Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer
Search the Staffnet siteSearch StaffNet
Search type

Importing Goods


An import takes place when the University arranges for physical goods to be brought into the EU, regardless of whether they are purchased or not.

The import must be declared to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) correctly and any applicable import duty, VAT and other taxes must be paid to avoid penalties and delayed arrivals.  

HMRC will hold the University responsible for any error on submitted declarations.


  • This guidance will enable you to gather the information required to deal with the majority of straightforward imports and to recognise when the import is more complex and you may need further assistance.
  • Steps 1 – 6 below must be carried out in advance of the import being brought into the country.


1. Determine the full price of the goods

The value is usually the full amount paid to the supplier including delivery and insurance costs. If there is no sale (including hiring, leasing or return of our own goods) the open market value (i.e. the price if they are purchased) plus shipping and insurance should be used. 

The supplier may have provided these details on a ‘commercial invoice’, or be able to provide the UK commodity code for import purposes and should know the commodity code they will use for import. This should be checked.

2. Confirm commodity code on the UK Trade Tariff to obtain the import duty rate

Every type of item imported has a code number.  The supplier may have provided, or be able to provide the UK commodity code for import purposes and should know the commodity code they will use for import.

Some of the most commonly used commodity codes and their related duty and VAT rates (before any relief is applied) are shown below:

Commodity Code Description Import Duty Rate VAT Rate
38220000 00 38 Misc chemical products, 22 Diagnostic or lab reagents on a backing, prepared diagnostic or lab reagents whether or not on a backing, other than those of heading 3002 or 3006; certified reference materials 0% 20%
29349990 90 29 Organic chemicals, 34 Nucleic acids and their salts, whether or not chemically defied; other heterocyclic compounds, other, other, other, other. 6.5% 20%

49019900 00

49 Printed books, newspapers, pictures and other products of the printing industry; manuscripts, typescripts and plans, 01 Printed books, brochures, leaflets and similar printed matter, whether or not in single sheets, other, other. 0% 0%
39269097 90

39 Plastics and articles thereof; 26 Other articles of plastics and articles of other materials of headings 3901 to 3914, other, other, other, other.

6.5% 20%
90189084 00 90, Optical, photographic, cinematographic, measuring, checking, precision, medical or surgical instruments and apparatus; parts and accessories thereof, 18 Instruments and appliances used in medical, surgical, dental or veterinary sciences, including scintigraphic apparatus, other electromedical apparatus and sight-testing instruments, other instruments and appliances, other. 0% 20%

Import duty is typically charged on the value of the goods. VAT is then charged on top of this.  For example: 

  • Goods value = £1,000
  • Duty rate = 6.5%
  • £1,000 * 6.5% = £65 import duty payable to customs
  • £1,065 * 20% = £213 import VAT also payable to customs

3. Consider whether any duty or VAT reliefs apply

Do not consider import duty relief on items under £1,000 as the costs of administering the relief can significantly exceed the benefit

If there is a nil rate of duty under the Trade Tariff at Step 2, an application is unnecessary.

Import duty relief can be claimed on:

  • Scientific instruments imported for educational purposes or non-commercial scientific research; and
  • Purchased / donated medical equipment to be used for medical purposes

Contact the Helpdesk if this may apply.

Medical VAT relief may also be claimed on specific goods and medicinal products / substances used for a qualifying medical purposes. Please see Purchasing – VAT Guidance for more information.

Import duty and VAT relief can be claimed on goods imported for testing to destruction. Contact the Helpdesk if this may apply.

4. Consider whether any import controls or import licenses apply

There are controls in place for the import of firearms, artworks and antiques, plants and animals, medicines, textiles and chemicals, and an import licence may be required.

For further information and to apply for a licence, please see the Import Licences page.

5. Complete the Import Notification form and send a copy to the supplier and freight forwarder

Import Notifications Form

Include your special instructions, certificates or authorisations on the notification form sent to the freight forwarder and supplier. They will submit the import declaration to HMRC on the University's behalf.

Forward a copy of this and supporting documents to so that it can be reconciled centrally. 

6. Pay any import taxes that may be due via freight forwarder or customs broker

The University does not have a deferment account.  The School must pay any taxes due to the freight forwarder or customs broker.  They may make a charge for this service.

The freight forwarder often requires immediate payment to release goods. Paying import taxes and admin fees with a purchasing card is the preferred option to minimise delays.

The freight forwarder will provide an invoice or request for payment and other supporting documentation (e.g. air waybill) in order for the payment to be made.

7. Obtain the required import evidence from the freight forwarder

Forward import evidence to

The following documents should be forwarded: airway bill/bill of lading, C88 (official Customs evidence), delivery note, commercial invoice and any other relevant information.

These documents need to be retained for 6 years in case of HMRC audit.

8. Special scenarios

Please contact the Finance Helpdesk if you are:

  • Temporarily importing into the UK goods that will be re-exported
  • Temporarily exporting goods that will be re-imported back to the UK
  • Importing goods that will processed or repaired before being re-exported again
  • Exporting the University’s own goods for repair or processing, that will be re-imported once again