Guidance

Check when you can account for import VAT on your VAT Return

If your business is registered for VAT in the UK, find out when you can, or need to, account for import VAT on your VAT Return (also called postponed VAT accounting).

Accounting for import VAT on your VAT Return has significant cash flow benefits and will be available permanently. It means you’ll declare and recover import VAT on the same VAT Return, rather than having to pay it upfront when the goods are imported and recover it later.

The normal rules about what VAT can be reclaimed as input tax apply.

Before you move goods

  1. Consider getting someone to deal with customs for you.

  2. Find out if you can account for import VAT on your VAT Return.

  3. Check when you must account for import VAT on your VAT Return.

  4. Find out how to account for import VAT.

  5. Get your monthly postponed import VAT statement.

  6. Find out about completing your customs declaration.

Who can account for import VAT on their VAT Return

If your business is registered for VAT in the UK, you can account for import VAT on your VAT Return for goods you import into:

  • Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) from anywhere outside the UK
  • Northern Ireland from outside the UK and EU

You can also account for import VAT for goods you move between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that are declared into a customs special procedure, when they are removed from that special procedure.

If you move goods between Northern Ireland and the EU find out about trading and moving goods in and out of Northern Ireland.

You do not need any approval to account for import VAT on your VAT Return.

Non-established taxable persons

If you are a non-established taxable person you’ll need to get someone to deal with customs for you, including completing your customs declaration.

If you want to account for import VAT on your VAT Return, you must tell the person dealing with customs for you to select this on your customs declaration and enter your details as the consignee.

When you can account for import VAT on your VAT Return

You can do this if:

  • the goods you import are for use in your business
  • you include your VAT registration number on your customs declaration

If you import goods for business and non-business purposes

You can account for import VAT on your VAT return if you import goods which:

You cannot account for import VAT on your VAT return if you import goods you know will be used solely for non-business purposes, unless you are a body that is eligible to reclaim import VAT through a VAT refund scheme (Section 33). When completing your customs declaration, you should select you’ll be making an immediate payment or using a duty deferment account.

Goods in special procedures

If you declare goods into a customs special procedure, you can select that you’ll be accounting for import VAT on your VAT Return when you submit the declaration that removes them into free circulation from the following special procedures:

  • customs warehousing
  • inward processing
  • temporary admission
  • end use
  • outward processing
  • duty suspension

Excise goods

You can select to account for import VAT on your VAT Return when you release excise goods for use in the UK – also known as ‘released for home consumption’.

This includes when goods are released from an excise warehouse after being in duty suspense since the point of import.

If you do not know the full customs value of goods

You can still account for import VAT on your VAT Return, even if you cannot confirm the full customs value of the goods that you import.

If you are using the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system, you should:

  1. Declare the highest value for VAT.
  2. Select that you’ll be accounting for import VAT on your VAT Return.

If you are using the Customs Declaration Service, you should:

  1. Use a guarantee to cover the amount of VAT that is unknown.
  2. Select that you’ll be accounting for import VAT on your VAT Return for the amount that is known.

When you must account for import VAT on your VAT Return

If you import goods that are not controlled into Great Britain from the EU between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021, you must account for import VAT on your VAT Return if you either:

You must make sure that when you complete the supplementary declaration you select that you’ll be accounting for import VAT on your VAT Return.

Using someone to import goods on your behalf

If you get a person or business to import goods on your behalf (such as a freight forwarder, customs agent, broker or fast parcel operator) you will need to tell them how you want to account for import VAT on those imports. This is so they can complete the customs declaration.

If you already have someone you should contact them to tell them if you want to account for import VAT on your VAT Return on goods you import. You should keep a written record of what is agreed.

If your business receives goods through the post in consignments exceeding £135 using Royal Mail Group (including Parcelforce where they are not acting as a fast parcel operator) you will not be able to account for import VAT on your VAT return. This is because Royal Mail Group do not currently offer this facility.

Get more information on international post users (Notice 143).

Buying goods from a supplier, who arranges for someone to import goods on your behalf

You can buy goods from a supplier who arranges for a person or business, such as a fast parcel operator, to import and deliver the goods for you.

You must agree with the supplier how you want to account for import VAT, so that they can tell them to make the appropriate entry on the customs declaration. You should keep a written record of what is agreed.

Unless your supplier specifically tells them not to, some fast parcel operators will select the option for you to account for import VAT on your VAT Return.

Your supplier will tell you about this when they ask you for your Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) or VAT registration number.

You will need to tell your supplier if you do not want to account for import VAT on your VAT Return.

The import will appear on your monthly statement in the normal way.

How to complete your customs declaration to account for import VAT on your VAT Return

When completing your customs declaration, you can select to account for import VAT on your VAT Return. You cannot change how you want to account for import VAT on your customs declaration once it’s submitted.

If you use the CHIEF system

On your declaration, you’ll need to enter:

  • your EORI number starting with ‘GB’ or ‘XI’ which includes your VAT registration number into box 8 (Header Consignee)

  • your EORI in box 44 (Registered Consignee) if applicable

  • ‘G’ as the method of payment in Box 47e

If you use the Customs Declaration Service

You need to enter your VAT registration number at header level in data element 3/40.

VAT will be recorded against your EORI and will be at declaration level only.

If you act on behalf of someone else

If you’ve been authorised to act on behalf of your client, you must use their EORI number or VAT registration number on the customs declaration.

If you import goods in consignments valued at £135 or less

There are different rules for the treatment of goods in consignments valued at £135 or less.

Find out about the treatment of VAT for imported goods sold:

These rules do not apply to the import of excise goods. You can choose to account for import VAT on your VAT Return for the import of consignments of excise goods of any value.

If you import commercial goods (merchandise in baggage) into Great Britain or Northern Ireland

If you are importing commercial goods into Great Britain or Northern Ireland in your personal baggage or private motor vehicle and want to account for import VAT on your VAT return, you will need to make a full customs declaration.

If you are eligible to make a simple online declaration instead and choose to do so, you will not be able to account for import VAT on your VAT return.

Find out more about:

What you need to do next

If you have selected that you are accounting for import VAT on your VAT Return on your customs declaration you will need to account for import VAT when you complete your VAT Return.

Published 27 July 2020
Last updated 13 August 2021 + show all updates
  1. Clarification that postponed VAT accounting will be available permanently. A checklist has been added to help navigation, and the details you may need to complete your customs declaration using CHIEF have been updated.

  2. The 'If you import goods for business and non-business purposes' section has been updated to say you can account for import VAT on your VAT return if you import goods that will be used solely for a non-business purpose, and you are a body that is eligible to reclaim import VAT through a VAT refund scheme . The 'How to complete your customs declaration to account for import VAT on your VAT Return' section has also been updated with information about selecting how to account for import VAT on your customs declaration.

  3. The end date when you must account for import VAT on your VAT Return if you delay your customs declaration or use a simplified customs declaration has been changed from 30 June 2021 to 31 December 2021.

  4. There have been multiple changes to this guidance to help readers understand what they need to do and how to do it.

  5. Information has been added about accounting for VAT if you do not know the full customs value of goods and using someone to import goods on your behalf.

  6. Information on Non-established taxable persons and guidance on how to complete your declaration if you are accounting for import VAT on your VAT return has been added.

  7. Added Welsh translation.

  8. First published.