Classifying pharmaceutical products for import and export

How to classify pharmaceutical products for import or export: guidance to using chapter 30 of the UK Trade Tariff and full list of exceptions.


This guidance covers the classification, in the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff), of a range of pharmaceutical products that are used for medical, surgical, dental and veterinary purposes to diagnose, treat or prevent diseases or ailments.

These products are classified in chapter 30 of the Tariff according to:

  • their nature
  • the way they are made up - for example in measured doses like tablets or ampoules
  • whether or not they are intended for retail sale

This guide will help you identify what is and what isn’t covered in chapter 30.

Chapter 30 covers pharmaceutical products under heading codes 3001 to 3006.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the online UK Trade Tariff tool.

Chapter 30 heading codes: quick reference table

This chapter covers pharmaceutical products for medical, surgical, dental or veterinary use, including medicaments and medicated dressings and bandages.

The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it’ll help you check whether or not a particular item is likely to be covered in this chapter.

Item Heading code
Anaesthetics 3003
Antibiotics 3003 or 3004
Antihistamine medicaments 3003 or 3004
Antiserum 3002
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) - tabletted or compounded 3003 or 3004
Barbiturates - tabletted or compounded 3003 or 3004
Bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate) 3004
Cod liver oil - put up as a medicament 3004
Colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy pouches 3006
Contraceptive preparations based on hormones etc 3006
Corticosteroid medicaments 3003 or 3004
Dental cement and other dental fillings 3006
Eye drops 3003
First aid boxes and kits 3006
Glands and other organs for organo-therapeutic uses 3001
Heparin and its salts 3001
Hormones 3003 or 3004
Human or animal blood for therapeutic, prophylactic or diagnostic uses 3002
Insulin 3003 or 3004
Lubricants for use in human or veterinary medicine 3006
Medicaments (including veterinary medicaments) 3003 or 3004
Medicated dressings, bandages, plasters and so on 3005
Ointments 3003
Paracetamol 3003 or 3004
Penicillins 3003 or 3004
Reagents - diagnostic and blood-grouping 3006
Sterile surgical catgut and similar suture material 3006
Streptomycin 3003 or 3004
Sulphonamides 3003 or 3004
Vaccines - for human or veterinary medicine 3002
Veterinary medicaments 3003 or 3004
Vitamin medicaments 3003 or 3004
Waste pharmaceuticals 3006

It is important for classification purposes to identify whether or not a product contains an active substance. If so, it is considered to be a ‘medicinal preparation’ and it is covered in chapter 30.

Products that do not contain enough active substances to prevent or treat a disease or ailment are covered elsewhere, depending on what the product is made from.

You can read the guide to classifying placebos and comparators for help with classifying products that do not contain active substances.

For more information on food supplements and dietary preparations, you can read the guide to classifying herbal medicines, supplements, tonics.

See the guide to classifying organic chemicals for help with classifying vitamins and similar organic compounds that are separately defined.

Defining pharmaceutical products

When you are classifying pharmaceutical products for the purposes of the Tariff you may come across certain terms and abbreviations. Some common examples are listed below.

Common terms used

  • Active substance - a chemically defined substance, a chemically defined group of substances (like alkaloids, polyphenols or anthocyanins) or a plant extract. Active substances must have medicinal properties to prevent or treat specific diseases and ailments, or their symptoms.
  • Diagnostic - identifying or determining the existence of a disease or ailment.
  • HS - the Harmonised System classifies commodities under different codes so that the correct duties and controls are applied to imports and exports.
  • HSENs - Harmonised System Explanatory Notes. These give useful guidance about the scope of the Tariff chapters, headings and subheadings.
  • Medicaments or medicinal preparations - these are preparations based on one or more active substance (see above). They are used, either internally or externally, to treat or prevent human or animal diseases or ailments.
  • Prophylactic - preventing a disease or ailment from developing.
  • Therapeutic - treating or curing a disease or ailment.

Classifying medicaments - not in measured doses or for retail sale

Heading code 3003 covers products that are made up of two or more parts, or constituents, that have been mixed together to make a medicinal preparation. These contain active substances and are used to treat or prevent diseases or ailments in both humans and animals. They can be used internally or externally.

