Customs requirements, duties and VAT you must pay to export goods to a 'third country' outside the EU.
If you export goods to countries outside the EU (known as ‘third countries’), you must have the appropriate licences and make export declarations to customs through the National Export System (NES). You must also make sure that VAT, import taxes and duties in the destination country are paid where necessary, and follow transport procedures, though this is normally the responsibility of the importing person or company. There are a number of export procedures, such as duty relief schemes which can benefit businesses.
VAT on exports and other taxes
When a third country receives your goods, it may charge duty. A third country may also charge their own equivalent of VAT or purchase tax.
For more information, see the guide on exports, dispatches and supplying goods abroad: charging VAT.
Zero-rating your goods
You can usually zero-rate goods you are exporting out of the EU as long as you:
- ensure they leave the EU within set time limits (typically three months)
- keep satisfactory evidence of their departure
- hold sufficient evidence from your accounting records to prove that a transaction has taken place
- keep official evidence of export - either the Goods Departure Message for goods leaving the EU direct from the UK (direct exports) or, for goods leaving the EU via other member states (indirect exports), an Export Accompanying Document (EAD). The EAD must be stamped by customs in the last member state where the goods exit the EU - the Office of Exit
Ultimately, the VAT treatment will depend on whether you’re exporting the goods directly or indirectly, when you organise delivery and when your customer arranges collection.
Common Agricultural Policy
For exports of agricultural goods and processed foods covered by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), you may be entitled to a refund or required to pay a levy. See Exporting Common Agricultural Policy goods. You may also have to apply for a licence to export certain goods above a defined quantity. Find information about agricultural exports on the Rural Payments Agency website.
Even if your customer is responsible for paying duty on the goods in the destination third country, you need to provide the right documentation. Third countries may have import duty regimes in place, but in some countries your exports may qualify for a reduced rate of duty or be classed as duty free. You’ll need to provide evidence of the product’s origin to claim the benefit. For more information, see the guide on rules of origin.
The Integrated Tariff of the UK (the Tariff) is the official HMRC guide to importing and exporting taxes and duty. The Tariff contains the codes and customs requirements you need for import and export paperwork.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.
Ultimately, third country duties are based on the type of goods you’re exporting, their origin and their value, all of which are subject to change in the destination countries. In addition to the Tariff, you can also check with UK Trade & Investment or the destination country about what taxes are to be paid and whether the exporter or importer is obliged to pay them.
Export licences and other controls
Exports of some goods are controlled. You may need to apply for a licence, or comply with specific regulations.
Weapons and other goods and technologies with a potential military use may require an export licence from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS). If goods are to pass through more than one country, you are likely to need a licence for each transit country.
All military controlled items and some highly sensitive Dual-Use Goods need a licence, even if the export is made to another EU country. Some may be subject to sanctions or embargoes with total or partial bans on exporting such goods to named third countries.
Less sensitive controlled dual-use goods exports need a licence if shipped outside the EU.
Controls also apply to the brokering - which can include warehousing and shipping - and transport of dual-use goods. Download guidance on brokering dual-use goods from the BIS website (PDF, 168KB). In addition, UK nationals who trade outside the UK in strategically controlled goods between overseas countries may need a trade control licence through the UK.
There are wider restrictions on exports to countries subject to sanctions. You can find guidance on sanctions, embargoes and restrictions and read about strategic export controls in the guide to the Export Control Organisation.
Agricultural products and processed foods typically require a Common Agricultural Policy licence from the RPA. They may also be subject to a refund or a levy. Find information about agricultural exports on the RPA website.
Exports of valuable antiques and works of art may need a licence from the Export Licensing Unit of the Arts Council. Read about export licensing for cultural goods on the Arts Council website.
Exports of dangerous chemicals outside the EU may need to be notified in advance to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and BIS. Read about prior informed consent for trade in dangerous chemicals on the HSE website. Businesses that trade more than one tonne of chemicals a year must register with the new EU chemical management agency REACH, based in Helsinki. Read a basic guide to REACH on the HSE website.
