Pay no import duty and VAT on importing commercial samples

If you’re importing commercial samples from countries outside the UK, you may be able to claim relief from Customs Duty and VAT.

Excise Duty relief is not available for commercial samples.

Who can get relief

You can get relief if you’re either a:

  • commercial entity within the UK
  • government agency or department, public institution or public establishment, recognised and approved by HMRC

In addition the goods must be:

  • used as commercial samples and show the characteristics of the goods they represent
  • prepared and presented in an acceptable way before importation
  • imported solely with the intention of obtaining future orders for the type of goods they represent

Using someone else to act on your behalf

You can use someone else to complete entries on your behalf but you must make sure:

  • you give clear written instructions for the goods that you’re claiming relief on
  • that you’re always clearly identified as the person claiming relief
  • that you regularly request them to send you details of declarations made on your behalf, so that you can check the accuracy of customs declarations made in your name

How to prepare your goods to be used as commercial samples

You and your supplier must identify your goods as commercial samples before importing them. Use the following methods to do this:

Method A

Tearing, altering, perforating, slashing or defacing the items.

Method B

Label your goods with the term ‘commercial sample’ using a permanent indelible pen.

Method C

Limit the amount of items within the consignment and for items like garments and footwear, also limit the range of available sizes or dimensions for those items.

Method D

Present the goods in a way that restricts their handling and limits their use to that of proper commercial samples.

HMRC expects that you will ensure the goods meet either or both criteria A and B, depending on the type of goods involved. HMRC may also ask that you then use one, some or all of the other methods- depending on the commodity code of your commercial sample.

Only if this pre-importation preparation is done correctly can the goods be accepted as proper commercial samples and relief allowed.

HMRC reserve the right to state that some commodities cannot be prepared prior to import adequately enough, no matter what method is used from the list above. If a commodity cannot be prepared prior to import, the items will not qualify for commercial sample relief.

If you are not sure what methods to use, you should contact the National Imports Reliefs Unit (NIRU).

Goods you cannot claim relief on

You cannot claim relief on:

  • small amounts of goods that HMRC suspect have been deliberately mis-described as commercial samples
  • goods imported without the intention of obtaining further orders
  • goods that are not properly identified as commercial samples
  • undeclared imported items or materials that can be later made into samples
  • goods that can also be used for more than just commercial samples
  • goods using the Low Value Bulking Import procedures cannot be considered as commercial samples
  • ‘give-away’ goods intended to promote trade

Controlled goods

You should check if your goods are strictly controlled and if you will need an import licence.

How to claim

Who is responsible for claiming the relief

The commercial entity, institution, establishment or company intending to use the Commercial Samples Relief must have a person who is nominated as the contact responsible for:

  • maintaining suitable records on their use of Commercial Samples Relief
  • the demonstration of those samples
  • the final disposal of those samples
  • any involvement of any third parties acting on their behalf

Goods imported in baggage

If your goods are imported in baggage you must:

  • declare them to HMRC at the time of arrival
  • provide sufficient evidence to HMRC or Border Force showing that all relief conditions are met

If you cannot produce the necessary supporting documentation or evidence to show you are entitled to this relief, you must give us financial security (normally a cash deposit or a banker’s guarantee) to cover the duty and/or VAT before we will release the goods.

Goods imported as freight

Complete an import declaration on a Single Administrative Document (SAD) form C88. You can get an import agent to do this if you wish.

Enter one of the following Customs Procedure Codes (CPC) in box 37 of the SAD form C88:

  • CPC 40 00 C30 – for goods imported from outside the UK on which you claim relief from import duty and VAT
  • CPC 49 00 C30 – for goods imported from the Channel Islands on which you claim relief from VAT

If you want to complete the SAD yourself and need more information on the details required, refer to the Tariff.

Goods imported by post

Ask the sender to write clearly on the package and its accompanying customs declaration CN22 or CN23:

‘Commercial samples of negligible value - relief claimed.’

If the package is not clearly marked it may not be delivered until you have paid the duty and VAT.

You should pay these charges and then write to customs using form BOR286 Import and export: Customs Duty/import VAT relating to imports by post. Explain what happened and enclose the document showing the charges. If HMRC and Border Force are satisfied that the goods qualify for relief, we may repay the duty and VAT.

We may send you a simplified form to complete and return.

Claiming relief after goods have been imported and customs charges paid

Normally, you should claim relief at the time of import. If you do not do this, we may accept a late claim and repay the appropriate charges subject to conditions.

You must submit the claim within 3 months of the date of original import and you must provide evidence so that HMRC can agree the goods were properly prepared prior to import as commercial samples.

Find out more about repayment and remission in Notice 199: imported goods, customs procedures and customs debt for further details.

Disposing of your goods

You can:

  • re-export the goods outside the UK
  • destroy the goods
  • retain the goods (only with the prior agreement of NIRU)

You cannot:

  • sell the goods
  • make the goods into another product
  • declare the goods to another customs procedure
  • transfer or give away the goods
  • donate the goods to charity

Records you must keep

If we ask you to, you’ll need to show:

  • a copy of the import declaration
  • evidence of ownership
  • evidence of when, where and how the goods are used
  • a copy of the customs forms that have been completed
  • how the goods are identified – such as manufacturers marks, serial numbers, technical descriptions or illustrations
  • evidence of disposal

Evidence of disposal

Evidence of disposal must include:

  • customs or commercial documents proving that the goods have been re-exported
  • destruction certificates from the contractors employed to destroy the goods, detailing what, when and where the goods were destroyed
  • proof that the Customs Duty and VAT has been paid on any residual scrap value after destruction
  • authority from NIRU to retain the goods

You must keep these records for a minimum of 4 years.

If you want to appeal

Appeal if you disagree with a decision made by HMRC.

Published 3 July 2020