Transport industry: international trade regulations

Regulations for importing and exporting cars and other vehicles and trade in freight or passenger services; trade restrictions and health and safety for transport.


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

This guide will also show you how to research your overseas markets, consider health and safety issues, ensure your vehicles meet the required standards and deal with transport-related VAT issues.

Export regulations in the transport, transport infrastructure and services sector

Regulations, charges or other restrictions may apply to the export of vehicles and associated equipment 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 Exporting goods to a ‘third country’ outside the EU and Loading goods for dispatch to the EU.

First, you need to classify your goods. Use of standardised classification codes makes it easier to check if any restrictions or charges apply. You can use the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff) to classify your goods.

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

Read Notice 600 on how to classify your goods.

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

Regulations for transport service providers

If you supply transport services, eg freight or passenger services, you must always ensure that you comply fully with safety regulations in your destination and transit countries. You’ll need to check local laws on drivers’ hours and ensure that your vehicles comply with construction and use regulations.

Export licensing and certification

An export licence is required to export specified goods with military uses. You may also require an export licence for goods with a potential military use (so-called ‘dual-use goods’), such as flight navigation systems for aircraft that could be used in military craft. To determine if your goods are controlled you need to check the UK Strategic Export Control Lists. To find out more about strategic export controls, see our section on the Export Control Organisation.

If your business engages in transport and UK persons are involved in either arranging or actually transporting certain specified military goods between two overseas countries, you will have to comply with certain transport controls. In some cases these controls extend to the provision of certain other ancillary services. See the guide on transport controls.

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 sanctions, embargoes and restrictions.

For information on export licences, read the guide on get the right licences for international trading.

Researching your export destination in the transport, transport infrastructure and services sector

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 UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). Find your local international trade team on the UKTI website.

There are also various ways that you can research a potential export destination.

You can also use our free online UK Trade Tariff to find out if your goods are affected by restrictions and charges at their destination country, together with all applicable duties and taxes.

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

You should also consider product safety 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 local UKTI team
  • your UKTI team within the commercial section of the UK embassy in your destination country
  • transport sector trade associations
  • the Chambers of Commerce in the UK and in your destination country

Tariffs and duties in the transport, transport infrastructure and services sector

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 (the Tariff), duties and intellectual property.

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.

The Tariff is used 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

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

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 GSP rules of origin.

The European Community 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, everything but arms, and GSP+ in the guide on using trade preferences.


If you are registered for VAT and the goods you acquire from or supply to VAT-registered businesses in other EU member states reach the Intrastat exemption threshold for arrivals (EU imports) or dispatches (EU exports) for the year, you must submit monthly supplementary declarations to HMRC.

See the guide on Intrastat: an overview.

Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states. See our guide on Intrastat - reporting the value and volume of intra-EU trade. While Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders in goods above the annual threshold, the requirement to complete EC sales list declarations also applies to businesses supplying services subject to the reverse charge mechanism to VAT-registered businesses in the EU.

Intellectual property

You should ensure that imported goods do not breach the IP rights of other businesses, eg check that any components you import aren’t infringing active patents. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by 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 are advised to see our guide on UK Strategic Export Control Lists - the consolidated list of strategic military and Dual-Use items if you intended to export controlled military or dual-use goods as well as the Tariff.

Import regulations in the transport, transport infrastructure and services sector

As the EU is a Customs Union, you can buy goods from other member countries without restrictions, although VAT and excise duty can still apply. For more information, see our guide on trading in the EU. You can also see the page VAT on goods from EU countries in the guide on imports and purchases from abroad: paying and reclaiming VAT.

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: get the right licences for international trading

Use the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff) for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply.

Safety requirements

Goods imported to the UK must comply with domestic business standards, including type approval requirements for vehicles and many of their component parts.

Health and safety considerations for the transport and transport services sector

Health and safety are critical issues for all parts of the transport and transport services sector. The rules with which you’ll need to comply in your target country will depend on the type of product or service you’re offering.

These regulations are standardised across the EU so, if your business is operating solely within this area, you can usually ensure compliance by meeting the relevant UK law.

Safety of vehicles and vessels

You must ensure you comply with all local safety requirements for any vehicles and vessels you own, operate or sell. If you manufacture components for vehicles and vessels, these may also be subject to safety regulations.

Key areas that you need to consider are type approval, and construction and use requirements. These will be specific to the type of vehicle, vessel or component you’re operating or selling.

Find out about type approval on the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) website.

If you operate in countries outside the EU, you must check the details for each destination or transit country individually to make sure you’re complying with local laws.

Safety of passengers, drivers and freight

If you offer transport services, you’ll have to comply with detailed regulations to ensure the safety of any passengers and freight - as well as the staff you employ. For example, across the EU, the maximum hours a driver can work are strictly regulated.

The key areas you must consider, if relevant, are:

  • passenger safety
  • restrictions on the carriage of dangerous goods
  • welfare of drivers and other staff
  • worker safety on board the modes of transport your business operates

Special VAT considerations for the transport and transport services sector

If you sell new vehicles in an EU country, transport goods, or move vehicles across international borders, you must comply with specific VAT rules in each case. The rules are complex and it’s a good idea to check with HMRC which regulations apply to your particular circumstances. For more information call the HMRC VAT Helpline.

VAT for freight-transport businesses

The rules covering VAT for freight transport are complex. Freight-transport services must carefully consider the VAT that should be charged to customers on a case-by-case basis. This will depend on:

  • the type of transport service you’re providing
  • the country or EU member state in which any part of the service is being provided

Read Notice 744B VAT guidance on VAT issues for freight-transport businesses and related services.

VAT treatment of new vehicles

If you buy or sell:

  • a ship more than 7.5 metres in length
  • any aircraft with a take-off weight of more than 1,550 kilograms
  • any motorised vehicle with a cylinder capacity (cc) of more than 48cc or that is electrically propelled using more than 78.2 kilowatts

You’ll have to account for VAT and complete form VAT 411. In simple terms, VAT is zero-rated, but you must account for the VAT whether the purchaser is VAT-registered or not.

Read Notice 728 on the VAT treatment of new means of transport.

If you’re importing a vehicle temporarily into the UK, you may be able to claim relief on import duties and VAT. Read Notice 308 on the temporary admission to the UK of non-European Community (EC) means of transport.

Sources of help and support in the transport, transport infrastructure and services sector

As an importer or exporter in the transport, transport infrastructure 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 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 find information on the services they offer to exporters on the UKTI website.

You can also find details of your local international 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 transport, transport infrastructure and services sector include HMRC.

Transport sector trade associations and other bodies

You can also find contact details for trade associations and other bodies from our website.

Freight-transport businesses can obtain guidance from the British International Freight Association (BIFA). Find out about freight transport on the BIFA website.

Rail businesses can obtain support from the Rail Freight Group (RFG). Read about rail freight solutions on the RFG website.

Businesses that sell or manufacture motor vehicles can obtain support and advice from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Find out about SMMT on the SMMT website.

Further information

HMRC Tariff Classification Email Advice Service

Provision of non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes advice is available by emailing and including the information detailed in Customs Information Paper 27 (2015) with your enquiry.

UKTI Enquiry Line

020 7215 8000

International trade team search

Trade data information

Goods checker

Country and category of goods database

Vehicle type approval information

Safety Regulations, drivers hours and carriage of dangerous goods advice

Air transport health and safety overview

Ship and cargo legislation and guidance

Published 1 August 2012
Last updated 1 January 2014 + show all updates
  1. Intrastat exemption threshold for Arrivals changed with effect from 1 January 2014.
  2. First published.