Guidance

Exports, sending goods abroad and charging VAT

Find out if VAT is due when you sell, send or transfer goods from Great Britain to outside the EU or from Northern Ireland outside the UK and EU.

Overview

If you sell, send or transfer goods out of the UK you do not normally need to charge VAT on them. You can zero rate most exports from:

  • Great Britain to any destination outside the UK
  • Northern Ireland to a destination outside the UK and EU

Find out what you need to do if you are making sales of goods from Northern Ireland to the EU or see notice 725.

Goods dispatched by post

You can zero rate goods you send by post to an address outside the UK unless they are being sent from Northern Ireland to an EU country.

You’ll need to use form ‘Certificate of posting goods form 132’, or ask the Post Office for a certificate of posting. If you use Royal Mail Parcel Force, they’ll give you a dispatch pack with accounting documents, a customs export declaration, and a receipt copy. The dispatch pack goes with the goods. For sales from Northern Ireland to EU customers you do not need to fill in a customs export declaration form.

Dispatch by courier

If you use courier or fast parcel services, you’ll normally be given an airways bill number for each shipment. This is acceptable evidence that the goods have gone abroad. Otherwise, they’ll give you a customs dispatch pack receipt copy.

Collection by customer

If your customer arranges to collect the goods from you, you’ll need to be sure how and when the items are leaving the UK, and what evidence of removal they’ll give you, before you agree not to charge VAT. If you have any doubts, you should take a deposit that’s the same as the VAT that would be charged. You can refund the deposit if they give you the evidence that the goods have left the country within the time limit.

VAT on exports

VAT is a tax on goods used in the UK and you do not charge VAT if goods are exported from:

  • Great Britain to a destination outside the UK
  • Northern Ireland to a destination outside the UK and EU .

You can zero rate the sale, as long as you get and keep evidence of the export, and comply with all other conditions. You must also make sure the goods are exported, and you must get the evidence within 3 months from the time of sale. This can be longer for goods that need processing before export and for thoroughbred racehorses.

The time of sale is the earlier of the day you:

  • send the goods to your customer
  • get full payment for them

You must not zero rate sales if your customer asks you to deliver them to a UK address. If the customer arranges to collect them from you (an indirect export), you may be able to zero rate the sale as long as you meet certain zero rating conditions.

Goods you export temporarily or send on sale or return

No sale has taken place and you do not have to pay VAT in the UK when the goods are returned, if you send goods outside the UK from Great Britain or outside the UK and EU from Northern Ireland:

  • temporarily for exhibition,
  • sell goods on sale or return and they’re returned

Further information is available on what to do when taking goods out of the UK temporarily.

Goods from Northern Ireland processed in the EU before they’re exported

You might sell goods from Northern Ireland to a non-EU customer, but first send them to an EU business for processing. You can still zero rate the sale if:

  • the goods are delivered to the EU business, not sold to them
  • the EU business does not use the goods, it only processes them for export

In addition, your records must show:

  • the name and address of the customer
  • invoice date and number
  • description, quantity and value of goods
  • name and address of EU processor
  • date by which goods must be exported
  • proof of export and date of actual export

If goods have to be processed in the EU after leaving you but before they’re finally exported, the time limit is 6 months.

You can ask your freight forwarder, shipping company, airline or other agent to handle the paperwork. There’s more about appointing an export agent in VAT Notice 703.

Speeding up and simplifying the export process

The National Export System (NES) allows you to send export documentation to HMRC electronically. This makes exporting your goods quicker and easier.

Getting a customs identification number

If you plan to export goods you must get an Economic Operator Registration and Identification number (EORI).

Proof of export

to zero rate your exports you need documentary evidence of goods leaving either:

  • the UK from Great Britain
  • the UK and EU from Northern Ireland

This can be commercial or official evidence. If you do not get this evidence in time, you’ll have to account for the VAT on your return.

If you use the National Export System, you’ll automatically get an electronic Goods Departed Message when the goods leave the UK, and this is acceptable official evidence.

In addition to evidence that the goods have physically left, you’ll need to hold supplementary evidence, for example, within your accounting system, to show that a transaction has taken place.

You must keep evidence for 6 years. HMRC can ask to see it and if we think it’s unsatisfactory you may have to pay VAT on the goods or services you sold. If you cannot get this evidence in time you must account for VAT on your return.

Exports to the Channel Islands

Excise goods or goods subject to customs control exported to the Channel Islands need a Single Administrative Document (SAD) declaration on form C88. You can do this through the The National Export System for export declarations.

Other goods need either:

  • a bulk National Export System declaration by the shipping line, supported by individual Consignment Notes and Customs Declarations (CNCD)
  • individual National Export System declarations that you make

Exports via EU countries from Northern Ireland

If you send goods by road from Northern Ireland across the EU before they’re finally exported, you’ll need either:

  • official proof of export for VAT, either form C88 (SAD) or the National Export System form endorsed at the customs office of exit from the EU
  • commercial transport evidence that the goods left the EU

If you do not have one of these, you cannot zero rate the sale.

Exports in passengers’ baggage

Goods exported for commercial purposes is treated as Merchandise in Baggage.

Personal goods exported from Northern Ireland by visitors in their luggage can be sold under the Retail Export Scheme VAT Retail Export Scheme .

VAT accounting and record keeping for exports

You’ll need to keep several records for VAT on exports:

  • copies of invoices and other sale documents
  • your register of temporary movements
  • evidence of export

Put your sales into Box 6 on your VAT Return.

Published 1 July 2014
Last updated 31 December 2020 + show all updates
  1. This page has been updated because the Brexit transition period has ended.

  2. First published.