Guidance

Telecoms, radiocomms and broadcasting equipment: international trade regulations

Regulations that importers or exporters need to follow including import licensing, electromagnetic compatibility and electrical safety.

Introduction

An overview of the telecommunications, radio communications and broadcasting equipment sector and the key regulations you’ll need to comply with as an exporter or importer. This guide will also show you how to research your export destination, work with CE marking (the European quality control mark) and comply with and benefit from tariffs and duties.

See the guide for help with classifying audio and video equipment.

Export regulations

Regulations, charges or other restrictions may apply to telecoms, radiocomms and broadcasting equipment exports when they leave the UK and arrive at their destination country. It’s important you research both ends of the transaction.

For more information, see the guides on exporting goods outside the EU and loading goods for export from the UK.

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 in the Trade Tariff.

Remember that in general it’s much simpler to trade with other EU countries than with countries outside it. 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).

CE mark

If you’re selling in the UK or to other countries in the EU, you’ll need to check whether your product needs a CE mark.

Export licensing and certification

An export licence is required in order to export specified goods with military uses. The list of controlled goods requiring a licence doesn’t include conventional broadcasting equipment products. However, you may require an export licence for goods with a potential military use (so-called dual-use goods), such as radio equipment that may be used to jam signals or remotely detonate explosives.

To determine if your goods are controlled you need to check the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.   You should also be aware of any arms embargoes and other restrictions which apply to your intended export destination. For more general information, see the guide on sanctions, embargoes and restrictions.

For information on export licences, see the guide Do I need an export licence?.

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. Notice 3001: customs special procedures for the Union Customs Code explains how to claim relief from customs duty if you can show the exported goods were used in - or incorporated into - the products being imported.

Before you can claim duty relief under Outward Processing Relief (OPR) you must have the appropriate authorisation.

Researching your export destination

You should thoroughly research your export destination country when planning to export. As a starting point, you may wish to seek advice from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). 

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

You can also use the Market Access Database 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
  • whether goods are permitted to be sold, for example many countries don’t allow radios that can pick up police radio frequencies

You should also consider product safety and other technical standards as your goods may need to be adapted to comply as the rules in your export market may be less or more strict than those of 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, consulate or high commission in your destination country
  • telecoms, radiocomms and broadcasting equipment trade associations
  • the Chambers of Commerce in the UK and in your destination country

You should also be aware of any sanctions and embargoes which apply to your intended export destination. For more information see the guide on current arms embargoes and other restrictions. For more general information, see the guide on sanctions, embargoes and restrictions.

Tariffs and duties

All businesses in this sector must comply with a range of import-specific regulations. The key issues relate to the Integrated tariff of the United Kingdom, duties and Intrastat.

Using the Integrated Tariff

A common customs tariff is applied across all EU countries on goods imported from outside the EU. Specific tariff duties and measures are contained in the tariff.

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

You’ll need to use the tariff to determine the specific classification code of your goods and to find out:

  • 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 Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows originating products from a wide range of countries to be imported into the EU at a reduced or zero rate of duty. For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one, read Notice 830: tariff preference - new General System of Preference rules of origin.

The European Community (EC) has a number of other preferential trade agreements with third countries, as a result of which goods may attract preferential rates of duty. You can find out about free trade agreements, economic partnership agreements and the GSP+ extension to the GSP system in the guide on using trade preferences.

Intrastat

If you’re registered for VAT 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 HM Revenue and Customs.

Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states. While Intrastat is only applicable to VAT registered traders in goods above the annual threshold, the requirement to complete European Community (EC) sales list declarations also applies to businesses supplying services under the reverse charge mechanism to VAT registered businesses in the EU.

Intellectual property

You should ensure that imported goods don’t breach the Intellectual Property (IP) rights of other businesses. Watch out for design right and copyright infringements on components and patent infringements on technologies, techniques and in some cases applications. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You can ask HMRC to check for imported counterfeit versions of your goods. Read how HMRC can help protect your IP rights in Notice 34.

Export controls

You should check the UK Strategic Export Control Lists if you intend to export controlled military or dual-use goods as well as the Tariff.

Import regulations

As the EU is a Customs Union, you can buy most goods from other member countries without restrictions, although VAT and excise duty can still apply.

If you import from outside the EU, you’ll have to comply with import licensing requirements where applicable and with common customs tariffs that apply across 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.

