Exporting and Importing

Exporting and Importing

Customs rules and regulations are set by national governments and bodies like the European Union and the World Customs Organisation; they are independent of all carriers across the world. We are bound by these rules, as are all carriers. In brief, it is always your responsibility as the shipper to: 

  • Ensure you do not send anything which is prohibited by Parcelforce Worldwide or any of our partners as listed in our Global Guide online here
  • Check you know any prohibitions and restrictions set by governments overseas for the types of goods you are shipping. As a starting point, you’ll find some ‘top tips’ in our Global Guide online here
  • Complete and attach any other necessary documentation required for customs clearance overseas. This will vary by country, and will depend on the types of goods you are sending. Some examples of additional documentation can be found online
  • Explain to overseas customers that their imported goods may well be subject to import duties and taxes which will need paying before parcels will be released for delivery.

There are a range of organisations in the UK who can help you with all of the above. As a starting point, we recommend that you visit the HM Revenue & Customs website.

What are customs regulations for?

Customs processes monitor trade levels between countries, help maintain national security and also serve fiscal purposes. Depending on the type of goods, country of origin, and your country of destination, goods may or may not be subject to prohibitions, restrictions, and the application of duties/taxes. To view each EU Member States customs website then please click here

Regulations for exporting worldwide

There are some rules and additional documentation that may apply to some EU and non-EU destinations alike, depending on what is being sent and to where. You need to know the regulations for your products in your chosen export markets.

Import licences

Certain goods being imported into some countries may require an import licence, imposed by the overseas government for a range of reasons, including health and safety, import quotas and so on. We recommend you check with the importer that relevant licences have been obtained from the relevant government department before shipping any goods. Be aware that rules and regulations change all the time, and it is your responsibility to check with your overseas customer that relevant licences have been granted.

Export licences

Certain goods being exported to some countries may require an export licence from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Attach it to the package in an envelope marked ‘Export Licence’ and tick the relevant box on the despatch pack. A licence is usually valid for a single shipment, even if the value of the goods being sent is less than the amount specified on the licence. Different governmental departments have different export licence requirements – check with the relevant one for your goods. These departments include:

  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Tel: 0207 215 5000 www.bis.gov.uk
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Tel: 08459 33 55 77 www.defra.gov.uk
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tel: 0207 211 6000 www.culture.gov.uk
  • Rural Payments Agency (RPA) Tel: 0191 226 5050 www.rpa.gov.uk

Exporting to the EU or Rest of World

The key thing to be aware of is that for any export deliveries, parcels will pass through customs procedures. The customs team overseas will make a judgement on whether any duties and taxes are applicable to the parcel, based on the information provided on the despatch pack and commercial invoice.

These charges are made up of:

  • Import duty: % charge on the declared value, depending on the type of goods.
  • Excise duty: % charge per kilo for perfumes, cigarettes and alcohol.
  • Import VAT: VAT at the prevailing rate in the destination country applicable on the total value and duties.
  • Clearance fee: an administration charge to cover the costs of additional handling, administration, collection of monies etc.

Other Territories

The following should all be treated as non-EU destinations: EU special territories (including the Channel Islands and the Canary Islands). Overseas territories linked to EU members (for example, the Falkland Islands).

Certificates of Origin

Some countries require certain goods to have a Certificate of Origin attached to the parcel. For example, Turkey requires a Certificate of Origin for most types of goods, and Taiwan requires them for textiles and clothing. Please check with the local Chambers of Commerce, who can advise on specifics.

Tariff Codes (Harmonised System (HS) numbers)

We advise including the World Customs Organisation 6-8 digit Tariff Codes (also known as commodity code, tariff heading, Harmonised Code or classification code) for each type of goods, along with details of the country of origin. This will aid customs authorities in assessing and charging the appropriate duties and taxes. For assistance, HMRC’s website contains useful information about this. Alternatively, you can use Parcelforce Worldwide’s Tariff lookup tool here.


Each item valued over £100 must carry a VAT Label 444 on the outside of the package. You can obtain these and VAT notices from your local Customs VAT office or the HMRC National Advice Service. For proof of export for re-claiming VAT, the recognized evidence is the customer receipt part of the despatch pack, or for customers using Worldwide Distribution Manager® Online, a printed manifest.

Commercial invoice

A commercial invoice is needed for commercial shipments that are exported either to the European Union or Rest of World. From 1st January 2021, commercial shipments will include the following services; Global Express, Euro Priority and Euro Priority Pack.

