The authorisations and permits needed to operate gross vehicle weight vehicles above 3.5 tonnes on international journeys.
If you operate vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating above 3.5 tonnes on international journeys, you’ll need a number of authorisations and permits. The authorisations will depend on the countries in which the vehicle is to travel.
This guide covers the main authorisations and permits that you may require. It offers help on where to find more information and how to research the application procedures involved.
Standard International Operator’s Licence for road transport
Hauliers must obtain a Standard International Operator’s Licence to carry goods for others, for hire or reward, within the UK and on international journeys. This applies to all vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating above 3.5 tonnes.
Operators who are issued with international licences can also request Community Licences, which are required for all operations for hire or reward in, or through, EU countries.
Drivers who transport dangerous goods must hold an International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road - or ADR - training certificate, unless they are transporting small loads. See the guide on driving dangerous goods and special loads abroad.
For information on operator licences, see the guide on moving goods by road.
How to apply for a Standard International Operator’s Licence
Road transport operator licensing laws require all holders of standard operator licences to be professionally competent, or employ someone who is professionally competent. The competent person has to hold a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) and is called a Road Transport Manager. Find out about the Road Transport Manager role on the Careers Advice website.
Under an EU Directive, professional bus, coach and lorry drivers must hold a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) in addition to a vocational driving licence. Depending on when you gained your vocational licence, you will get your Driver CPC either through having ‘acquired rights’, or by passing initial qualification tests. Both new drivers and those with acquired rights must take 35 hours of periodic training every five years if they want to keep their Driver CPC after that period. See the guide on Driver CPC for lorry, bus and coach drivers.
Community Licences and road haulage permits
Hauliers who make international journeys for hire or reward within the European Union (EU) must hold both a Community Licence and a Standard International Operator’s Licence.
Community Licences allow drivers to use a single permit for trips between all EU member states. The licence also allows transit traffic through EU member states and to and from non-member countries.
Community Licences also allow cabotage, ie journeys entirely within one other EU member state.
Community transit and the EU
Most regulations on the international carriage of goods by road within the European Union (EU) have been harmonised as part of the single market. Journeys between the UK and other EU member states are governed by common rules.
The 28 EU member states are:
As well as applying in the 28 member states of the EU, Community Licences are also valid in the 4 member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA):
Three EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) belong to the European Economic Area (EEA), which unites the 28 EU member states and the EFTA countries in an internal market. Many EU regulations are applied in all the EEA countries. However, in some areas local laws still apply and therefore conditions vary between countries.
To find out more about haulage in the member states of the EU, read the guide on dispatching your goods within the EU.
How to apply for Community Licences
Community Licences are issued free of charge to any haulier who has been granted a Standard International Operator’s Licence. They are for use only by the operator to whom they are issued.
The Central Licensing Office sends out Community Licences which comprise of:
- an office copy, which must be kept in the vehicle operator’s main office so that it can be inspected by enforcement agencies
- certified copies of the Community Licences - an operator can request a certified copy for each of the vehicles authorised by the Standard International Operator’s Licence
Certified copies of the Community Licence are not specific to any one vehicle. A certified copy of a Community Licence must be carried on the vehicle on all international journeys and must be presented to any enforcement official on request. It is an offence not to do so.
Central Licensing Office
386 Harehills Lane
Leeds LS9 6NF
Telephone the DVSA helpline on 0300 123 9000
Validity of the Community Licence
Community Licences are issued until the 5 yearly renewal date of the operator’s licence. In any circumstances where a traffic commissioner is considering revoking an international licence, they will also consider withdrawing the Community Licence.
If Community Licence documents are lost, damaged or stolen, you must inform the Central Licensing Office. You must also return the documents when a licence is surrendered or otherwise terminated.
See the guide on moving goods by road.
Bilateral road haulage permits
The UK has agreements with several non-EU countries, which allow hauliers to travel to or through those countries as long as they hold a permit for the country with which the bilateral agreement has been made.
Where bilateral permits apply
Currently, bilateral permits are required for journeys to or through:
- the Russian Federation
Single-journey permits are valid for one complete journey (the outward and return trips counting as one complete journey). Multiple-journey permits are available for Morocco which authorises 15 return trips during the validity of the permit.
