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Transport market 15.04.2021
8 min.

A guide to customs clearance for import and export to the EU

Customs Clearance

The decision to leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union has fundamentally changed UK border controls and customs clearance. This directly impacts importers and exporters, as well as transporters, moving goods between the UK and the EU. Here is a short but comprehensive guide to help you navigate the new customs clearance processes in a post-Brexit Great Britain.

What is customs clearance?

Before we dive into the new UK customs and border protection rules, it might be worth mentioning that customs clearance is a process necessary for all goods entering or leaving the EU that ensures the correct documentation has been used, the correct taxes have been applied, and the goods are in conformity with the law. The UK government created a step-by-step guide to obtain UK customs clearance when importing/exporting goods to or from the EU, we at TIMOCOM analysed it so you don’t have to.

Here’s what we found out.

What are the documents needed for customs clearance in the UK?

To continue providing reliable and efficient logistics services, businesses are now finding ways to adapt to the new customs clearance processes and required documentation to pass through UK customs and border protection with no extra charges and delays. In short, what are the documents needed for customs clearance?

New customs clearance under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

Since the 1 January 2021, companies moving goods between Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and the EU will require an EU Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number to obtain customs clearance.

As per the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), preferential arrangements are provided in specific trade areas (among which goods and transport) allowing for tariff-free and quota-free trade between the EU and GB, granted the traded goods comply with “the appropriate rules of origin”. What does that mean?

How to obtain customs clearance when importing goods in the UK

In general, goods moved from the EU to GB must now be covered by an exit summary declaration (EXS). The EXS declaration must be submitted within a certain time ahead of export — depending on how the goods are transported — complete with the customs authority of the country where the company is based.

However, to benefit from the preferential treatment accounted for in the TCA, companies have to comply with the rules of origin that determine where goods come from, i.e. where they have been produced or manufactured. This implies:

  • the production process of the exported goods needs to take place in the EU;
  • the exported product has to be sent unaltered directly to the UK;
  • the UK importer requires a statement of origin, containing information mentioned in the TCA (this consists of an invoice, or other documentation, describing the goods well enough for them to be identified).

Moreover, in order to produce said statement of origin, the companies need to also comply with customs registration rules and apply for the EU Registered Exporter System (REX).

How to obtain customs clearance when importing goods in the EU

In case of goods exported from GB to the EU, businesses will need an EORI number, but this has to be issued by a member state of the European Union. In fact, the bigger difference from the 1 January 2021 is that EORI numbers previously issued in the UK are no longer recognised in the EU. Moreover, goods entering the EU from GB must be covered by an Entry Summary Declaration (ENS).

Goods traded between UK and EU that don’t comply with rules of origin

The zero tariff and zero quota provisions in the TCA apply to all goods that comply with the rules of origin, this means that extra tariffs may apply to goods that do not originate in the EU or UK but are traded between the two countries.

UK customs and border protection: What about road transport?

On transport, the TCA provides for “continued and sustainable air, road, rail and maritime connectivity”. This is to ensure fair competition between EU and UK road hauliers on a level playing field. For example, despite UK companies not holding an EU license anymore, the TCA grants UK lorries the possibility to reach (and return from) the EU. The same is true also for EU hauliers travelling to and from the UK. The Agreement also grants full transit rights to reach third countries, which is extremely important when trading with Northern Ireland.

Customs entry for hauliers and commercial drivers moving goods from the EU to GB

As mentioned, goods carried into Great Britain will need an exit summary declaration (EXS). Carriers have “the legal responsibility to make sure the UK customs authority is provided with pre-departure safety and security information”.

This means that the EXS should be submitted by carriers and freight forwarders in advance of departure. Moreover, the summary needs to include all safety and security (S&S) information for all imported goods, unless the S&S has already been submitted with the export customs declaration.

Customs entry for hauliers and commercial drivers moving goods from GB to the EU

On the other hand, a complete and accurate entry summary declaration (ENS) is necessary to carry goods into the EU from third countries, including GB now too. Carriers will therefore need to submit the ENS, including S&S information for all goods they are carrying, in advance of arrival in the EU. Individual member states may have additional requirements to be completed before customs clearance is granted.

Customs clearance in Northern Ireland: The Protocol

The provisions in the EU-UK agreement do not cover trade between the EU and Northern Ireland. In fact, there are no new customs clearance processes for Northern Ireland, as the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland now applies.

Customs clearance process for EU and Northern Ireland

Generally speaking, EU rules for customs, VAT and excise duties apply to all goods carried between Northern Ireland and the EU, so all goods imported/exported between the two markets will be treated as intra-EU transactions. This means:

  • no customs formalities;
  • no changes in tax and customs;
  • EU VAT rules apply for transactions in goods.

Furthermore, all operations between EU and Northern Ireland should be declared in the VIES (VAT Information Exchange System) listing.

Customs clearance between Northern Ireland and Great Britain

According to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland remains part of the customs territory of the EU, and EU customs rules and procedures will continue to apply there. However, as Great Britain no longer belongs to the EU and its customs territory, this means that the customs clearance process required for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are the same as those for any EU member state with a non-EU country.

To import goods from outside of the EU into Northern Ireland, companies need to use the Import Control System. Once registered in the Import Control System, import/export businesses must submit a customs declaration, providing information about their goods before these arrive. The same is true for companies moving goods into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

New UK customs clearance processes cause delays

In short: yes, the new customs clearance processes after Brexit cause delays. No matter how prepared businesses are, even when all documents needed for customs clearance have been filled in advance, the customs clearance process won’t be as smooth as before. A delay in customs entry can result in higher costs and warehouse storage fees, so companies should check with their shipping agent how much these amount to.

For more information, please refer to the official government website and keep up with the latest regulations.

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