Live animals, meat and plants may need licensing and health inspection from various UK-based government agencies before your goods reach their destination. Find information on animal and plant export regulations.
Other products subject to export controls or licensing requirements include medicines and controlled drugs and the chemicals used in their manufacture, rough diamonds being exported out of the EU, exported waste and certain species of fish, which may be subject to a ban or quota. Your trade association may be able to advise on export controls applying to your products.
See the guide on export and import licences for controlled goods.
When you transport goods out of the EU with the intent to permanently export those goods, you must first submit an electronic export declaration via the NES, part of HMRC’s Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. Exceptionally, a paper export declaration known as a C88/ESS may be used for, for example, merchandise carried in hand baggage (MIB). Indirect exports (being those moving from the UK but exiting in another member state must be accompanied by an Export Accompanying Document (EAD)). This page explains what to do and, depending on the type of export, other procedures you may have to follow.
You’re not generally required to complete an export declaration for goods being sold within the EU. There are exceptions, for example sales to international organisations, which are treated as exports and exports to special EU territories. For more information, read a basic guide to trading abroad.
When you export goods out of the EU to third countries, you can usually zero-rate the goods for VAT purposes.
How to make the declaration
You will need to have an Economic Operator Registration Identification (EORI) number and register for NES, which you can then access via:
- email - not to be used for CAP declarations
- a web form via the HMRC website
- Community System Provider (CSP) and software houses
- a paper declaration that HMRC staff will input for you in exceptional circumstances
You can use an agent, for example a freight forwarder, to make the declaration on your behalf. This can make exporting simpler and faster if you’re not authorised to make electronic declarations yourself.
See the following guides to give you the full detail on how to register for and use EORI and NES:
The declaration allows HMRC to check that you’re complying with export controls, for example licensing requirements, duty and VAT.
Traders must classify their goods as part of the declaration, including a commodity code and a Customs Procedure Code (CPC). A CPC identifies the nature of the movement of exports. It also describes the purpose of your shipment and informs HMRC about the duty liabilities on the goods. Volume 2 of the Tariff contains a full list of commodity codes and volume 3 contains details of CPCs. You must also provide a reference for the goods, known as a Unique Consignment Reference.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing our online UK Trade Tariff tool.
Incoterms - internationally recognised trading terms - clarify the obligations of exporter and customer as to who bears the costs of international transport and auxiliary services and responsibility for presenting documentation. For example, the Ex-Works Incoterm places minimal duties on the seller. See the guide on International Commercial Contracts - Incoterms.
Safety and security regulations require you to pre-notify goods due to leave the EU within set time limits ahead of their departure. If you complete normal export declarations, you will be covered, but if you’re not declaring them in the usual way, you must complete an Exit Summary Declaration. Download FAQs on Exit Summary Declarations from the Europa website (PDF, 341KB).
HMRC’s Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) scheme allows registered companies to take advantage of the simplified customs procedures that relate to the security and safety of their goods in transit. See the guide on Authorised Economic Operators. Businesses will need to have an EORI number before they register for the AEO scheme. See the guide on the Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) Scheme.
Merchandise in Baggage (MIB)
If you’re taking commercial goods out of the EU in your baggage, you must declare the goods electronically to CHIEF or exceptionally you may complete a C88/ESS. You can have the declaration stamped by customs when you leave the EU as proof of export to zero-rated goods for VAT, however submitting and clearing a paper export declaration at the port or airport will take longer than if the export declaration was submitted electronically to CHIEF. Read about MIB on the HMRC website.
International Road Transport
If you need to move goods through several countries, you may be able to use the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) procedure to allow your goods to pass through borders with minimal customs intervention.
All traders moving goods across the EU under the TIR procedure must also submit an electronic customs declaration using the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS).
