Guidance

Customs procedures when transporting goods by road

Processes and customs documentation that apply when you transport goods across borders by road.

Customs transit options when moving goods across the EU

All goods moved within the EU have a customs status of either Union or non-Union goods.

Union transit (UT) is a customs procedure used to help the movement of non-Union status goods between 2 points in the customs territory of the EU. Common transit extends UT to include the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries of Switzerland (and Liechtenstein), Norway and Iceland.

Turkey, Macedonia and Serbia, although not EFTA countries, also use the Common transit procedure.

Customs duties and other charges are suspended on non-Union status goods whilst they’re under a customs transit procedure (T1 Status). Movements of Union status goods to or via the Common transit countries travel under Common transit (T2 Status).

Union goods

Union goods originate in the EU or have been imported from outside the EU and released for free circulation. All import formalities will have been completed, and duties and other charges paid.

Union goods don’t need to move under customs control within the territory of the EU. But if Union goods go via a third country, proof of Union status is needed. This proof can be provided by a Community status (T2L) declaration made on a Single Administrative Document (SAD).

Non-Union goods

Non-Union goods are goods not in free circulation in the EU. Such goods can be moved between 2 points in the EU using a transit procedure.

You should use Union Transit to move goods that aren’t in free circulation in the EU. For example Non-Union goods in and between EU member states, or to and from Andorra, San Marino and the ‘special territories’ of the EU, such as the Channel Islands. There are 3 distinct categories for this procedure.

Use Common Transit to move goods across the EU to, between, or via the Common transit countries. These are the EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland), and Turkey, Macedonia, and Serbia. This procedure is very similar to Union Transit.

Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR), or International Road Transport, is only used for the movement of goods by road in secure/approved vehicles or containers, and under cover of a TIR Carnet. TIR movements can only be between 2 contracting parties to the TIR Convention, that is between the EU and a third (non-EU) country, 2 third countries via the EU, or from one point in the EU to another via a third country.

All transit declarations must be submitted electronically via the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS) unless you have approval from the customs authorities to do otherwise. The NCTS will process the declaration and control the transit movement. It’s used by all member states of the EU and the Common transit countries.

You can read newsletters about Union and Common Transit, TIR and NCTS. You can also find further guidance about transit procedures on the European Commission website.

Taking road vehicles temporarily into or out of the UK or EU

EU road vehicles can move between member states without customs formalities. An example of a road vehicle would be motorised vehicles, cycles with engines, trailers and caravans.

Non-EU road vehicles being imported into the UK for private or commercial transport use are often eligible to avoid customs duties or formalities under a relief called Temporary Admission. See Notice 308 for more guidance about temporary admission of means of transport.

Specialist road vehicles

If you’re bringing in non-EU road vehicles for sport, demonstration, exhibition, or some other specially adapted vehicle for a professional endeavour you should read Notice 200.

A number of the vehicles in Notice 200 can use a Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) carnet as an alternative means of simplifying customs formalities.

The CPD system is administered by 2 international organisations:

  • Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT)
  • Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)

Notice 104: ATA and CPD Carnets explains how Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission and Carnet de Passages en Douane carnets can be used when exporting goods or claiming relief under Temporary Admission.

Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) carnets

The Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) acts as a passport for vehicles. You don’t need a CPD for vehicles entering the UK but one may be required by other countries. If you want to take vehicles outside the UK you should check with the authorities in the country you’re visiting. A fee is charged for the carnet as well as the need to have a guarantee to secure the customs liabilities in case the vehicle is not re-exported within the prescribed time limits. In the UK CPD carnets are issued by the RAC motoring organisation.

You can also use an ATA carnet to simplify customs formalities if you want to temporarily import or export items other than road vehicles. You can get more information about these on the London Chamber of Commerce website.

Trader registration, VAT and other customs systems

As well as customs procedures when transporting goods by road, you may need to comply with your duties as an international trader moving some or all of your goods by road.

