Do you need an export licence?

1. Introduction

If your business is considering exporting goods, you will need to check if you need an export licence. Licence requirements may depend on the potential use of the item and where you are exporting to.  Exporting controlled goods without the right licence is a criminal offence, so it’s important to check first. You may need a licence even if you are only exporting goods temporarily – e.g. taking a sample to an exhibition.
 

There are controls on exports of:
 

Animals and plants

  • animals and animal products
  • plants and plant products

Drugs, medicines and medical devices

  • drugs and medicines
  • medical devices

Chemicals and radioactive substances

  • chemicals
  • ozone-depleting substances and F-gases
  • radioactive substances

Diamonds and art works

  • diamonds
  • art works, antiques and culturally significant goods

Waste


Goods that could be used for torture or capital punishment


Technology, security, firearms or defence goods (including dual-use)

  • firearms, ammunition and related equipment
  • military goods, services and technology
  • items that can have both civil and military uses

You will also need to check whether any sanctions and embargoes apply.  Sanctions and embargoes are political trade restrictions put in place against target countries with the aim of maintaining or restoring international peace and security.

2. Animals and plants

2.1       Export of animals and animal products

The regulation of exports of live animals and animal products such as meat, dairy goods, pet food and wool is the responsibility of HM Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

The regulations that apply to a particular export vary widely.  Factors such as the destination country, the species, the nature of the animal products and the intended use of the consignment all influence the conditions that must be met.

Read guidance on importing and exporting live animals or animal products on the gov.uk website

 

2.2       Export of plants and plant products

The regulation of exports of plants and plant products is the responsibility of HM Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

When you export regulated plants and plant products to other countries, you need to:

  • check if your plants need a phytosanitary certificate by contacting the plant health authority in the destination country (if you cannot find details on the IPPC website or are unsure of the requirements, contact your UK plant health authority or inspector if you know them)
  • check if your plants need laboratory testing of samples to make sure they’re free from pests and diseases or for growing season inspections - contact your local plant health inspector
  • apply for a phytosanitary certificate from the relevant UK plant health authority before export
  • register as a professional operator, if you have not already done so

If you export as a private citizen (you are not registered as a company or sole trader), please contact APHA for information on the process of how you can apply. Email planthealth.info@apha.gov.uk.

You can contact the UK’s plant health authorities to check if plants and plant products you intend to export need to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate.

The relevant plant authority in England and Wales is the Animal Plant Health Agency (APHA).  Contact your local APHA plant health and seeds inspector or contact the Centre for International Trade (CIT):

CIT Plants Headquarters
Foss House
Kings Pool
1-2 Peasholme Green
York

Telephone: 0300 1000 313 - select option 2 when calling

Email: planthealth.info@apha.gov.uk

Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website to check if you need a licence or phytosanitary certificate to export plants and plant products.  This includes guidance on how to re-export (also known as re-forwarding) imported items to another country.

3. Drugs, medicines and medical devices

3.1       Export of drugs and medicines

You must get permission to export:

  • controlled drugs like opioids, certain stimulants or psychotropic substances
  • certain drugs that can be used in lethal injections outside the EU
  • medicines for humans or animals

Controlled drugs

You can check the list of common controlled drugs to find out if your drug is controlled and whether you need a Home Office controlled drug licence to export it. This is in addition to any domestic licence you need to possess the drug in the UK. 

If your drug is not on the list but you think it might have the properties of a controlled drug, check the relevant legislation to find out if it’s controlled. The list of common controlled drugs has links to the relevant legislation.

To apply for a Home Office controlled drug licence to export controlled drugs anywhere in the world you will need to register for a Home Office controlled drugs licence and log in once you’ve registered. 

There’s a different form if you’re exporting controlled drugs to the Channel Islands. Contact channel_islands@homeoffice.gov.uk for details.

Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website.