Most products in the telecoms, radiocomms and broadcasting equipment sector don’t require a licence, but you’ll still need to check for restrictions. However, importers of CB radios that use the AM band should be aware that HMRC may query whether an import licence is required before releasing the goods. While there’s a legal framework for licensing such products, Ofcom usually chooses not to enforce it. Check with HMRC and/or Ofcom before the product arrives in the UK.

Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive

There are specific rules about electronic devices and their ability to cause interference with radio frequencies. Find out about the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive for electronic devices on the Europa website.

Low Voltage Directive

If your product is designed to work with a voltage between 50 and 1,000 volts for alternating current (AC) and 75 to 1,500 volts for direct current (DC), you’ll have to comply with the Low Voltage Directive (LVD).

CE mark

If you’re importing telecoms, radiocoms or broadcasting equipment into the UK or into other countries in the EU, you’ll need to check whether the products need a CE mark.

Domestic business standards

Goods imported into the UK must comply with domestic business standards, including the Plugs and Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations 1994 if your product comprises electrical plugs, sockets or adapters.

Find out which regulations and licences apply to the telecoms, radiocomms and broadcast equipment area in the UK in the guide on international trade in electronics.

If your product generates and/or uses radio signals, you must ensure that it uses approved parts of the radio spectrum. These are defined by the Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment (R&TTE) directive, standardised across the EU and regulated in the UK by Ofcom. The requirements of the R&TTE directive form part of the CE marking process, without which you can’t sell an electronic product.

Working with the CE mark when importing and exporting

Most radio equipment (RE) and telecommunications terminal equipment (TTE) must carry CE marking to show it complies with RE and/or TTE requirements before it can be placed on the EU market. RE and TTE equipment must:

  • be constructed to protect users and other people from health and safety hazards
  • have an adequate level of electromagnetic compatibility
  • not cause harmful interference, in the case of radio equipment
  • have up-to-date technical documentation at the manufacturer’s or importer’s premises showing how the equipment complies with the requirements - for example, that it has the right to bear the CE mark on the product and/or packaging

Although some products can be self-certified, others must undergo independent assessment of conformity where required by the Notified Body.

Products that need a CE mark

If your products are covered by any European-wide regulations on safety, design or manufacture, you’ll have to obtain a CE mark. Your local UKTI office provides advice about CE marks in your particular product area.

How to get a CE mark for your product

The process will depend on which legislation is applicable to your product. It may be possible for your business to self-certify. You may also have to get confirmation of satisfactory testing, inspection or quality assessment from an officially recognised organisation (referred to as a Notified Body).

In either case, you’ll have to keep appropriate records to show that you’re following the relevant regulatory requirements.

Read a step-by-step guide to the CE marking process on the British Standards Institution (BSI) website.

Using the CE mark

There are strict rules governing how a CE mark must be used. It must be affixed visibly, legibly and indelibly to the product itself. If this isn’t possible, it must be affixed to the packaging and any accompanying documents, for example instruction booklets. If a notified body validates your product, the mark must also carry the body’s identification number.

Penalties

If you don’t use the CE mark when required, you may be instructed to remove your products from sale until they’re properly marked. If there are safety concerns, you could be fined or even imprisoned.

Sources of help and support

As an importer or exporter in the telecoms, radiocomms and broadcasting equipment 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 also find details of your local trade team using a postcode search on the UKTI website.

Government sources of help and information

In addition to UKTI, other government bodies that provide business support in the telecoms, radiocomms and broadcasting equipment sector include:

Trade associations and other bodies

You can also find contact details for trade associations and other bodies from our website. Find key government and trade bodies for your sector in the guide on international trade in electronics.

Further information

HM Revenue and Customs Tariff Classification email service

UK Trade & Investment enquiry line

020 7215 8000

BIS ECO helpline

020 7215 4594

International trade team search on the UKTI website

Country and category of goods database on the EU Market Access Database website

Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive for electronic devices information on the Europa website

LVD information on the Europa website

Plugs and Sockets etc (Safety) Regulations 1994 information on the BIS website

CE marking information on the BIS website

CE marking process explained on the BSI website

CE marking details on the Europa website

Broadcasting policy and the UK’s broadcasting framework on the DCMS website

Designing, selling and manufacturing digital television devices advice on the Digital Television Group website

Published 1 August 2012
Last updated 2 January 2014 + show all updates
  1. The Intrastat threshold for Arrivals has increased to £1,200,000.
  2. First published.