Customs declarations: What are they and do I need to make them?

We know it’s both stressful and time-consuming to make sure you have correct customs declarations when you are looking to import or export goods. Any mistakes can impede your operations for weeks, so you must understand all the necessary import information surrounding customs clearance before you begin importing.

This guide helps explain exactly what customs declarations are and covers the necessary steps involved, one by one. We’ll outline what documents are required, when a declaration must be made, and how we can help here at Digital Trader Services with DTS Smart Customs.

Customs declarations are not only a legal requirement but they’re also crucial in helping to manage -protect - our country. As an example,

  • Essential taxes might be avoided through the recording of inaccurate declarations information

  • Licenses are required for particular items like vehicles or animals

  • Some pharmaceuticals and animal-based products are a potential harm to our local wildlife

  • Certain products, like weapons and chemicals, pose a threat to domestic security

What is a customs declaration?

If you regularly import goods internationally then you’ll know it’s vital to be transparent about exactly what they are to the relevant authorities. A customs declaration is simply a form that lists the details of goods that are being imported or exported through a customs territory. This process is outlined on the government’s portal and must be followed carefully for smooth post-Brexit trade.

You’ll also understand who can lodge customs declarations. They can generally be made by two parties; the person who owns the items being transported or the person who is in control of them at the time of declaration. It is worth noting too that this ‘person’ can be a company, an association of persons, or an individual representative of either the owner or the person in control of the item.

Do you need customs clearance for your goods?

A common problem people have is that they’re unsure if their goods require customs clearance. The reality is that this decision is completely dependent on a handful of key factors determined by the government. More specifically, port authorities will ask you:

  • Where are the goods coming from?

  • Where are the goods going to?

  • Why are you receiving the goods? (Business or personal).

  • How are you moving the goods?

If you’re unsure whether or not you require import clearance, it’s best to double-check as this will potentially save you a considerable amount of time and effort down the road. This straightforward government resource can help you determine whether you need clearance or not before you begin preparing to receive your goods.

Step by step: The import declaration process

The first thing you will need to do when you are looking to have your goods pass customs import clearance is to obtain an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number which will begin with ‘GB’. Next, you will need to find out the commodity code of the goods you are transporting, as well as their customs value which will be used to determine the customs duty and import VAT you need to pay.

Depending on what goods you are looking to import, you might need a special import license or certificate. It’s definitely the case for animal and plant products, as well as pharmaceuticals, drugs, and other chemicals. We recommend researching in advance whether your goods will require import VAT, although if you are a UK VAT-registered company then you may be eligible to postpone accounting for VAT until your VAT Returns are due.

Another important factor for you to consider is the new rules and regulations surrounding Trade and Cooperation Agreements (TCA). If you can demonstrate that you are only importing goods from EU countries and that they are all of EU origin then you may be exempt from requiring a duty deferment account. Otherwise, you will need to check UK Global Tariffs (UKGT) to check if your goods will be subject to customs or excise duties.

Lastly, you will need to choose the customs procedure code (CPC) which is most applicable for the goods you are importing. Then you will want to gain access to the government’s customs system which is changing from ‘CHIEF’ to ‘CDS’ in the coming future. Make sure you regularly check in with us here at Digital Trader Services for further guidance as and when this EU customs software change is implemented.

What documents do you need for successful import EU declarations?

You also need to make sure you lodge the declarations with the customs office where the item will physically arrive.

Since 1 January 2022, for goods coming into the UK, a full import declaration is needed before they board a vessel or train that is departing from (i) a location using the Goods Vehicle Movement Service or (ii) coming into a location where pre-lodgement is a requirement. It’s an important consideration following Brexit as most goods being imported to the UK now fall into one of these two categories.

Currently there is an exception in place for goods that arrive from Northern Ireland. In these instances, you will need to have your full import declaration entered manually into the system by 11:59 pm the day after it arrived. In some specific cases, you may be able to delay this for up to 175 days but we would recommend checking HMRC before planning anything around this assumption.

If your goods are arriving at other locations, however, your full import declaration can be made in the first 90 days of them being presented to customs. Because import declarations can be made up to 30 days before the arrival of your goods, we would recommend the declaration is made as early as possible as it will save your time further down the line.

Are your goods eligible for a simplified customs process?

A lot of goods are eligible for a simplified declaration process. In this instance, some basic details are submitted to customs and then the goods in question are presented at a port, airport, or designated inland location approved by customs. Once your goods have been cleared, they can usually be loaded or shipped without needing any further supporting documents.

It is worth noting that, although we provide a smart declaration form for a simplified declarations process, your goods may not be eligible for this. You’ll want to check the details, but please remember a simplified declarations process cannot be made for goods that:

  • Require excise duties

  • Need a full customs declaration

  • Are dealt with by Agricultural Policy and regulations

  • Require export licensing

  • Temporary Admissions (ATA)

  • Haven’t got the appropriate licenses or certificates

  • Fail to obtain HMRC authorisation.

In these instances, you will likely need to have supporting documents. The most likely reasons are that you are transporting pharmaceuticals or animal products, require special licenses or certificates, or maybe your goods are subject to further taxation. If you are unsure and need guidance with your declarations process, Smart Customs offers a call centre with a dedicated team to answer your customs questions.

Making sure you have the correct forms and documentation is important because they can often take considerable time to obtain, especially in the case of licenses and approvals. Failing to have just one document could stall the import or export of your goods for a considerable amount of time which will only further impact your business operations.

How can you make your submission of customs declarations a smoother process?

We know it can be stressful and time-consuming to go through all the different stages involved with customs declarations. Here at DTS, we’ve seen this is especially the case for post-Brexit trade, which is why we strive to ease the process in several ways. For example, Smart Customs

Lessens your workload by auto-populating up to 70% of fields in your customs declaration

  • Provides a streamlined data upload service, making it easier to submit your declaration to HMRC

  • Gives you a competitive pricing structure with no upfront costs and volume-based pricing offering discounts of up to 40%

  • Helps you keep on top of the latest changes to the customs declaration process with expert advice from Fujitsu and the Institute of Export & International Trade.

We’ll help you save time, money, and effort by making customs declarations quick and easy to manage via a self-serve online portal without complex questions or customs jargon. If you have any further questions about customs declarations then please just call us on +44 (0) 203 808 3002 Monday to Friday.