Do you need an export licence

Export Licences

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 - eg taking a sample to an exhibition.

There are controls on exports of

Exports of radioactive substances are subject to additional controls. Read guidance on radioactive substances on the Environment Agency website.

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.

Export of technology, security, firearms or defence goods (including dual-use goods)

The Export Control Organisation (ECO) within the UK Government’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills issues licenses for controlling the export of these strategic goods. For further information on export controls, read an introductory guide

ECO’s licensing process for strategic goods assesses:

  • what is being exported

Strategic goods include: military equipment, dual-use items (items that can be used for both civil and military purposes), products used for torture and radioactive sources.  Dual-use items are goods, software, technology, documents and diagrams which can be used for both civil and military applications.  Read further information on export controls for dual use items.

  • where it is going

The licensing process takes into account foreign policy and international treaty commitments, EU or United Nations trade sanctions or arms embargoes, and the security of the UK and its allies.

  • who will be using it

Concerns about internal repression, regional instability or other human rights violations in the destination country can affect licensing decisions.

The following licences are available for strategic controlled goods:

Open General Licence (OGL)

An OGL allows the export of specific goods by any exporter to a range of destinations.  Open licences may be available for less restricted controlled items. You must register for these licences and adhere to all terms and conditions. If you cannot fulfil all the terms and conditions you will need to apply for a Standard Individual Export Licence, as detailed below.

Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL)

An SIEL allows the export of a quantity of specified goods to a specified importer as set out in the licence.

Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL)

This is specific to an individual exporter and allows multiple shipments of specified goods to specified destinations. It is a concessionary form of licence available to exporters with a track record in export licence applications only.

SPIRE is the Export Control Organisation’s online database for processing licence applications. You must use it to apply for any of the licences processed by the Export Control Organisation within BIS.

To keep updated about current arms embargoes and changes to strategic export control legislation, you can subscribe to receive the ECO’s Notices to Exporters

Export of animals and animal products

The exportation of live animals and animal products such as meat, dairy goods, pet food and wool is the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Defra is often required by the importing country’s veterinary authorities to provide certain animal health, public health and animal welfare assurances. It does this by producing export documents - typically a veterinary health certificate. These certificates usually require a consignment to be inspected by a Defra-approved veterinarian shortly before export to confirm that the necessary assurances can be met.

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.

Because of the array of live animals and meat that can be exported, different regulations apply to different species. In most instances however, there are standards in place for the care, treatment and processing of animals. You can call the Defra Helpline on Telephone: 08459 33 55 77.

Businesses wishing to export live animals are responsible for:

  • conforming to the appropriate import conditions for their consignment with the authorities in the importing country - consignments that do not meet a country’s import rules could be refused entry, returned or destroyed
  • allowing enough time for the certification process to be completed before the export takes place - it usually takes about ten days for a certificate to be produced and some require certain conditions to have been met for a month, or sometimes considerably longer, before departure
  • ensuring that their consignment meets any relevant UK rules, as well as those of the importing country

Application forms for export health certificates can be obtained from your local Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) office. You can locate your nearest AHVLA office by calling the Defra Helpline on Telephone: 08459 33 55 77.

Read information on the trade of animals and animal products within the European Union (EU) on the Defra website.

Find more information on live animal and meat exports in general on the Defra website.

Export of objects of cultural interest - including antiques and works of art

The Arts Council has responsibility for issuing export licences for objects of cultural interest which includes antiques and works of art.

You will need an export licence to export certain objects of cultural interest that are more than 50 years old and above certain financial thresholds. For example, you’ll need to apply for a licence if you want to export a book that’s more than 100 years old and worth more than £65,000 to another European Union country. For further information, read about export licensing for antiques and works of art on the Arts Council website.

Export of prescription drugs and medicines (and the materials used to manufacture them)

Anyone wanting to export prescription drugs or medicines should contact the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an agency of the Department of Health.

The MHRA issues four types of export certificate:

  • certificate of a pharmaceutical product - which includes detailed information about the product
  • certificate of manufacturing status - which certifies that a manufacturing licence is held
  • certificate of licensing status - which can be issued for licensed and unlicensed products, contains less information than a certificate of a pharmaceutical product and can list up to ten products per certificate
  • certificate for the importation of a pharmaceutical constituent - which certifies if a chemical can be used as an ingredient of a pharmaceutical product in the UK

Read about the export of medicines and access export application forms on the MHRA website or MHRA Export Section Enquiry Line on Telephone: 020 3080 6593.

Anyone wishing to export controlled drugs will generally require licensing from the Home Office Drugs Branch. Find out about export licenses for controlled drugs on the Home Office website.

Export of flowers, wildlife, plants and seeds

To prevent the spread of pests and diseases, the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) is responsible for making sure that the export of flowers, wildlife, plants and seeds meets the requirements of importing countries.

If you’re exporting such items to a country outside the European Union (EU), find your nearest plant health and seed inspector contact details on the Fera website. An inspector will be able to help ensure that you meet the requirements of the country to which you’re exporting.

However, if you’re exporting to countries within the EU, you may require a ‘plant passport’. This depends on the type of items you want to export and the nature of your business.

Find plant health information and advice on the movement of plants on the Fera website.

Find a list of the various import and export forms you can download on the Fera website.

Export of chemicals and pesticides

If you’re planning to export certain pesticides or hazardous chemicals outside of the European Union (EU) you may need to go through a notification procedure and, in some cases, obtain prior informed consent (PIC) from the importing country before the export can take place. This procedure is overseen by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), which makes sure that:

  • chemicals are exported at least six months before their expiry date
  • exports of chemicals that have a severely restricted use within the EU have complied with a mandatory notification procedure
  • no chemicals are exported that are banned within the EU
  • exports to countries outside the EU are packaged and labelled in line with the United Nations’ Open General Licence Globally Harmonised System (GHS) - read about GHS on the HSE website

Find further information about the PIC procedure on the HSE website.

Find a list of chemicals subject to PIC procedure on the EDEXIM (European Database of Export and Import of certain dangerous chemicals) database on the European Chemicals Bureau website.

An export licence is required to export so-called dual-use goods which are controlled for ‘strategic’ reasons. The list of dual-use goods includes chemicals. These are controlled because of the UK’s commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention and European Union dual-use legislation.

Export of vehicles

If you are exporting an ordinary vehicle that is less than 50 years old, you do not generally need an export licence.  However, you must notify the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Normally you use your Registration Document (V5) or Registration Certificate (V5C) to let DVLA know when you intend to export the vehicle.

For more information, see the guide ‘Taking a vehicle out of the UK’.

You do not need to notify the DVLA if you are taking your vehicle out of the country for less than a year, but you must take your registration document or certificate with you.

Sanctions and embargoes

Sanctions and embargoes are political trade restrictions put in place against target countries with the aim of maintaining or restoring international peace and security.  Sanctions measures include arms embargoes and other trade control restrictions. It is a criminal offence to export licensable goods without a licence.  Read guidance on how sanctions and embargoes work and how they affect importers and exporters in international trade.

For details about specific destinations see Current arms embargoes and restrictions

To keep informed of latest updates about arms embargoes and changes to strategic export control legislation, please subscribe to the Export Control Organisation’s Notices to Exporters.