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Customs Declarations - Information for Importers and Exporters

While the UK is in the EU, a business based in Newcastle can ship goods to Berlin with a similar amount of bureaucracy as it'll encounter when sending the same goods to Bristol. This is because the single market allows for the free movement of goods across the EU member states. Once the UK leaves the EU this will change.


There are a number of considerations for businesses moving goods and components in and out of the EU, not least tariffs and standards. The most commonly encountered additional requirement will be to make a customs declaration for each shipment which leaves the UK bound for the EU, as well as for those coming in from the remaining member states. The corresponding entries will also need to be made in the EU countries for goods arriving from or departing to the UK.


Customs declarations aren't new. They are used by customs authorities globally, and help to administer duty collection and control, and in the case of export provide proof shipments can be sent VAT exempt. Trade with the rest of the world already sees UK firms make over 50 million customs declarations in a year, the vast majority of which are completed by freight forwarding companies. They are a new task for around 250k companies in the UK, who trade goods with the EU but not beyond. In all, the change in our trading terms with the EU is expected to necessitate around 200 million additional declarations, from around 150k per day to nearly 700k. Although there are slight variations on this number, the uplift will place unprecedented pressure on traders and more commonly freight forwarders.


For those who have never seen one, a visualisation of a customs entry can be found here. Structured like an export invoice, the customs declaration tells the story of a shipment, including the parties involved, the type of goods, their method of transport, and how they’re packed. It also contains information on the nature of the movement, such as whether it’s a permanent or temporary shipment. Although the task is administrative, there are lots of variables, and requires operatives with experience and context, which isn't gained quickly.


The freight industry operates on low margins and doesn’t have a huge number of staff waiting for this additional work. While the forwarding community and import/export agents are taking steps to add capacity, it is incumbent upon traders to ensure they take what steps they can to minimise friction, should such an additional burden be felt in the coming months. Preparing the to absorb such an uplift will be no small task with a transitional period, but if it comes without one, resource will be sought after, with the cost of using such rising accordingly for those who can find it. To add to the mix, HMRC are currently in the process of developing and testing a new system for these declarations. The existing CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight) system will be phased out, although initial expectations  of an early 2019 roll out of CDS (Customs Declaration Service) have proved optimistic, and according to those involved it will be some months before it is fully implemented.


Working almost exclusively with those moving goods over borders, we've had many enquiries on this topic, and are encouraged to see businesses taking steps to improve their readiness. This has included an encouraging uplift in the number of enquiries for our ezGTA integrated system, and registrations on our pay as you go system, ezConsign


Whether looking to make declarations themselves, or making arrangements with forwarders or agents, traders are urged to consider the issue seriously, and take steps to ensure they’re ready.

If you have any queries on this topic, or would like us to cover something else related to import and export, please email Brian Dakers.

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