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HMRC internal manual

VAT Export and Removal of Goods from the UK

Assurance procedures: Pre-intervention preparation - overview of export procedures

It is a condition of zero rating that traders must obtain satisfactory evidence of export. This may be official evidence, produced by HMRC systems, or commercial evidence. To assist you in assessing the quality of official evidence held, a brief overview of export procedures and the types of evidence it produces is given below.

Customs export procedures

It is a legal Customs requirement that there must be a valid export entry made for the export of any goods from the UK to a destination outside the EU. Customs entries are made electronically by the exporter (or agent acting on his behalf) via HMRC’s National Export System (NES) on to the CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight) computer system. The information is retained on CHIEF for about 4 months but the information is downloaded on a daily basis on to the departmental MSS system (Management Support System) where it is retained for 4 years.

When an export declaration is entered to CHIEF it must go through a number of stages before the export procedure is finalised. The stages are

  • Pre-lodgement of data - the information is put on to CHIEF. There are up to 50 boxes on the export entry where information such as the type of goods, the value and weight of the goods, the VAT number of the exporter and the destination of the goods etc is input.
  • Acceptance of data - the information is accepted by CHIEF, but at this stage the goods haven’t actually arrived at the airport or seaport so as yet there has not been a legally acceptable Customs Entry.
  • Arrival message - this is initiated when the goods actually arrive at the airport or seaport. The appropriate Inventory system (basically a stock control system) of the port will record that the goods have arrived and advise CHIEF electronically of that fact. At this stage an entry has been legally made.
  • Departure message - this occurs when the goods leave the airport or seaport for export. The Inventory system will record this and an electronic message will be sent to CHIEF and this message can be accessed by the person who made the export entry.


Arrival and Departure messages above can also be put on to CHIEF by Customs and Approved Loaders at the ports that do not have Inventory systems. However only a small number of the smaller air and sea ports are not Inventory linked.

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Official evidence of export

Official evidence of export is produced by the Departure message. The GDM (Goods Departed Message) will be generated and should be received by the person submitting the export entry. There is further information about how a GDM provides official proof of export in VEXP40400.

Traders may also use MSS prints as their official evidence of export - see VEXP110020 for more details about MSS information and how it can be used for assurance purposes.

Remember, a trader is under no obligation to retain official evidence of export to support VAT zero rating. The option remains to retain commercial transport evidence to prove that the goods have been exported - see VEXP30400.