Recreation and leisure goods and services: international trade regulations

Import and export regulations, working within trade restrictions and getting trading advice if you're in the leisure industry.

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This guide provides an overview of the recreation and leisure goods and services sector, the key regulations you will need to comply with as an exporter or importer and selected sources of further help and support.

It will show you how to research the companies you plan to export to and how to comply with tariffs and duties on imported goods. It will also inform you of any sector-specific issues of which you should be aware.

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

See the detailed guide for help with classifying toys, games and sports equipment.

Export regulations

Regulations, charges or other restribthactions may apply to exports in recreation, leisure goods and services as they leave the UK and when they arrive at their destination country. It is important that you research both sides of the transaction.

For more information, 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.

Learn how to classify your imports and exports using the UK Trade Tariff.

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

Remember that in general it is much simpler to trade with other European Union (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 export to other EU countries without restriction (although some local charges may still apply).

Trade barriers for goods and services

The distinction between goods and services is important in this sector. If you’re exporting goods, barriers to trade will generally involve tariff charges on the goods as they enter your overseas market. There may also be licensing requirements, quotas and other restrictions.

For more information, see the guide on import and export licences.

Exporting services can involve you or your employees being present in the destination country. If this is the case, trade barriers in countries outside the EU are more likely to involve:

  • work permit issues
  • qualifications and certification
  • overseas taxes (such as withholding sales tax or VAT)

If you’re trading within Europe, you must also make sure your business conforms to the EU services directive.

Exporting goods for processing

While the UK is in the EU, you may be able to obtain relief from customs duties when you re-import European Community (EC) goods that have previously been exported from the EC 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.

For more information, view the guide to OPR.

Before you can claim duty relief under OPR, however, you must have the appropriate authorisation.

For more information on OPR, read Notice 235.

Researching your export destination

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 Department for International Trade (DIT).

Find your local DIT international trade adviser.

There are also various ways that you can research a potential export destination, including trade associations.

Key things to check for your goods include:

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

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

You should also consider product safety, labelling 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 DIT international trade adviser
  • your DIT team within the commercial section of the UK embassy in your destination country
  • recreation and leisure goods and services sector trade associations
  • the Chambers of Commerce in your destination country

Trade exhibitions

Exhibitions form an important element of overseas marketing in the recreation and leisure goods and services sector. Trade associations organise many of these events.

If you move exhibition materials in or out of the UK, you may want to consider using the ATA Carnet. This is an international customs document used instead of the usual customs documentation to export certain goods temporarily, such as those for exhibitions, for use outside the EU. It may also be used to import goods temporarily for use in the UK or EU. Relief from import duty or VAT may be available, provided the goods remain in the same condition as they are imported to the UK. ATA Carnets are issued by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Read the guide on ATA and CPD carnets.

Tariffs and duties

There is a range of import-specific regulations that must be complied with by all businesses in this sector. The key issues relate to the Tariff, preferential rates of duty, Intrastat, and intellectual property (IP).

A common customs tariff is charged by 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 VAT that apply
  • any additional charges, such as anti-dumping duties
  • any available preferential duty rates

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

Preferential rates of duty

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows products from a wide range of countries to be imported in the EU at a reduced or zero rate of duty.

You can find detailed information on GSP in the guide on using trade preferences.

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

Find out if your goods qualify for a preferential rate of duty and meet the appropriate rules of origin see Notice 828: tariff preferences - rules of origin for various countries.


If you are VAT registered and the goods you acquire from or supply to VAT-registered businesses in other EU countries reach the Intrastat exemption threshold for the year, you must submit monthly supplementary declarations to HMRC.

Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states. Intrastat thresholds are reviewed annually. The thresholds can be found on the introduction to intrastat.

See the guide on Intrastat - reporting the value and volume of intra-EU trade. Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders.

Intellectual property

You should ensure that imported goods do not breach the IP rights of other businesses. For example, you should watch out for counterfeit goods, as well as for design infringements. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by HMRC.

You can ask HMRC to check for imported counterfeit versions of your goods.

Find out how HMRC operates the EU procedures on customs enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights.

You must make sure your business and the services you offer meet the conditions of the EU services directive.

Import regulations

As the EU is a customs union, member countries 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.

Also see the guide on paying VAT on imports, acquisitions and purchases from abroad.

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: do you need an export licence?

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

Goods imported to the UK must comply with domestic business standards.

Sources of help and support

As an importer or exporter in the recreation, leisure goods and services 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 DIT. DIT 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

You can also find details of your DIT local trade adviser.

Government sources of help and information

In addition to DIT, other government bodies that provide business support in the recreation, leisure goods and services sector include HMRC.

Trade associations and other bodies

Because the recreation and leisure sector covers many activities there are numerous trade associations representing the interests of businesses in various sub-sectors. You can search for trade associations on the Trade Association Forum website.

Trade associations in the sector include:

Further information

HMRC tariff classification email advice service

Provision of non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes advice is available see Ask HMRC for advice on classifying your goods.

DIT Enquiry Line

Telephone: 020 7215 5000

Import and export guidance on the

DIT International trade adviser search

Trade data information on the uktradeinfo website

Trade association database on the Trade Association Forum website

British Toy and Hobby Association

FSPA information on the Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA) website

TEA help and information on the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA)

Leisure information on the BALPPA website

UK Garden and Leisure Federation information and trade opportunities on the Gardenex website

British Equestrian Foundation overview on the BEF website

Published 1 August 2012
Last updated 18 February 2016 + show all updates
  1. Further information section has been updated with how to contact the HM Revenue and Customs tariff classification email advice service.
  2. First published.