 

Drugs that can be used for lethal injections

If the product you are exporting contains a substance which could be used for lethal injections, your Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD) export certificate scheme application must be supported by submitting an export licence issued by the Export Control Joint Unit (Department for International Trade). This can be uploaded in the online application.  Read more about the export controls for torture and capital punishment goods including drugs that can be used for lethal injections

Follow the rules for exporting barbiturates.

Medicines

To export veterinary and human medicines you must:

  • check you have a drug manufacturer, wholesale dealer and marketing licence - if you don’t, apply for the licence
  • check if you need an export certificate - contact your importer or the authority in the destination country to find out

If you need an export certificate, how you apply depends on whether you’re exporting medicines for humans or for animals.  Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website.  Note that there are additional rules if your medicine is coated in or contains animal products like gelatine.

 

3.2       Export of medical devices

You may need a Certificate of Free Sale (CFS) to export medical devices.  To find out, check the import rules of the country you are exporting to. You can do this using the Import Controls tool of the Export Hub.

A CFS for medical devices is issued by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).  The MHRA only issues a CFS as a service to UK exporters for medical devices.

Before you apply

A CFS can only be ordered for medical devices and in vitro diagnostic (IVD) devices that have been registered with the MHRA on its Device Online Registration System (DORS). In vitro diagnostic medical devices for performance evaluation cannot be included on CFS orders.

A CFS can only be ordered by a UK-based manufacturer, UK Responsible Person or Northern Ireland-based Authorised Representative. You will have to provide evidence that the medical devices you are exporting have relevant conformity assessment marks (UKCA, CE, CE UKNI) to show compliance with the UK Medical Devices Regulations 2002 (as amended) that enable them to be placed on the UK market.

Certificates of Free Sale

A CFS should not be taken as a Government endorsement of any product that is referred to on the certificate.

Depending on where the manufacturer, UK Responsible Person or Authorised Representative is based, and the mark of conformity, MHRA will issue a different CFS.

For the purposes of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland), MHRA will issue a CFS for the UKCA mark stating that the medical device can be freely sold on the Great Britain market.

These MHRA certificates are issued as PDF documents with an electronic signature.

Please note that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office will not apostille PDF documents directly from MHRA. You will need a Notary who will carry out checks on the certificates with the MHRA to ascertain their authenticity, and can then notarise the certificates, if required by the recipient country. Once notarised, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office will apostille the documents.

Read the full guidance on how to apply for a CFS on the gov.uk website.

4. Chemicals and radioactive substances

4.1       Export of chemicals

Within the EU, there aren’t special rules unless you export controlled chemicals, for example those with a military use.  Outside the EU, you must follow the rules for hazardous chemicals, as well the rules for any controlled chemicals.

Export rules cover single substances as well as mixtures (also called preparations). For example, paints, inks, glues or oils. There are special rules for products that contain highly restricted chemicals outside the EU.

Licences for controlled chemicals

You may need a licence to export:

If you supply chemicals that could be used to make explosives, check the legal requirements and concentration limits of the importing country.

You must report any suspicious transactions to the anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321.

Drug precursor chemicals

You may need a licence to possess or export drug precursor chemicals.

Hazardous chemicals

To export certain hazardous chemicals outside Great Britain, you must:

Products that contain highly restricted chemicals

You need an RIN number if you export a product that both:

  • includes a chemical in part 2 or 3 of Annex 1
  • is classed as an article by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

 

This includes products like batteries or telephones.

You don’t need to follow the other additional export rules for chemical substances and mixtures.

4.2       Export of ozone-depleting substances and F-gases

You must have a licence to export ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and must first register for an ODS account if you want to work with:

  • ODS
  • equipment containing ODS

When you have an account you must apply for an ODS licence before you import or export ODS and / or equipment containing ODS.  You will need a licence to import and export ODS for applications including:

  • feedstock
  • process agent
  • laboratory and analytical use
  • halons for critical uses, for example in aircraft extinguishing systems
  • aircraft
  • military use
  • destruction
  • metered dose inhalers (export)

You need an import or export licence to trade with the Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

You can trade all groups of regulated controlled substances with Jersey and the Isle of Man. You can only trade group 1 and group 3 substances with Guernsey.

Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website

It is against the law to import or export ODS without a valid import or export licence, or to import or export ODS for any other uses. You could be prosecuted if you break the law. See the Environment Agency’s enforcement and sanctions policy.

 

4.3       Export of radioactive substances

Controlled radioactive sources

The Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006 controls the export of certain high-activity radioactive sources as defined under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.

It was introduced as part of the UK government’s international commitment to minimise the risk of radioactive sources falling into the hands of terrorists or criminal groups who may seek sources for terrorist funds. Other countries have similar controls on the import and export of such high-activity radioactive sources.

The export of specific radioactive sources is controlled depending on their radioactivity level. The order defines items in terms of 2 levels known as Category 1 and Category 2 which are described later in this guidance.

The list of controlled radioactive sources is also provided in the UK National Radioactive Sources List which forms part of the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.

Read the full guidance on which radioactive sources you need a licence to export and how to apply for one on the gov.uk website.

5. Diamonds and art works

5.1       Export of diamonds

You can export jewels, gold and precious metals without a licence or certificate, except for uncut (rough) diamonds.  However, there is a ban on exporting precious and semi-precious stones, gold and silver items and other luxury goods to North Korea or Syria.

Some countries may have import rules for certain goods. You can check by talking to your importer. You can also find out the import rules for a country using the Export Hub’s Import controls tool.

You can only import and export rough diamonds to and from countries in the Kimberley Process (KP) Certification Scheme or your goods may be seized.

The KP regulates the international trade in rough diamonds and you must get a KP certificate to export each rough diamond shipment outside the UK.

Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website.

 

5.2       Export of art works, antiques and culturally significant goods

Exports of art works, antiques and culturally significant goods are regulated by the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).  Cultural goods include:

  • works of art
  • furniture
  • antiques
  • means of transport
  • manuscripts
  • archaeological items

 

You may need a licence even if you’re exporting inside the EU, or on a temporary basis.  There’s a ban on supplying art works, collectors’ pieces and antiques to North Korea and Syria.

 

Read the full guidance including how to apply for a licence on the gov.uk website.

6. Waste

For Wales, controls on the import and export of waste are the responsibility of Natural Resources Wales in conjunction with the UK government’s Environment Agency.

The export and import of many wastes for recovery require written consent (from all ‘Competent Authorities’ of all the countries involved) before moving the waste. You must comply with a range of other requirements, especially the requirements to provide a Financial Guarantee and have a valid written contract with the recovery site (exports) or waste producer (imports).

Read further guidance on the Natural Resources Wales website.

7. Goods that could be used for torture or capital punishment

Goods are subject to export prohibitions or controls from the UK if they can be used for:

  • torture
  • capital punishment
  • cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

These goods are controlled by the Torture Goods Regulations.

Goods controlled by the Torture Goods Regulations include drugs used in executions by lethal injection. The export of pancuronium bromide and propofol to the United States is also controlled under UK legislation.

The Torture Goods Regulations list three categories of goods:

  • those which have no practical use other than for the purposes of capital punishment, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • those that have legitimate law enforcement applications but could be used for the purpose of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • those that could be used for the purpose of capital punishment

The export of the first category of goods is prohibited, except in specific circumstances.  The other two categories of items may be authorised by export licence.

Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website.

8. Technology, security, firearms or defence goods (including dual-use)

8.1       Export of firearms, ammunition and related equipment

Firearms, and their parts, components, accessories or ammunition and related software and technology are controlled strategic goods. Unless an exception applies, you need a licence to export any controlled firearms from the UK to another country.

This applies to:

  • individuals
  • businesses, including registered firearms dealers
  • both permanent, and temporary exports, such as for an exhibition, a competition or for the purpose of a holiday

It is a criminal offence to export controlled goods without the correct licence. Penalties vary depending on the nature of the offence.