The specific details required are:

  • 3 copies on company headed paper.
  • Invoices must be typed and not handwritten.
  • An original company stamp or original official signature on each one, plus job title.
  • Sender’s name, address, postcode or zip code, country, telephone, fax, and a contact name.
  • Recipient’s name, address, postcode or zip code, country, telephone, fax and a contact name.
  • Buyer’s name, address, postcode or zip code, country, telephone, fax and a contact name.
  • The VAT numbers of the sender and the buyer or declarations of non-VAT registration (as appropriate).
  • Date/Place.
  • Invoice number and purchase order number (if applicable).
  • Terms of delivery (Incoterms).
  • For each type of goods, the number of units, the description, HS tariff number, country of origin, unit weight, unit value and total value.
  • Total number of items, total weight and total value.
  • Currency used.
  • Shipping costs.
  • Declaration that all invoice information is true and correct.

Business registration details (if appropriate).

Pro forma invoice

For samples, gifts and possessions, you may use a pro forma invoice instead, providing the total value does not exceed the country lower value limit. In this case, the recipient may not have to pay customs duties. It must be clearly marked ‘Pro forma invoice’ and include the same information as a commercial invoice plus the following:

  • The statement ‘sample/gift/possession’ (as appropriate) and the exact value in the unit value and total value boxes. We suggest that there is always an inherent value in everything, so even for documents we recommend a nominal declaration, even for the value of the paper.
  • Reason for sending (e.g. ‘sample for exhibition’, ‘gift’ and so on) on the invoice (we suggest near the invoice number).

Terms of delivery

Terms of delivery, or Incoterms, tell the relevant customs authorities who is paying for any duties and taxes liable on the parcel. We ship all our parcels on the basis that any such charges are paid by the recipient or the original sender.

For GLS destinations on Euro Priority Business it may be possible to use different incoterms. If you are interested in this, please speak to your Parcelforce Worldwide Account Manager.

Documents or merchandise?

The distinction between documents (which usually pass through customs procedures without any duties and taxes being applied) and merchandise does vary by country. As a rule of thumb, reports and printed matter tend to be treated as documents and everything else is liable to be treated as merchandise. All parcels should have fully completed despatch packs and either a commercial or pro forma invoice with accurate descriptions and value declarations.

Importing into the UK

Importing into the UK is usually straightforward, but there may be times when it becomes more complicated given the contents of the packages, or the reasons for import. We suggest that you contact HM Revenue & Customs for detailed information on import customs procedures and charges.

If we receive a parcel from overseas, we will pay any customs duties and taxes on your behalf to HM Revenue & Customs. However, we will require payment for this, together with our customs clearance fee, before the parcel can be delivered to you.

Import value thresholds

For goods imported from either the EU or non-EU countries, customs charges do apply and these may include import duty, excise duty and import VAT.

Goods valued between £0 and £135 must have the VAT paid directly to the UK authorities, as if the seller is located in the UK themselves. Ensure you follow the latest government guidance.

Goods valued over £135, or excise goods of any value, attract VAT & duties. These are charged at the border and would also attract a customs clearance fee handling fee.

Gifts sent by private individuals valued below £39 do not attract VAT.

Normally, charges are calculated upon the declared value (plus shipping costs for merchandise items). Further general information can be obtained by contacting HM Revenue & Customs.

Queries about specific import parcel duties/taxes

If you have a specific query about the duties/taxes applied by HRMC, either why Duties and Taxes may be applicable or if you wish to query a charge specifically please visit the Gov.UK website and search for Bor286

Queries about the Parcelforce Worldwide clearance fee

Parcelforce Worldwide charges a customs clearance fee, which helps cover the costs of additional handling, administration, collection of monies and provision of facilities for customs clearance of packages. We have two levels of clearance fee for import parcels: the higher fee is for express parcels imported through the Express Mail Services (EMS) or General Logistics Systems (GLS) networks and for all parcels valued at over £900; the lower fee is for all other imported parcels. For current charges, please see our website. Please note that all charges and thresholds are liable to change.

Storage awaiting customs clearance

We would recommend that you respond promptly to any customs queries to avoid storage charges. We will not levy a fee for the first 10 days, but after that period, storage fees will be charged. For details, please see the Customer Service Guide. All parcels valued at over £900 are placed in secure storage until completion of customs formalities.

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