If you want to temporarily export goods from the EU, for example samples for an exhibition, you can do so by using a temporary export Customs Procedure Code (CPC) in your declaration to NES, or move the goods under an ATA Carnet.
The ATA carnet will simplify their export and temporary import into the third country destination. This type of carnet is valid in most major countries and will enable deferment of up to a year of import duties and that might otherwise have applied. See the guide on ATA and CPD carnets.
Declarations for exports by post
If you export goods out of the EU by post, you must complete and attach a CN22 customs declaration (for goods worth up to £270) or CN23 for goods of higher value. You will need to retain evidence of posting in order to zero-rate the goods for VAT purposes. See the guide on importing and exporting by post.
Moving goods through the EU to non-EU countries (indirect exports)
Indirect exports - the dispatch of goods via an EU country or countries to a third country destination - require special procedures and paperwork. Indirect exports are controlled by the Export Control System (ECS) which is an EU-wide system implemented in July 2009. Indirect exports (whether they are by air, sea or road) must be accompanied by an EAD which has a Movement Reference Number (MRN) and Barcode which can be scanned at the Office of Exit in the last member state before the goods exit the EU.
The UK treatment of indirect exports generally depends on their final destination:
- If you’re exporting to a country outside the EU, you must complete an export declaration - even though the goods are initially being sent through another EU country.
- Export controls and licensing requirements will depend on the final destination of the goods.
- Goods exported to a customer outside the EU can be zero-rated for VAT even if they initially travel through other EU countries. However, proof of the goods actual departure from the EU will be required.
When exporting outside the EU, you must complete an export declaration, even if the goods are being sent through another EU country first. Indirect exports must be ‘Arrived’ on CHIEF before they leave the UK. ‘Arrival’ is the technical term by which goods are presented to Customs via an export declaration - once you have completed this stage, CHIEF will give you permission to progress (also referred to as P2P) your shipment. Failure to comply can lead to trouble in other countries, and even the rejection and the return of your goods. Exporters must also print an EAD to travel with the goods to the Office of Exit.
Depending on their final destination, you may need to satisfy other regulations and obtain other export licences. Indirect exports can only be zero-rated for VAT if you can prove the goods have been exported.
In the UK the export declaration submitted electronically to CHIEF will include all the safety and security data required under the ECS. It is therefore a ‘combined’ declaration, ie fiscal and ECS safety and security data are combined on the UK export declaration. In the UK you do not need to submit separate safety and security information to the ECS - CHIEF will pass the relevant data to the EU ECS system. Once your declaration has been accepted by CHIEF, a Movement Reference Number Number (MRN) will be issued. This can be used to track the movement across the EU to exit and must be ‘closed’ on the ECS system by scanning the barcode relating to the MRN at the Office of Exit. For more information, see the guide on export declarations and the NES.
The safety and security legislation that came into force in 2009 set minimum time limits for the lodgement of Export Declarations ahead of their departure as follows:
- for ‘deep sea’ containerised cargo, at least 24 hours before the goods are loaded
- for ‘short sea’ containerised cargo, at least 2 hours before leaving the port
- for air traffic, at least 30 minutes before departure from an airport
- for rail and inland waters traffic, at least 2 hours before departure
- for road traffic, at least 1 hour before departure
- for supplies for ships and aircraft at least 15 minutes before departure
If you supply an export declaration, you will be covered, but if you’re not declaring goods in the usual way, you must complete an Exit Summary Declaration.
Carnets for non-community goods moving through the EU
The Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) procedure is used to move goods, essentially by road, between two countries party to the TIR Convention or between two points in a participating country as long as the movement passes through a third country. The payment of duties and other charges are suspended. For the purposes of TIR, the Community is regarded as a single territory. TIR is only permitted in the EU when the movement either begins, ends or transits a third country.