Medicaments are only classified under heading code 3003 if they are:

  • not made up into measured doses - like tablets or capsules
  • not packaged for retail sale

Otherwise they are classified elsewhere.

Products, like food supplements, that maintain general health and well-being are specifically excluded from this heading code.

Classifying medicaments - in measured doses or for retail sale

Heading code 3004 covers medicaments - or medicinal preparations - that can be made up of either mixed or unmixed products. Medicinal preparations contain active substances and are used to treat or prevent diseases or ailments in both humans and animals. They can be used internally or externally. Products that just maintain general health and well-being are specifically excluded from this heading code.

Measured doses

If a medicinal preparation is made up into measured doses - like tablets, ampoules, syringes or capsules - then these must be classified under heading code 3004.

Retail sale

Heading code 3004 also specifically covers medicines put up in forms or packings for retail sale, this includes the following:

  • medicinal preparations - like penicillin and other antibiotics
  • herbal and homeopathic medicinal preparations
  • certain preparations containing vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids or fatty acids

These products must include certain information for consumers on their labels or packaging, or on the accompanying user directions. This information must show:

  • the specific diseases, ailments or deficiencies (or their symptoms) that the product is to be used for
  • the concentration of the active substances that the product is based on
  • the dosage
  • how the product is to be used

Medicines based on vitamins and minerals must contain levels of such substances considerably higher than the recommended daily allowance than those just for maintaining general health or well-being.

Medicinal preparations that are classified under heading code 3004 because they’re made up into measured doses or because they’re intended for retail sale must be classified under this heading code - they can’t be classified under any other heading code in the Tariff.

Classifying specific pharmaceutical goods

Heading code 3006 covers certain specific pharmaceutical products. They must be classified under this heading code and can’t be classified under any other heading in the Tariff.

Products that must be covered under heading code 3006 include:

  • sterile surgical catgut and similar sterile suture materials
  • sterile tissue adhesives to close surgical wounds
  • sterile absorbable surgical or dental haemostatics
  • sterile surgical or dental adhesion barriers - which may or may not be absorbable
  • opacifying preparations (for x-rays)
  • blood grouping reagents
  • dental cements
  • dental fillings
  • first aid kits
  • chemical contraceptive preparations
  • lubricants for use in surgical operations or physical examinations
  • waste pharmaceuticals, for example products that have passed their expiry date
  • colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy pouches cut to shape and identifiable for ostomy use

You can see the full list of products that must be classified under this heading code in Note 4 to chapter 30.

What’s not covered in chapter 30

There are certain items that are specifically excluded from chapter 30 and classified in other chapters. These include products like food supplements, herbal teas and body building preparations.

Chapter 30 covers pharmaceutical products that have a therapeutic, prophylactic or diagnostic purpose. In other words, they’re used to diagnose, treat or prevent a disease or ailment. Products that don’t have these characteristics are covered elsewhere. This chapter doesn’t cover:

  • medicines that don’t contain enough active substances to prevent or treat a disease or ailment. These are generally covered in Chapter 21 or Chapter 22
  • herbal infusions or ‘teas’ made from mixtures of plants or parts of plants. These are covered in Chapter 21 and classified as food preparations under heading code 2106
  • food supplements designed to maintain general health or well-being like dietetic, diabetic or fortified foods, tonic drinks and mineral waters. Generally this type of product is covered in chapter 21 under heading code 2106, 2202, 2206 or 2208. For more information on food supplements and dietary preparations, see our guide on classifying herbal medicines, supplements, tonics
  • body building preparations. These can be classified under various different heading codes - for example food preparations based on milk powders and whey are covered in chapter 19 under heading code 1901
  • plasters for use in dentistry that have been heated to a high temperature (‘calcined’) or finely ground. These are covered in chapter 25 under heading code 2520
  • water-based distillations or solutions of essential oils that are suitable for medicinal uses. These are covered in chapter 33 under heading code 3301
  • perfumes, cosmetics and toiletries covered in chapter 33 under heading codes 3303 to 3307, even if they do have therapeutic or prophylactic characteristics
  • medicated soap and similar cleansing products. These are covered in chapter 34 under heading code 3401
  • dental plaster, wax and similar products. These are covered in chapter 34 under heading code 3407
  • blood albumin that’s not prepared for therapeutic or prophylactic uses. This is covered in chapter 35 under heading code 3502
  • separate chemical elements or separate chemically defined compounds of Chapters 28 and 29 not put up in measured doses or in forms or packings for retail sale as medicaments

