goods include goods from countries where the EU wishes to control and limit quantities or values imported, certain Ozone depleting substances need a European Commission Licence, and certain timber and forestry products are subject to a Forestry Commission Licence.
  • If a licence is needed and is not presented at the time of importation, the goods cannot be released from Customs control. Failure to apply for a licence before the goods arrive can therefore delay importation and increase port storage rent charges.

Apply for a Duty deferment account

  • Customs duties, import VAT and other charges payable at import must be paid or deferred before the goods can be removed from Customs control. Payment may be made to Customs direct although many importers make payment through their import agent who will use a duty deferment account.
  • A duty deferment account is a trade facilitation measure, which can defer payment of duties and VAT payable at import by between 2 and 6 weeks in order to speed up the importation process. Importers have a monthly credit limit. Once approved by Customs a Deferment Approval Number (DAN) is given and instead of paying the agent the charges due at import, importers need only quote their DAN on the import entry. Customs will then debit the designated bank account on the 15th of the following month for the charges payable. 
  • Importers must give Customs a financial guarantee for the maximum expected charges due in a calendar month. The guarantee can be topped up for a period if higher imports are expected e.g. to cope with Christmas trading (Guidance from the UK HMRC can be found in Notice 101).

Apply for simplified import VAT accounting (SIVA)

  • In the UK, for approved SIVA importers the guarantee required for duty deferment will be based on the duty and other charges payable excluding the VAT element. SIVA approval therefore reduces the cost of operating duty deferment (Guidance from UK HMRC can be found on the HMRC website).

Apply for general valuation statements (C109) 

  • Importers must submit a formal valuation declaration with each import entry. For businesses who import from the same supplier on a regular basis, it is possible to submit a long term or a season ticket 3 year valuation statement setting out the basis of valuation. This is called a General Valuation Statement (GVS) and avoids the need to submit valuation statements with each entry (Guidance from HMRC can be found in Notice 251).

Check out any import duty relief

  • There are a number of schemes that relieve, or delay payment of, import duty and / or VAT on goods, which are permanently or temporarily imported in certain circumstances. Relief is claimed via a special customs procedure code on the import entry
  • Common reliefs are: Inward processing relief; goods imported for processing /repair and re-export and Temporary imports, goods for exhibition etc. returned goods relief for goods being returned to the original supplier (Guidance as to the scope and nature of reliefs available can be found on the UK HMRC website).