Importing your goods from outside the European Union

What is an import?

Within the European Union (EU) most goods are in free circulation. Importing goods from the EU is sometimes not termed as 'importing' - this is often referred to simply as a 'movement' of goods, or as an 'acquisition'. The term 'importing' is often used with the implied meaning that the goods have come from outside the EU.

Goods can be moved freely within the EU, although VAT and excise within member states should be taken into consideration. Goods in free circulation in the EU can be moved from country to country with minimal customs control. Unless the goods are subject to excise duty, eg alcohol, or licence requirements such as agricultural goods, they generally cross borders without any special taxes and minimal import paperwork. For more information, see our guide on trading in the European Union. You can also see the page VAT on goods from European Union (EU) countries in our guide on imports and purchases from abroad: paying and reclaiming VAT.

Imports from outside the EU are treated differently:

  • You must make an import declaration to customs. See the page in this guide on import declarations.
  • You generally have to pay import duty and import VAT (plus VAT on import duty), although use of some customs procedures may suspend or relieve you from these taxes. See the page in this guide on taxes and duties on imports.

Businesses that are already involved in international trade and have an Economic Operator Registration and Identification Number (EORI), may wish to consider registering with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO). While the scheme is not compulsory, companies that meet the requirements will be registered as AEOs and can take advantage of simplified customs procedures that relate to the security and safety of their imported goods in transit. See our guide on Authorised Economic Operators.