Combined products (or sets)

Some products are made up by combining two or more separate elements - or constituents. Some or all of these constituents may be covered in Section VI as products of the chemical or allied industries. They’re intended to be mixed together to produce a product that is classified either in Section VI or in Section VII. These combined products - or sets - are classified under the heading code appropriate to the finished product if the constituents are:

  • put up in such a way that it’s clear that they’re to be used together without first being repacked presented together
  • complementary to one another - either because of their nature or because of the proportions in which they’re combined

Modified immunological products

Modified immunological products are classified under heading code 3002. This heading code only covers:

  • monoclonal antibodies (MABs)
  • antibody fragments
  • antibody conjugates
  • antibody fragment conjugates

Mixed and unmixed products

When you’re classifying pharmaceutical products under heading codes 3003 and 3004 and subheading code 3006 30 you’ll need to decide whether they’re mixed or unmixed. For classification purposes, unmixed products are:

  • all the items that are covered in chapter 28 and chapter 29
  • simple vegetable extracts that are covered under heading code 1302 - these can be either just standardised or dissolved in any solution
  • unmixed products that are dissolved in water

Mixed products are:

  • colloidal solutions and suspensions - but not colloidal sulphur
  • vegetable extracts produced by treating mixtures of vegetable materials
  • salts and concentrates obtained by evaporating natural mineral waters

Intravenous nutritional preparations

Food and dietary supplements are not used to treat or prevent disease or ailments so they’re generally covered in Chapter 21 or 22, but nutritional preparations for intravenous administration by injection or drip into a vein are covered in Chapter 30.

Harmonised System Explanatory Notes (HSENs)

HSENs give useful guidance on the scope of Tariff chapters, headings and sub-headings. When you’re classifying pharmaceutical products the following are particularly helpful:

  • HSENs to heading code 3003
  • HSENs to heading code 3004

Further information

The free on-line UK Trade Tariff is available for your use to look up classification codes. This offers easy access to tariff information by providing commodity code and duty rate listings together with a search engine to facilitate enquiries and allow self-service to commodity code information.

If after visiting this site you are unable to self-assess your products, you can request additional support by sending a request by email to

Please ensure that one item only is detailed per email and that the request includes the following type of information, so that we can deal with your enquiry efficiently:

  • what the proudct is
  • what it is made of, if made or more than one material please explain the breakdown of the materials
  • what it is used for
  • how the product works/functions
  • how it is presented/packaged

Additionally detailed below is some additional information that is required on certain products.

  • for footwear – please include the type (shoe, boot, slipper etc), upper material details, outer sole material details, the heel height and the purpose for men or woman
  • for food – please include precise composition details by percentage weight of all the ingredients to 100% and the method of manufacture or process undergone eg fresh, frozen, dried, further prepared/preserved etc
  • for chemicals – please include the Chemical Abstracts Service Number, whether the product is a liquid/powder/solid and include the % ingredients
  • for textiles – please include the material composition, how it is constructed (knitted/woven) and the name of fabric
  • for vehicles – please include the age, the engine type (petrol or diesel), the engine size, whether the vehicle is new or used, whether the vehicle is over 30 years old and whether it is in its original condition. Is the vehicle going to be for everyday use?

A classification officer will then email a response back to you providing you with non-legally binding classification advice based on the information you have supplied.

European Union Tariff regulations information on the EUR-Lex website

Published 3 August 2012
Last updated 26 April 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updates made to the Tariff classification guides.
  2. The further information section has been updated to show the change of contact details.
  3. First published.