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Starting to export

When you start exporting the procedures that you'll need to follow will depend on the type of product or service that you're selling as well as your customer's location. 

Exporting goods to the EU

You don’t have to pay duty and there are no customs checks when sending goods within the European Union (EU). The goods are in ‘free circulation’. This also applies to goods from outside the EU but only if duty has been paid on them.

Exports within the EU are called ‘dispatches’.   Find information on doing business in individual markets. Where to Export page in the ExportZone

Regulations and product standards are the same in most EU member states. If you sell products in the UK it’s likely that you already comply with standards in other EU countries (eg security for electrical goods).

Paying VAT on dispatches within the EU

You have to:

Your customer is VAT registered

If your customer is VAT registered in their country, they’ll pay the equivalent to VAT for the goods at their country’s rate. You don’t pay any VAT, as goods sent to someone who’s registered for VAT in another EU country are zero-rated.

You’ll need your customer’s VAT registration number for your VAT return and paperwork proving that the goods have been sent within certain time limits (usually 3 months).  You can check if an EU VAT number is valid.

Your customer isn’t VAT registered

You normally have to pay UK VAT on goods you export to customers who aren’t VAT registered. You’ll only be exempt from paying VAT if you’re responsible for delivering the goods and their value is above a certain amount called the ‘distance selling threshold’. In this case your customer covers the VAT.

Distance selling thresholds in each EU country are available from the European Commission.

VAT Helpline
0300 200 3700 Find out about call charges

Paying duty on dispatches within the EU

Goods that have been produced in the EU and are then sent to another EU country are in free circulation and you don’t have to pay duty on them.

This also applies to goods from outside the EU if duty has already been paid on them.  If duty hasn’t been paid on goods arriving from outside the EU you have to follow the rules for importing goods from non-EU countries before you send them to another EU country.

Commodity codes

You need a commodity code for goods not in free circulation.  The code classifies your goods for duty, tax rates and regulations, eg  licences.  Find out more about the importance of classifying goods correctly and access guidance for classifying specific product types including, textiles, medicines, food, vehicles, computers and software.

Export licences

You may need a licence to export your goods.  Read further guidance on export licenses.

Exporting goods outside the EU

Exports to countries outside the EU are called exports to ‘third countries’. You need to submit an export declaration for these and may need an export licence.   You might also have to pay custom duties and taxes in the destination country.

Export regulations vary, depending on the country you’re exporting to. Find information on doing business in individual  markets.

Commodity codes

You need a commodity code for all exports outside the EU. The code classifies your goods for duty, tax rates and regulations (eg licences). Find out more about the importance of classifying goods correctly and access guidance for classifying specific product types including, textiles, medicines, food, vehicles, computers and software. 

Export licences

Sometimes you might need a licence for exporting goods to a third country. For example, agricultural goods or valuable antiques often need one. You’ll have to get the licence from the relevant government organisation. Read further guidance on export licenses

Export declarations

If you want to export goods to a third country, you must submit an electronic export declaration. You do this by:

Many businesses use an agent called a freight forwarder to handle these declarations for them. Special rules apply if you’re moving goods via other EU countries before exporting them to a third country. This is called ‘indirect exports’.

Paying VAT on exports overseas

You can zero-rate most goods you export to non-EU countries, but you must:

You need more detailed records if your customer collects the goods from you.

Paying duty on exports to third countries

Duty charges are set by the country you export to and depend on the type of goods, where they come from and their value.  Responsibility for paying duty charges should be agreed in advance between you and your customer and confirmed by the use of the appropriate Incoterms.

You might be able to claim duty charges and VAT back or delay payments for some exports outside the EU.   This is called ‘duty relief’ and there are a number of schemes you can apply for. Some countries have trade agreements with the EU that allow you to export at lower or zero duty rates. In these cases you must usually be able to prove where the goods originally come from. 

Exporting goods via other EU countries

Moving goods through the EU to non-EU countries is known as ‘indirect exports’.  Indirect exports need special procedures and paperwork, which generally depend on the final destination of your goods:

  • you must fill in an export declaration - even though the goods are initially moving through an EU country
  • export licences and other controls will depend on the destination of your goods
  • you won’t have to pay VAT on goods exported outside the EU, though you’ll have to show proof that the goods actually left the EU
  • you’ll need a trade control licence if you’re moving strategically controlled goods (eg military or defence) between 2 non-EU countries
  • you might need a transhipment licence if you arrange the shipment of goods through the UK

Sometimes you might need a licence for exporting goods to a third country. For example, agricultural goods or valuable antiques often need one. You’ll have to get the licence from the relevant government organisation. Read further guidance on export licenses

Temporary export of goods

You may want to export goods temporarily from the UK to countries outside the EU. These could be commercial samples, goods that you want to exhibit or tools that you use in your trade.

There are two simplified procedures that you may be able to use to export goods temporarily from the UK, these are the ATA and CPD Carnets and the Duplicate List.

ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission Carnet) and CPD (Carnet de Passages en Douane) carnets provide for goods/motor vehicles to be taken temporarily into or out of the EU for purposes such as exhibiting at a trade fair or taking part in a motor sport without having to complete the customs declarations and formalities normally required. Their use is not mandatory but where they’re available they simplify customs clearances in dispatching and receiving countries that are party to the ATA carnet or Istanbul Conventions.

ATA carnets are used to claim relief under temporary admission, from the customs charges normally due on importation for goods temporarily imported for use within the EU. They can also be used to temporarily export EU goods for a temporary admission use outside the EU provided those countries accept ATA carnets for the intended use - eg for professional equipment, exhibition goods, samples, music, film and theatre productions.

CPD carnets can be used for private or commercial motor and motor sport vehicles temporarily exported from the EU to a non-EU country.

Read the full guidance on when and how to use ATA and CPD carnets

The Duplicate List can be used to temporarily export a limited range of goods, ie professional effects; works of art and other items only for exhibition, display or demonstration purposes; trade samples and trophies belonging to a recognised sporting association or organising body permanently established in the UK

To be able to use the Duplicate List, the goods must travel with you as accompanied baggage. They must not be altered, processed or repaired when they are in a non-EU country.  However, you can carry out running repairs to return the goods to their original condition.

Unlike the ATA Carnet, using the Duplicate List doesn’t simplify customs procedures in the destination country. So you will need to fill in the foreign customs import and re-export documentation and give any financial security that is required.

Read the full guidance on temporary exportation and re-importation.

Exporting services

Service exports make up about a quarter of UK international trade. UK businesses are major exporters in sectors such as financial services and consulting.

International services can be provided from within the UK, eg using the internet, or in the customer’s country, eg making a personal visit. The difference can have important legal and tax consequences.  The lack of a physical product also has important implications for contracts. You will not be able to use Incoterms to formalise where the service will be delivered or who is responsible for insurance nor use payment methods such as Letters of Credit and Documentary Collection.

You need to charge VAT at UK rates on most services to non-business customers within the EU. If you supply services to a business customer in the EU, you don’t need to charge VAT - the customer is responsible for paying VAT in their country.

There are different rules for some types of service, including:

You don’t charge VAT for services that you export outside the EU, but you may be liable for withholding taxes.  You should check this with your customer before finalising your contract price.

Find out more about exporting services, including regulations, intellectual property issues and establishing a presence in the market