Do I need an import licence?

Import licences are needed for goods the Government does not want to come into Britain unmonitored. Find out whether what you’re importing needs an import licence

Import licenses are government-issued permits or authorisations required for individuals or businesses to import specific goods or commodities into the country. These licenses are a part of the UK’s trade regulations and are used to regulate and control the inflow of certain goods, often for reasons related to public health, safety, national security, or economic protection.

The process may involve meeting specific criteria, providing documentation, and paying fees. Importers typically need to apply for these licenses well in advance of the intended importation.

Failure to obtain a required import license can result in legal consequences and the rejection or confiscation of imported goods at the border.

Do I need an import licence for the UK?

Deciding whether you need an import licence to import goods into the UK depends on what commodity you are importing. Your first step is to identify the customs HS code which should be available from your supplier/manufacturer that you are purchasing the goods from.

Related: The essential guide to commodity codes and HS categories

When importing goods into the UK, there is a lot of documentation involved. Although a vast majority of products do not need an import licence, a few do.

Products do often need licenses to “export” them before they’re allowed to leave their country of origin – but, unless you’re buying on EXW terms, the export licence cost is not your responsibility.

Who needs an import licence?

The thing to remember about import licences is that a licence is a way for the Government to cap and monitor imports. Most goods will be unaffected, but certain goods like firearms and military-use goods will require a licence. Goods that require a licence are the same; items that the Government would not want an unlimited supply of saturating the market.

An example of a few goods you need an import licence for are below:

  • Military goods
  • Paramilitary goods
  • Dual-use technology
  • Artwork
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • High risk foodstuffs
  • Medicines
  • Most chemicals
  • Waste

How do I get an import licence?

You can apply for an import licence via the Department for International Trade here. Email for advice on the import controls ILB is responsible for. Read “Import goods into the UK: step by step” on the Government website here for information on licences and certificates.

>See also: How to import from the EU

What documents do I need for a licence?

When it comes to importing, the certification that is needed is not the same across the board. There are, however, certain documents that all importers will need to get their goods into the country, regardless of what those goods actually are, namely a commercial invoice and packing list. Thereafter you should find out the HS code of your commodity and yourself or your freight forwarder can check the HM Customs & Excise tariff to see if that HS code requires more documentation such as certificate of origin, test certificate, material safety data sheets and so on.

Paula Bellamy is managing director of freight specialists OL UK

Further resources

Import guide: three essential tips and everything you need to know

Trade Tariff: look up commodity codes, duty and VAT rates

EORI number – What it is and how to get or check one

Everything you need to know about customs brokers

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Paula Bellamy

Paula Bellamy is managing director, shareholder, and founder of freight specialists OL UK.

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