Exporting and importing services

Payment for international trade in services


Before buying or supplying services, you should make sure you have a clear agreement on payment arrangements.

Key issues to consider include:

  • how much will be paid, in what currency, and when
  • who is responsible for bank charges
  • what will happen if the customer fails to pay
  • where payment will be made, eg to your UK bank account
  • who is responsible for any taxes

When supplying services overseas, the risk of non-payment may be high. You cannot protect yourself with payment methods such as documentary collections that are used to reduce the risks when exporting goods. It can also be difficult to prove that you provided the services, and expensive or impossible to recover unpaid debts through the local courts.

As a minimum, it's worth researching your customer to help assess how creditworthy they are. In some cases, you may want to get credit insurance to help protect you in case of non-payment. See our guide on insurance for international trade. You may decide not to deal with risky customers unless they agree to pay in advance.

If you will be providing services over a period of time, it can be a good idea to agree stage payments as the work progresses. This helps reduce the risk and improve your cashflow.

You should be aware that some countries have restrictions on using foreign currencies or transferring money overseas. You should check this in advance and take advice if necessary.

UK-based services exporters may also benefit from the commitments of UK trading partners under the World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Read more about getting paid when selling overseas.