Goods must be transported in approved vehicles or containers and be accompanied by a TIR Carnet. You, or your freight forwarder, must be authorised to use the TIR system and to purchase a TIR Carnet. The Carnet acts as the customs declaration for movement when outside of the EU and as security for any taxes and duties to which the goods become liable. Find details of TIR and New Computerised Transit System (NCTS).
All traders moving goods across the EU under the TIR procedure must submit an electronic customs declaration via the NCTS when the consignment reaches the frontier of the EU. You can also see the guide on using the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS) to move goods across the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries.
If goods originate from outside the EU, the Community Transit procedure can be used to move them within the EU.
If goods are moving to or through an EFTA country, the Common Transit procedure should be used. See the guide on community transit procedures.
Traders can claim money back for, or delay payment of various customs duties and VAT for some exports outside the EU. This page explains the types of duty relief available, as well as other relief schemes that allow traders to pay reduced or no duty if goods are exported under specific conditions.
Inward processing (IP)
IP gives exporters relief on customs duty to boost sales from the EU. You can either suspend the payment of import duties or claim back the duty paid on goods that are imported from outside the EU and are processed and re-exported or exported outside the EU. Read guidance on IP in Notice 221A on the HMRC website and see the guide on Inward Processing.
You need to be authorised by HMRC to use IP. Each time you enter goods for IP you’ll need to complete form C99. Get an application form for authorisation to use inward processing on the HMRC website.
Outward processing relief (OPR)
This relief may be used if you’re re-importing goods that have previously been exported from the EU for processing in a third country (a country outside the EU). It enables you to pay import duties on the value added to the goods in the third country instead of the full value of the goods. You need to be authorised by HMRC to claim OPR. See the guide on outward processing relief (OPR).
Temporary Admission relief (TA)
Subject to certain conditions, authorised traders can claim relief from customs duty, CAP charges, anti-dumping duty and countervailing duty on a range of goods temporarily imported for use in the EU, provided the goods are re-exported outside the EU in the same state. Read about TA on the HMRC website and see the guide on temporary admission.
Community system of duty reliefs (CSDR)
CSDR is the name for a group of reliefs that promote culture and science. You need to keep records to claim relief on a variety of goods including charity goods, museum exhibits, research equipment and trade samples.
Onward supply relief (OSR)
UK VAT-registered traders can claim VAT relief for goods imported into the UK from outside the EU if goods are being moved through the EU to another EU country. Read about OSR on the HMRC website.
Preferential trade agreements
If you are exporting to a third country, which has a preferential trade agreement in place with the EU, you need to provide your customer with proof of the origin of the products in order to support the claim to preference at the time of importation. You must normally complete a Form EUR1. However, if the value of the goods is below a specified value, you can include the origin declaration on an invoice. Find form EUR1 from the HMRC website.
To find out more about how trade preferences work, see the guide on importing and exporting using trade preferences.
You can also apply to become approved to make your own preferential origin declarations on invoices for consignments of any value. Read about European Community preferences: export procedures in Notice 827 on the HMRC website.
Some countries require a Certificate of Origin showing that the goods originate in the EU in accordance with non-preferential rules of origin. Your Chamber of Commerce can issue the certificate for a fee. For information, see the guide on rules of origin.
Many Arab countries require exporters to supply an Arab-British Certificate of Origin with each shipment of goods. The certificate must be authorised by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, who work with chambers of commerce countrywide. You will need to allow sufficient time for this procedure. Read about the Arab-British Certificate of Origin on the London Chamber of Commerce website.
Key export control documents
This is a summary of the declarations and other paperwork you’ll need to complete before your goods are exported, as well as other types of documents you may need for exports to specific countries.
Most export declarations (99.98 per cent) are now submitted electronically to CHIEF.
A paper Single Administrative Document (SAD) known as a C88/ESS may be used exceptionally for some exports from the UK. This should be submitted to Customs (National Clearance Hub) for manual input into CHIEF. These declarations will take longer to process and clear than those submitted electronically to CHIEF.
