Creative and cultural: international trade regulations

Regulations for whole productions or scenery, props and costumes, for museum artefacts, artworks and antiques, and details about Film Tax Relief.


As an exporter or importer in the creative industries sector, you will need to comply with certain regulations.

This guide will show you how to research any trade restrictions in your export market, classify your goods for export and accurately declare any imports. It also offers you sources of further help and support.

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

Export regulations in the creative industries sector

Regulations, charges or other restrictions may apply to any exports as they leave the UK and when they arrive at their destination country. It is important that you research both sides of the transaction. See the guides on:

First, you need to classify your goods. Use of standardised classification codes makes it easier to check if any restrictions or charges apply.

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

Remember that in general it’s much simpler to trade with other EU countries than with countries outside the EU. This is because the goods are in free circulation. The EU is a single market and the UK is in a Customs Union, so you can trade with other EU countries without restriction (although some local charges may still apply).

Export licensing for goods with military uses

An export licence is required to export specified goods with military uses. For further information see the guide on aerospace and defence.

Firearms, arms and armour over 50 years of age are cultural goods and you will also need to obtain a licence from the Arts Council for those above certain financial thresholds. The list of goods requiring a licence does not include many creative or media goods/services, although one notable exception is for cryptographic development software.

Export licensing for objects of cultural interest

Exports of objects of cultural interest - eg works of art, antiques and manuscripts more than 50 years old - require a licence from the Arts Council. You can find information and guidance on the licensing of objects of cultural interest on the Arts Council website.

For information on export licences, read the guide on import and export licences.

Exporting goods for processing

You may be able to obtain relief from customs duties when you re-import EU goods that have previously been exported from the EU for processing. Outward processing Relief (OPR) enables you to claim relief from customs duty if you can show that the exported goods were used in - or incorporated into - the products being imported.

Before you can claim duty relief under OPR, however, you must have the appropriate authorisation. For more information Outward Processing Relief.

Specific regulations for the export of creative industries goods

Before you export any creative industries products, you must find out if you need a licence or need to comply with any sector-specific regulations.

Many cultural goods require a licence from the Arts Council before they can be exported. You can find information and guidance on export licensing for objects of cultural interest on the Arts Council website.

Because of the high value of many goods in this sector - particularly artworks and antiques - you may have to comply with money laundering procedures.   If you travel to trade fairs and exhibitions, or take film, theatre and music productions overseas, you can use an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) Carnet to minimise the red tape involved in bringing goods temporarily into many countries. Read the guide on ATA and CPD (Carnet de Passages en Douane) carnets.

Researching your export destination in the creative and media sector

You should thoroughly research your export destination country when planning to export.

There are a number of issues that you ought to consider. As a starting point you may wish to seek advice from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). Find your local international trade team on the UKTI website.

There are also various ways that you can research a potential export destination. These include:

  • trade associations
  • online databases

You can also use the Market Access Database website to find out if your goods are affected by restrictions and charges at their destination country, together with all applicable duties and taxes. Key things to check include:

  • prohibitions or quotas on your products
  • import licensing restrictions
  • rates of duty payable when your goods enter your export market

You should also consider product safety and other technical standards in your export market. Your goods may need to be adapted to comply with these. Rules in your export market may be less or more strict than in the UK.

You can ask for information about your export destination country from a range of organisations, including:

  • your local UKTI trade team
  • your UKTI team within the commercial section of the UK embassy in your destination country
  • creative and media sector trade associations

  • the Chambers of Commerce in the UK and in your destination country

You can find detailed country profiles on the countries you are researching in the LINK2 portal on the British Chambers of Commerce website

Tariffs and duties in the creative and media sector

A range of import-specific regulations must be complied with by all businesses in this sector. The key issues relate to the Tariff, duties, tax refund and Intrastat reporting requirements.

Using the Integrated Tariff

A common customs tariff is applied across all EU countries on goods imported from outside the EU. Details of specific tariff duties and measures are contained in the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom.

The Tariff is used to determine the specific classification code of your goods and to find:

  • any licensing requirements that apply
  • the rates of duty and import VAT that apply
  • any additional charges, such as anti-dumping duties
  • any available preferential duty rates

Preferential rates of duty

The GSP allows originating products from a range of countries to be imported into the EU at a reduced or zero duty rate. For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one, read Notice 830 tariff preference: new GSP rules of origin.

The European Community has a number of other trade agreements with third countries, as a result of which goods may attract preferential rates of duty.

Sector-specific taxation or refunds

Specific schemes may apply to certain creative and media output.

A British film, for example, may be eligible for interim or final Film Tax Relief (FTR), depending on whether or not the film has been completed, and whether it meets:

  • the cultural test - ie the legal definition of a British film
  • the terms of one of the UK’s bilateral co-production treaties
  • the terms of the European Convention on Cinematic Co-Production

You must have the film formally certified as qualifying for FTR. For more information, browse the index of the Film Production Company Manual.

