Exporting and importing services

Special features of trading in services


If you want to export services, much of your approach will be the same as if you were exporting tangible goods. Thorough research and a clear understanding of the local culture is a crucial part of entering a new market. But there are also some important differences.

Exporting services

  • International services can be provided from within Northern Ireland, eg using the internet, or in the customer's country, eg making a personal visit. The difference can have important legal and tax consequences. See delivering services internationally.
  • Without a physical product to sell, you need to take a different approach to marketing. For example, you can't show samples to potential customers, or use a local wholesaler to distribute what you offer. See marketing services internationally.
  • The lack of a physical product also has important implications for contracts. For example, you are unable to use Incoterms to formalise where the service will be delivered or who is responsible for insurance. See legal issues for international services.
  • For many service exporters, protecting their intellectual property is a key issue. See international services and intellectual property.


Many similar issues apply to the importing of services.

Without physical samples, assessing supplier quality can be difficult. Recommendations and professional accreditation may be more important. Read more about how to manage overseas suppliers.