A bilateral permit is only required for journeys through Turkey to a third country.
How bilateral permits work
If you are operating goods vehicles from the UK using bilateral permits, you must obtain these permits before commencing the journey. By producing the permit at the border, the driver is allowed to pass into or through that country. Depending on the terms of the bilateral agreement, they may still have to pay certain local taxes.
Whether or not a permit is necessary depends on the country to or through which you intend to travel, the size of the vehicle and the nature of the goods being carried. There are exemptions for small vehicles and certain loads as well as for certain types of operation. If you are operating haulage vehicles in countries with which the UK does not have a special arrangement or agreement, you will need to obtain a licence from the authorities of those countries. It may be advisable to seek advice from the embassy of the country concerned.
How to apply for a bilateral permit
The International Road Freight Office (IRFO), which is part of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), issues permits for the countries mentioned above. A fee is charged for each permit issued. Application forms and current fees are included in DVSA’s ‘General quota application form’.
Download a General quota application form.
‘Own account’ journeys to Belarus, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey also require a general quota permit.
If you’re entering Morocco empty or taking in film equipment or other goods (eg furniture) as specified under Article 3 of the Bilateral Agreement, you’ll need an exceptional empty entry and/or an hors contingent permit.
Applications for permits should be sent to the IRFO, with the appropriate fee, at least 5 working days before you expect to start the journey. All permits must be returned, whether used or unused, within 15 days of expiry.
Special entry permits
Applications for special entry permit should be made to the IRFO at:
International Road Freight Office
386 Harehills Lane
Telephone: 0113 202 6072
European Conference of Ministers of Transport (EMCT) multilateral road haulage permits
In addition to Community Licences and bilateral permits, hauliers can get permits to cross into other countries by using the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) multilateral permit scheme for journeys between its member countries.
ECMT permits may be used for journeys between member countries, including transit journeys whether laden or empty. They can also be used for third-country journeys to other ECMT countries which would otherwise be prohibited under certain bilateral agreements.
Where multilateral permits apply
The 43 member countries of the ECMT are:
|Romania||Russian Federation||Serbia||Slovak Republic|
How multilateral permits work
ECMT permits are valid for one calendar year and allow an unlimited number of journeys within that period. The UK does not issue short-term permits.
Permits may be transferred between vehicles, but are valid for only one vehicle at a time. The permit must be kept on board for the whole journey.
ECMT permits may not be used for:
- transit of ECMT countries on journeys to non-ECMT states
- unaccompanied trailers or semi-trailers
- own account operations
Some countries - particularly Austria, Greece and Italy - impose additional restrictions on the use of ECMT multilateral permits.
Each ECMT member country is allocated a limited number of permits each year, under a quota system. Once the quota of ECMT permits has been used, further permits are available throughout the year, for which fees are charged on a sliding scale. Normally, all permits are allocated before the beginning of the year in which they are valid.
The UK’s ECMT permit system is administered by the IRFO, which is part of DVSA.
International Road Freight Office
386 Harehills Lane
Telephone: 0113 202 6072
Get an ECMT permit
To obtain an ECMT permit and logbook, applicants must ensure that the ECMT Compliance certificates are completed to verify that the vehicle intended for use is environmentally compliant to standards Euro IV, V, EEV and VI. These are completed by the vehicle manufacturer, or DVSA. Compliance certificates are also required for the trailer and a further roadworthiness certificate must also be completed to be presented to IRFO prior to the issuing of the ECMT permit and logbook.
The logbook should be carried in the vehicle and used for recording journeys taken. You must enter journey details before the journey begins. The logbook may be stamped at control points by the competent authorities. Records are detached from the logbook and must be returned to IRFO within two weeks after the end of each calendar month. ECMT permits have the same number as the logbook.
Contact the IRFO for further advice on applying for ECMT permits, logbooks and vehicle certificates.
ECMT international removal permits
Hauliers who need to remove goods between or across ECMT member countries may be able to get special permits for laden or empty transit journeys and third-country journeys between member countries.