This information is for guidance only. It is not a statement of law. Before exporting you should refer to the legal provisions in force at the time. Where legal advice is required, exporters should make their own arrangements.

You can check if your items are controlled and find the appropriate control entry using:

If your items are not controlled you should only apply for a licence if you have concerns over the end-user or destination.

Read the full guidance including the types of licences and how to apply for them on the gov.uk website

8.2      Export of military goods, services and technology

An export licence is needed before the export of controlled military goods, software and technology

A trade control licence is needed before engaging in certain activities that involve:

  • the supply or delivery of certain items from one country to another
  • the agreement to supply or deliver certain items from one country to another
  • any activity that will promote the supply or delivery of certain items from one country to another

You can assess your goods, software and technology against the UK Strategic Export Control Lists to determine whether or not they are controlled.

The OGEL and Goods Checker Tools can be used to:

  • help determine if the items are controlled
  • identify the appropriate control entry

You can apply for a licence through SPIRE, the online export licensing system. SPIRE is managed by the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU).

 8.3      Export of items that can have both civil and military uses

Dual-use items (including software and technology) are items which can be used for both civil and military purposes.  The term also includes all goods which have non-explosive uses or assist in any way with the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

Sanctions regulations under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 may also apply to activities involving dual-use items. These regulations apply to the whole of the UK (including Northern Ireland).

You can assess your goods, software and technology against the UK Strategic Export Control Lists to determine whether or not they are controlled.

The OGEL and Goods Checker Tools can be used to:

  • check if the items are controlled
  • identify the appropriate control entry

If your items are not listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, you may still need a licence under End-Use Controls or trade sanctions and embargoes.

You can use SPIRE, the online export licensing system to apply for all types of export licences.

Exporting controlled items without the correct export license is a criminal offence.

Penalties vary depending on the nature of the offence but they range from:

  • your licence being revoked
  • goods being seized
  • a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years

Read the full guidance on the gov.uk website.

9. Sanctions and embargos

The UK uses sanctions to fulfil a range of purposes, including supporting foreign policy and national security objectives, as well as maintaining international peace and security, and preventing terrorism. Sanctions measures include arms embargoes, trade sanctions and other trade restrictions.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is responsible for overall UK policy on sanctions. The Department for International Trade (DIT) implements trade sanctions and other trade restrictions and has overall responsibility for trade sanctions licensing.

Arms embargo, trade sanctions and other trade restrictions

An arms embargo is a prohibition that applies to the trade or activities related to military items. An arms embargo may be imposed by the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) or the UK.

Under the Sanctions Act, arms embargoes consist of prohibitions on export, supply or delivery, making available and transfer of military items and on the provision of technical assistance, financial services and funds, and brokering services related to military items.

Trade sanctions are controls on:

  • the import, export, transfer, movement, making available and acquisition of goods and technology
  • the provision and procurement of services related to goods and technology
  • the provision and procurement of certain other non-financial services
  • the involvement of UK people in these activities.

There may be specific exceptions under which it is possible to engage in an activity that would otherwise be prohibited. It may also be possible to get a licence that would permit you to engage in an activity that would otherwise be prohibited.

Trade controls

The UK also imposes trade controls on trafficking and brokering of military goods from one overseas country to another. Trade controls apply to specific activities, including brokering, that involve certain controlled goods.

Certain goods transiting the UK are regarded as being exported when they leave the country and are subject to transit controls.  

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a convention on small arms and light weapons, their ammunition and other related materials, and a moratorium on the import, export and manufacture of light weapons in June 2006. 

The UK will not issue an export licence for small arms and light weapons, components or ammunition unless the ECOWAS Commission has issued an exception to its moratorium.

Read the full guidance, including a list of countries subject to arms embargo, trade sanctions and other trade restrictions, on the gov.uk websit