• SSO International Freight

A guide to customs clearance

When companies begin trading across international borders one of their biggest concerns is the whole process of clearing customs. It can seem a complicated and lengthy process to the uninitiated. Rules and regulations can be subject to change making it easy for companies and individuals to fall foul. At SSO International Forwarding, we have extensive experience and a dedicated customs bureau to help you when it comes to customs clearance.


Here we’ll explain some of the basics of customs clearance, what you need to know, and how you can ensure that your goods clear customs without any problems.


What is customs clearance?


Customs clearance is the process through which goods are declared to the authorities as they move through an international border. This enables the relevant authorities to gather statistical information about imports and exports and to ensure that all goods are travelling with the relevant paperwork and licenses. It also helps to prevent the entry of forbidden goods into the country while enabling any taxes that are due to be collected.


Customs clearance can also be required if goods are moved out of customs-designated areas, such as a bonded warehouse, or when an inward processing relief is cancelled. This is because these goods haven’t been released to circulate freely. Another declaration may be needed in order to pay the taxes or to declare that the goods are moving to another location.


Which documents are required?


To help process your goods quickly and efficiently they will need to be accompanied by a range of different documents. While some of these documents apply to everything that is shipped through customs, others are only required if you are importing or exporting particular items.


Essential documents


The essential documents that all goods passing through customs will require are:


Bill of Lading


The bill of lading is the official shipping document. This contains a range of important details about the shipment.


It represents the ownership of the goods and when the goods are moved from the supplier to the person in receipt, the bill of lading is transferred. This then gives the person in receipt of the goods the legal right to resell the goods. Without an original Bill of Lading or an electronic release, the goods cannot be delivered.


Commercial Invoice


For customs to calculate the amount of Duty and Tax that is required to be paid they need to know the overall value of the goods. This is supplied via the commercial invoice and will be the basis on which customs calculate the amount of Duty and Taxes that need to be paid.


Packing List


A packing list is a document that the shipper provides that details all of the goods within the shipment and how they are packed. It will include the carton numbers, the number of items within the cartons and their weight and dimensions.


This makes it easy for everyone involved in the shipping process to check what you’re shipping. It also makes it easy to cross-reference the shipment contents with what was paid for on the invoice. The list will be referred to by customs for clearance into the country.


As well as these essential documents there is a variety of other documents that may be required depending on the goods that are being shipped.


Documentation required for specific goods


Certificate of Origin


Certificates of Origin are not part of the EU-UK trade agreement so there are no rules that state they are required when trading with the EU. However, if your EU importer requests a Certificate of Origin, these can be issued.


Preference Certificates


When the goods being exported are covered by a preferential trade agreement with specific countries they may require a preference certificate. This permits the goods to be imported into that country at a reduced rate of duty or zero duty.


Health Certificates


Products such as food and live animals may require a health certificate in order to export from the UK. This will usually apply to animal products for human consumption.


Organic Certificate


If you are shipping goods that are deemed to be organic then they will need a certificate that verifies their status and authenticity.


Which items need a licence?


Import licences are needed for goods the Government does not want to come into the UK unmonitored. The vast majority of goods that are imported into the UK do not require a licence. Licensing is used as a means for the government to monitor and cap imports of items that could potentially be hazardous in some way, or which an uncontrolled supply might saturate the market.


Some of the goods that need an import licence include:


● Military goods

● Dual-use technology

● Artwork

● Plants

● Animals

● Medicine

● Chemicals


If you have any questions or concerns about your goods and whether or not they require a licence, your international forwarding company will be able to offer up to date advice.


How long does customs clearance take?


If all of the essential documentation is in place customs clearance can be a quick process. The UK customs clearance procedure usually takes a matter of minutes or hours. However, if there’s something wrong or documentation is missing, or your goods need to be inspected, then it can take days. In some instances, it may even take weeks.


In general, from your goods landing in the UK to arriving at your warehouse or other destination, it will take around 2-3 days from leaving an EU country.


What are the fees involved?


Whenever you import over £15 worth of goods you will need to pay customs tax whether that’s for personal or commercial use. If you’re importing goods into the UK, your freight forwarding company will usually pay customs on your behalf and this will be included in the charges you pay overall.


If you are paying the fees yourself you will receive a letter containing an invoice that details all of your various charges once the goods reach the UK. These will need to be paid in full before your goods are released.

VAT is charged on all goods (except for gifts worth £39 or less) sent from:


● outside the UK to Great Britain

● outside the UK and the EU to Northern Ireland


VAT is charged at the VAT rate that applies to your goods.


As well as VAT you will have to pay Customs Duty on all goods sent from outside the UK, or the UK and the EU if you’re in Northern Ireland. This applies to excise goods and goods worth more than £135. When Customs Duty is applied, you will need to pay it on the price paid for the goods as well as shipping, packaging and insurance.


You can’t claim back UK Duty, however, if you’re a VAT registered business, you can claim VAT back on all of your imports. As VAT is 20% of your entire process cost (freight, customs duties and product cost all included) this is a large saving.


Can you avoid customs charges?


Duty Relief Schemes are in place which can allow you to pay less duty on the goods you import. These are government initiatives that take a number of variables into account, including trade agreements, to reduce the duty on certain goods. You may be eligible for relief depending on where goods are from, what those goods are and what you plan to do with them once they are in the UK.


Customs Clearance support from SSO International Forwarding


We understand that customs clearance can seem fraught with potential for errors and delay, both of which can prove costly. Our customs clearance service takes the complexity out of the process, ensuring that all of the appropriate documentation is prepared and submitted in a timely manner.


We take care of all the bureaucratic issues that can arise, giving you the confidence that your goods will safely pass customs and be able to transit onwards to their final destination.

If you’re looking to develop your business into international markets and you’re exploring import and export for the first time, or if you’re looking for a new international forwarding company to help you with the process, we’d love to hear from you.


Contact us today to find out more about our customs services.

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