How ECMT international removals permits work
The permits are not subject to any quota and are available to firms employing the specialised equipment and staff needed to undertake removal operations. The permit may only be used by one vehicle at a time and must be kept on board the vehicle for the whole journey, including an unladen journey preceding or following a laden one.
ECMT removal permits are valid for one year from the date of issue. They do not authorise cabotage.
Download an ECMT international removal permit application form, including information on the charges payable.
Own account traffic
Hauliers whose vehicle is carrying goods in connection with their own business (ie not for hire or reward) are exempt from Community Licence requirements in the EU and from permit requirements in certain other countries. However, they still may need to carry an Own Account document.
Where Own Account applies
A permit must be carried on the vehicle for journeys to Belarus, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and Turkey. No permit is needed for journeys through Austria, Ukraine and Georgia.
Special conditions apply to Own Account journeys between the UK and Hungary and the UK and Cyprus. These are covered later in this guide.
How the Own Account permit works
The carriage of goods on Own Account between EU countries and the UK does not require the operator to hold a Community Licence, as long as the following conditions are fulfilled:
- the goods carried must be the property of the business or must have been sold, bought, let out on hire or hired, produced, extracted, processed or repaired by the business
- the purpose of the journey must be to carry the goods to or from the business or to move them, either within the business or outside, for its own needs
- the vehicles used must be driven by employees of the business
- the vehicles must be owned by the business or have been bought by it on deferred terms or hired, providing that the conditions of Council Directive 84/647/EEC are met (this provision does not apply to the use of a replacement vehicle following breakdown of the vehicle that is normally used)
- haulage must not be the major activity of the business
For Own Account operations between the UK and Cyprus or Hungary, you do not need a special licence. However, operators travelling to these countries should carry on board the vehicle a document containing the following information, to show that the journey is Own Account:
- the name and address of the operator
- the operator’s trade or business
- the nature of the goods being carried
- loading and unloading points
- registration number of the vehicle being used
- the route the haulage takes
The operator of the vehicle may be asked to provide evidence of the ownership of the goods.
Cabotage is the haulage of goods between 2 points in a country by a vehicle that isn’t registered in that country.
If you’ve delivered an international load to an EU member state, and you hold a Community Licence, you can carry out cabotage jobs in that state. (Croatia is not included in this agreement.)
The number of cabotage jobs you can carry out is limited by EU rules. You can carry out 3 cabotage jobs which must take place within 7 days of when you dropped off the load that you brought into the country.
On your home journey you can carry out further cabotage jobs in other member states so long as:
- you enter the member state unladen
- you don’t go over the 3 jobs in 7 days limit
- the state isn’t Croatia
You must be able to prove that you’re operating within the rules for cabotage. As a driver you must have documents with you showing the:
- name, address and signature of the sender and haulier
- place and the date of taking over of the goods and the place designated for delivery
- name and address and signature of the international consignee with the date of delivery
- common description of the goods, method of packing, number of packages and their special marks/numbers
- gross mass of the goods or their quantity otherwise expressed
- number plates of the motor vehicle and trailer
VAT on cabotage operations
Operators may be liable to pay VAT on cabotage operations in the member state in which the journey is made, and will therefore need to register in that country for VAT.
Penalties for the misuse of Community Licence
It is illegal to misuse or forge a Community Licence, bilateral or ECMT permit, or to make a false statement to obtain one. It is also illegal not to have the right documents for your journey. If you are convicted of such offences, you may be liable to a fine set by the authorities in the country where the offence was committed.
If you are convicted of the misuse of documents, this is grounds for your operator’s licence being revoked, suspended or curtailed under the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995.
Furthermore, any fine, forgery or misuse of permits can lead to administrative action being taken against you, including temporary or permanent withdrawal of Community Licences or permits.
Published: 4 September 2012
Updated: 26 February 2016
- Updated section 'Get an ECMT permit' to remove reference to the your vehicle being environmentally compliant to the Euro III standard as this is no longer valid.
- Added a link to PDF for an Application for Moroccan Exceptional Empty Entry and Hors Contingent Permits.
- Updated cabotage wording in consultation with DfT(c) policy team.
- First published.
Related guides: Customs procedures when transporting goods by road Driver documents required for international road haulage Moving goods by road The essentials of international road haulage Vehicle documents required for international road haulage