Merchandise in Baggage (MIB)
MIB is a declaration that passengers use to export commercial goods and samples they’re carrying with them outside the EU. An electronic export declaration or, exceptionally a paper C88/ESS must be completed. Take a copy of this or the EAD, and have the EAD stamped by customs as evidence of export, so that you can zero-rate the goods for VAT. This may add to delays, so leave sufficient time at the port or airport to complete these processes. Read about MIB on the HMRC website.
You can temporarily export some goods for use outside the EU using an ATA carnet. ATA carnets are issued in the UK by chambers of commerce and industry. See our guide on ATA and CPD carnets.
In some countries, your goods may qualify for reduced import duty. You must provide documentary evidence of the product’s origin to claim relief. If you claim preference for EU originating goods, you need to complete form EUR1. However, if the value of the goods is below a specified amount, you can make the preference declaration on the commercial invoice. Read a guide to preferences on the HMRC website.
Non-Preferential Certificate of Origin
Some countries require a certificate of origin showing that the goods come from the UK. This establishes that the goods have been wholly produced in the UK, or made in accordance with specific rules. Your chamber of commerce can issue this for a fee. You can find more information in the guide on rules of origin.
Arab-British Certificate of Origin
Many Arabic states require exporters to supply an Arab-British Certificate of Origin with each goods shipment. This must be authorised by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, who work with chambers of commerce countrywide. You must allow enough time for this procedure. Read a guide to the Arab-British Certificate of Origin on the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce website.
Health certificates for live animals, animal products and genetic materials
Exports of these goods are subject to health conditions agreed between the UK and the destination third country. Generally, the destination country sets the conditions for imports. While the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for issuing export health certificates, exporters must check with their customers that a particular certificate is acceptable to the authorities in the country of destination.
To find out if a particular animal or product can be exported to a particular destination country, exporters should contact their local Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency office. See our guide on using TRACES to trade in animals and animal products.
Not all destination countries have agreed certification in place. Find a list of currently available export health certificates.
Health certificates for plants
Most third countries require plant exports to be accompanied by a phystosanitary or plant health certificate issued by your local Plant Health & Seeds Inspectorate. Find guidance on export certification for plants and plant products. For more information, see Agriculture, horticulture and fisheries: import and export .
Standards certification for medical devices
Medical devices should be accompanied by a Certificate of Free Sale from the Department of Health, confirming that the products meet UK and EU standards. Find Certificates of Free Sale for CE-marked medical devices.
Licences for military, dual-use and technology products
Exports of military, dual-use and some technology goods are strictly controlled. You may need to apply for a licence, possibly even to other EU countries. For more information, see our section on the Export Control Organisation.
UK Trade & Investment offers a range of market intelligence and export support services. Find out about export services on the UK Trade & Investment website.
Your trade association may also be able to help.
If you are trading in a third country outside the EU and there are unrealistic or illegal trade barriers which make trading difficult in your customer’s country, you can appeal to the EU’s Complaint Register service. This is a single entry point where you can request clarification on third-country tariffs, import formalities, documentation and other measures. You can also make complaints if you think trade barriers are imposed unfairly.
0131 271 9700
HSE Chemical Regulations Directorate
0151 951 3295
UK Trade & Investment enquiry line
020 7215 8000
BIS ECO helpline
020 7215 4594
MLA Export Licensing Unit
020 7273 8265
08459 33 55 77
HMRC Tariff Classification Service enquiry line
01702 366 077
0845 603 7777
RPID (in Scotland)
Rural Priorities is delivered jointly by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), Rural Payments and Inspections Directorate (RPID) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). If you have any questions about Rural Priorities, you can contact your local FCS, RPID or SNH office. Please select one of the following links to view the contact details:
- FCS conservancy and area office contact details
- RPID area office contact details
- SNH area office contact details
If you are considering Options that require advice on Archaeological or Historic sites, that may be sought from your Local Authority Archaeological Officers.