First, you need to be registered for the Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) scheme. Authorised Economic Operators (AEO) explains what to do if you don’t have an EORI trader number yet, or do have one but want to take it to the AEO level.

VAT rules and how they affect you will depend on whether you’re acquiring goods from the EU, dispatching them to another member state, or importing or exporting from or to a third country.

National export system (NES)

If you’re exporting goods out of the UK to a third country you’ll need to make an electronic export declaration via the National export system (NES). The NES is a computerised process operated by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for electronically capturing export declarations at all stages of the export process.

Export declarations can be submitted at any time before the export of the goods, either directly by the exporter or through a third party such as a freight forwarding agent.

All export declarations should be submitted to CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight). The NES procedure is particularly important for exporters of goods subject to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) control and which qualify for export refund payments. Under the NES there are also simplified and local export procedures.

Export declarations

The export declaration is submitted online to customs by the importer or exporter of the goods, or by an agent acting on their behalf.

Under legislation in place before 1 May 2016, indirect exports (that is, those leaving the EU via another member state) must have a paper Export Accompanying Document (EAD). This must include the Master Reference Number (MRN) and bar code accompanying the goods to the customs’ Office of Exit from the EU.

From 1 May 2016, under the Union Customs Code legislation there’s no requirement to have a paper EAD. Indirect exports will only need the MRN taken with the goods to the customs Office of Exit.

If you’re importing goods into the EU you may need the voluntary Customs Freight Simplified Procedures (CFSP). Most third country goods are eligible for CFSP.

CFSP enables:

  • faster processing and release of imported third country goods at the point of entry
  • the use of simpler customs declarations
  • cash flow benefits

Special requirements apply if you trade in excise goods such as alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco products, or energy products.

Penalties for carrying clandestine entrants to the UK

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is responsible for securing UK borders, controlling migration, managing border control and enforcing immigration and customs regulations.

The UKBA has taken steps to strengthen the borders and has invested in new technology to detect people hiding inside vehicles. Teams of staff carry out checks on freight, along with other methods, to detect clandestine entrants trying to avoid immigration controls. Vehicle operators are also expected to have effective systems in place to prevent people hiding in their vehicles.

Drivers and haulage companies must protect their vehicles to prevent people from coming into the UK without going through the proper immigration controls. When the vehicle driver or company has no effective system to protect vehicles from being used by clandestine entrants, or if they fail to operate the system properly, the UKBA will impose a fine - known as a civil penalty.

If your vehicle is found to contain clandestine entrants you could face a fine of up to £2,000 for each entrant. The driver of the vehicle, the driver’s employer and the owner or hirer of the vehicle can each be fined, and the vehicle in question may be detained. You can find the civil penalty code of practice procedure on the Home Office website.

The law that allows civil penalty fines to be imposed for carrying a clandestine entrant applies to all road vehicles and rail transport and applies to all arrivals into the UK from all European sea ports and on Eurotunnel. It’s designed to encourage hauliers and drivers to take responsibility for protecting and checking their vehicles before crossing into the UK from mainland Europe.

If you find clandestine entrants in or on your vehicle after arrival in the UK contact the local police who will inform the UKBA.

UKBA officers may interview the driver or the company about the security system they were using to prevent people from hiding in their vehicle. If this is found to be poor the vehicle driver and/or the company may be subject to a fine. If a fine is imposed a form IS11 showing the amount of the fine will be sent to those responsible.

Drivers and vehicle operators have a right to object to the Civil Penalty Unit and/or to appeal to any county court against the fine. This must be done within 28 days of the date on which form IS11 was issued. You’ll also receive guidance on objections and appeals with form IS11. You can find guidance on objections and appeals from the Home Office website.

The UKBA has an accreditation scheme whereby road haulage companies who will not be fined in the event that clandestine entrants are discovered in or on their vehicles. To qualify, a company must show it has an effective preventive system and it takes all reasonable steps to ensure the system operates properly. Individual drivers cannot apply to join the scheme but hauliers should provide regular training and monitoring for their drivers.

