When you transport goods out of the European Union (EU) with the intent to permanently export those goods, you must first submit an electronic export declaration via the National Export System (NES), part of HMRC's Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. Exceptionally, a paper export declaration known as a C88/ESS may be used for, for example, merchandise carried in hand baggage (MIB). Indirect exports (ie those moving from the UK but exiting in another Member State must be accompanied by an Export Accompanying Document (EAD).
You're not generally required to complete an export declaration for goods being sold within the EU. There are exceptions, for example sales to international organisations, which are treated as exports and exports to special EU territories.
When you export goods out of the EU to third countries, you can usually zero-rate the goods for VAT purposes.
Direct exports are goods that are exported from the UK to a destination outside of the EU. The UK acts as the customs office of export and exit.
Indirect exports are goods exported from the UK that are exiting the EU from another member state. The UK acts as the customs office of export and the other member state is the customs office of exit. Under current EU legislation indirect exports must be accompanied by an EAD to the customs office of exit. The EAD contains the Master Reference Number (MRN) and bar code of the consignment of goods and must be presented at the customs office of exit with the goods before leaving the EU.
Union Customs Code (UCC) legislation is in force from 1 May 2016. Under the UCC when an indirect export is presented at the customs office of exit the person presenting the consignment must provide the MRN of the export declaration. There’s no obligation to provide a paper EAD.
There’ll be a transition period up to the year 2020 for businesses and UK to fully implement the requirements of the UCC legislation and its related IT systems. During this transition period you should continue to take a paper copy of the EAD to the customs office of exit to enable your goods to be exited from the EU.
How to make the declaration
You will need to have an Economic Operator Registration Identification (EORI) number and register for NES, which you can then access via:
- email - not to be used for CAP declarations
- a web form via the HMRC website
- Community System Provider (CSP) and software houses
- a paper declaration that HMRC staff will input for you in exceptional circumstances
You can use an agent, for example a freight forwarder, to make the declaration on your behalf. This can make exporting simpler and faster if you're not authorised to make electronic declarations yourself.
Find a specimen C88/ESS form or read our more about declarations and the Single Administrative Document.
The declaration allows HMRC to check that you're complying with export controls, for example licensing requirements, duty and VAT.
There are special arrangements for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) goods, for which you may be entitled to a refund.
Traders must classify their goods as part of the declaration, including a commodity code and a Customs Procedure Code (CPC). A CPC identifies the nature of the movement of exports. It also describes the purpose of your shipment and informs HMRC about the duty liabilities on the goods. Volume 2 of the Tariff contains a full list of commodity codes and volume 3 contains details of CPCs. Access the UK Trade Tariff. You must also provide a reference for the goods, known as a Unique Consignment Reference.
Incoterms - internationally recognised trading terms - clarify the obligations of exporter and customer as to who bears the costs of international transport and auxiliary services and responsibility for presenting documentation. For example, the Ex-Works Incoterm places minimal duties on the seller. Read more about International Commercial Contracts - Incoterms.
Safety and security regulations require you to pre-notify goods due to leave the EU within set time limits ahead of their departure. If you complete normal export declarations, you will be covered, but if you're not declaring them in the usual way, you must complete an Exit Summary Declaration. Download FAQs on Exit Summary Declarations (PDF, 341K).
HMRC's Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) scheme allows registered companies to take advantage of the simplified customs procedures that relate to the security and safety of their goods in transit. Businesses will need to have an EORI number before they register for the AEO scheme. Read more about the Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) Scheme.
Merchandise in Baggage (MIB)
If you're taking commercial goods out of the EU in your baggage, you must declare the goods electronically to CHIEF or exceptionally you may complete a C88/ESS. You can have the declaration stamped by customs when you leave the EU as proof of export to zero-rated goods for VAT, however submitting and clearing a paper export declaration at the port or airport will take longer than if the export declaration was submitted electronically to CHIEF. Read more about MIB.
International Road Transport
If you need to move goods through several countries, you may be able to use the Transports Internationaux Routiers (TIR) procedure to allow your goods to pass through borders with minimal customs intervention.
All traders moving goods across the EU under the TIR procedure must also submit an electronic customs declaration using the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS).
Moving goods out of the EU via other EU countries is known as indirect exporting.
If you want to temporarily export goods from the EU - for example samples for an exhibition, you can do so by using a temporary export Customs Procedure Code (CPC) in your declaration to NES, or move the goods under an ATA Carnet.
The ATA carnet will simplify their export and temporary import into the third country destination. This type of carnet is valid in most major countries and will enable deferment of up to a year of import duties and that might otherwise have applied. Read more about ATA and CPD carnets.
Declarations for exports by post
If you export goods out of the EU by post, you must complete and attach a CN22 customs declaration (for goods worth up to £270) or CN23 for goods of higher value. You will need to retain evidence of posting in order to zero-rate the goods for VAT purposes.