Special tax treatment may apply to non-UK resident entertainers who appear in the UK or to businesses paying such entertainers.


Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states.

If you are VAT registered and the goods you acquire from or supply to customers in other EU countries reach the Intrastat exemption threshold for the year, you must submit monthly supplementary declarations to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Intrastat thresholds are reviewed annually, see the Intrastat: step-by-step guide for the current thresholds.

Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders.

Import regulations in the creative industries sector

As the EU is a Customs Union, you can buy goods from other member countries without restrictions - although VAT and excise duty can still apply. For more information, see the guide on trading in the EU. You can also see the page VAT on goods from EU countries in the guide on imports and purchases from abroad: paying and reclaiming VAT.

If you import from outside the EU, you may have to comply with import licensing requirements and with common customs tariffs that apply across the EU. For more information, see the guide on importing your goods from outside the EU.

Import licences

Import restrictions can be product-specific or trade-specific. Many products are subject to product-specific standards and need to be supported by applicable certificates, product-specific licences and documentation.

Quite separately, quantitative restrictions or limitations and anti-dumping duties may apply to certain imported commodities. For more information, see the guide on anti-dumping and countervailing duties.

For help identifying whether you require an import licence see the guide getting the right type of licence.

Use the Tariff for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply.

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

Key import rules

Importers must comply with a range of general requirements. If your business activity involves selling works of art to overseas buyers through UK-based auction houses, auction houses will usually be able to help you comply with trade regulations.

Protecting the intellectual property inherent in your design and creative output

Intellectual property (IP) is any form of original creation that can be bought or sold - from music to a unique item of merchandise. The four main types of IP rights are patents, trade marks, designs and copyright but there are many other ways to protect your IP.

Copyright protects written, theatrical, musical and artistic works as well as film, book layouts, sound recordings, and broadcasts. As it is an automatic legal right, you can’t actually apply for it. You may, however, be able to buy, sell or transfer copyright.

Usually your copyright work will be protected abroad automatically in the same way that it is protected in the UK.

As IP rights account for much of the value created in the creative and media sector, you should carefully consider how to protect your business. Even if you protect IP at home, you are advised to check the strength of IP protection in each country so as not to lose marketing opportunities abroad. For example, a UK producer will have little success in marketing a film overseas if pirated copies are already circulating.

You should incorporate IP protection into all your business relationships including suppliers, distributors, partners, customers and your employees. Protection is particularly important where these relationships relate to technology transfer or transfer of business knowledge.

You can read about how and when to use IP

You should also ensure that your imported goods do not breach the IP rights of other businesses, eg watch out for counterfeit goods and design infringements. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by HMRC. You can ask HMRC to check for imported counterfeit versions of your goods.

Sources of help and support in the creative industries sector

As an importer or exporter in the creative industries sector, you can turn to a range of bodies for help and information.

The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support to UK exporters is UKTI. UKTI has an impartial global presence in countries throughout the world and helps businesses realise their international potential through knowledge transfer and ongoing partnership support. You can find information on the services they offer to exporters on the UKTI website.

You can also find details of your local trade team using a postcode search on the UKTI website.

Other government sources of support

In addition to UKTI, other government bodies that provide business support in the creative and media sector include:

Creative industries sector trade associations and other bodies

For tailored advice on marketing your creative business, you can use the marketing toolkit on UKTI’s UK Creative Industries website (registration required).

You can find a range of resources and information on the Design Council website.

You can read about the UK videogames industry on the UK Interactive Entertainment Association website.

You can find out about forthcoming exhibitions and other news and services on the TIGA website.

Further information

HMRC Tariff Classification Email Advice Service

Provision of non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes advice is available by emailing and including the information detailed in Customs Information Paper 27 (2015) with your enquiry.

UK Trade & Investment Enquiry Line

Telephone: 020 7215 8000

International trade team search on the UKTI website

Goods Checker on the Ecochecker website (registration required)

Market research and other services on the UK Trade and Investment website

Export licensing information on the Arts Council website

Destination country and goods category search on the Market Access Database website

Creative and media success stories on the UKTI website

Download copyright guidance from the Intellectual Property Office website

Government support for the creative industries information on the DCMS website

UK-based overseas chambers information on the British Chamber of Commerce website

Foreign embassies in the UK

Published 1 August 2012
Last updated 28 July 2016 + show all updates
  1. Minor style amendments have been made to the Intrastat section, and a link has been added to a page showing the latest Intrastat threshold rates.
  2. The new Intrastat threshold is £1.2 million for Arrivals.
  3. First published.