Other requirements and logistical documentation

Labelling and documents for international transport

Using the correct labelling and shipping marks on your consignment helps to ensure the smooth and efficient processing of your goods. If your goods are being consolidated, make sure that your own consignment is individually labelled as it will be shipped along with other business’ goods.

Download a guide to shipping container labelling from the Book Industry Study Group website.

Temporary admission of non-EU pallets and containers

Pallets or containers are not duty and tax-paid within the EU if they’re temporarily imported into the EU to transport or carry non-EU goods within the EU. They must remain in the same condition other than natural depreciation through use. EU pallets and containers don’t need to be entered into temporary admission (TA) as they’re duty and tax-paid within the EU.

Relief under TA can also cover containers used under the Container Pool Convention or pool arrangements under the European Convention on Customs Treatment of Pallets. You can read more in Notice 306 temporary admission - temporarily importing non EU containers and pallets.

Single Administration Document (SAD)

The Single Administration Document (SAD) - also known as customs form C88 - is the customs declaration document for all imports from and exports to, non-EU countries and goods transiting the EU. It’s required for all exports although there’s a small list of exceptions such as postal packages, and is normally submitted by the importer or exporter of the goods.

The SAD is consistent with other European versions of the form and is mainly used when computer systems aren’t working and customs resort to manual processing, or as an advice to shipping agents. SAD box numbers match the electronic system field numbers.

A paper copy of the EAD, often known as the ‘travelling Copy 3’ or ‘SAD Copy 3’ usually accompanies the goods to the customs Office of Exit from the EU. With the introduction of Union Customs Code (UCC) legislation on 1 May 2016, this is no longer a legal requirement for electronic declarations . The NES will produce a unique serial number. At the Office of Exit from the EU, the customs officer will use the unique serial number to make an electronic declaration. This will be accepted as official evidence of export.

The paper Copy 3 is consistent with other European versions of the form and is mainly used when computer systems aren’t working and customs resort to manual processing, or as an advice to shipping agents. The exporter may ask that the form is stamped by the customs Office of Exit from the EU and returned. The driver may be asked to hand it in when he or she reaches that office. The stamped form is needed as official evidence of export, allowing them to claim zero rating for VAT. If it’s not returned they may have to pay VAT to HMRC as though the goods were sold at the standard rate in the UK.

Certificates of origin

Certificates of Origin are needed by some countries as evidence of the origin of the goods.

There are 2 versions:

  • EU Certificate of Origin
  • Arab-British Chamber of Commerce Certificates of Origin

They’re available from Chambers of Commerce and, once completed, must be validated by the Chamber of Commerce stamp. In certain circumstances, the Certificate of Origin and the accompanying commercial documents must be legalised by the UK Embassy of the country of import.

In instances where preferential trade agreements exist, goods may have to be covered by a correctly completed and endorsed EUR1 or EUR2 form, or an ATR form for Turkey. These are used to claim preferential (reduced or even zero) rates of duty in the country of importation.

Notice 827 European Community preferences - export procedures outlines rules of origin and export procedures for countries with preferential trade agreements.

You can find details of how the export preference system with Turkey works in Notice 812 European community preferences - trade with Turkey.

Further information

AEO applications explained

Road Haulage Association (RHA)

Telephone: 01932 841 515

Freight Transport Association (FTA) Helpline

Telephone: 01892 526 171

UKBA Helpline

Telephone: 0870 606 7766

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) Helpline

Telephone: 0300 123 9000

RAC Carnets Helpline

Telephone: 01454 208 304

Published 20 September 2012
Last updated 5 April 2016 + show all updates
  1. Updates made to reflect changes resulting from the introduction of the Union Customs Code.
  2. Updated text throughout the document.
  3. Fixing references to specialist guides
  4. Added Croatia and Turkey to the list of EFTA countries covered under Common transit.
  5. First published.