Brexit: Essential Guidance for Importers & Exporters

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At HFS, we are proud of our reputation for reliable, efficient logistics services and want to reassure clients that, while it is important to ready your company for any outcome to Brexit negotiations, we will continue to provide the expert support you need.

To further support our customers, we have pulled together government guidance on how businesses can prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU, along with answers to some key questions.


Economic Operator And Registration Identification (EORI)

Businesses that trade between the UK and non-EU countries require an EORI number. From 1 January 2021, this will apply to companies that move goods between Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and the EU. It may also be a requirement for the movement of goods to or from Northern Ireland. 

Without an EORI, your goods won’t be cleared by customs and you could face increased delays and costs, such as storage fees. You can apply for an EORI at https://www.gov.uk/eori. The process only takes five to ten minutes, and you’ll typically receive your EORI within five working days. 

Once you have applied for an EORI number, you will be able to decide how you want to make customs declarations. Although you can do this yourself, authorising HFS to undertake the lengthy procedure of completing import and export entries can save your business time and money.

Our guide to EORI registration has more information on how to apply for an EORI number. Alternatively, don’t hesitate to contact us if you require any further guidance. 

Authorised Economic Operator Status (AEO)

Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) Status is an internationally accepted mark of quality which confirms that a company’s customs controls and procedures meet EU standards. By becoming AEO-accredited or working with an accredited customs agent, businesses can benefit from simplified customs procedures and even fast-track shipments in certain cases. 

It is likely that the UK and EU will continue to recognise each other’s AEO procedures after the transition period, so AEO status will be useful for companies that manage their own customs procedures or bonded warehouses.

HFS were early adopters of AEO status and continue to be fully-certified, so if you’re looking for an AEO-accredited agent to manage warehousing or customs clearance on your behalf, speak to a member of our team today. 

Duty deferment accounts 

With the UK leaving the EU, importers will have to pay duties on goods coming into the UK from Europe. By setting up a duty deferment account, businesses can pay customs charges on a monthly basis via Direct Debit instead of paying for individual consignments. This should help ease cash flow for any company that regularly imports goods from the EU.  

Recovering VAT on imported goods 

From 1 January 2021, VAT-registered businesses will be able to account for import VAT on their VAT return. If your company is registered for VAT in the UK, this means you’ll declare and recover import VAT on the same VAT return, rather than paying upfront and recovering it later. Further guidance on this is available through the government’s website.

Register for VAT in UK & EU 

Any businesses that sell goods to clients in Europe may wish to consider setting up a VAT-registered company or appointing a Fiscal representative in an EU member state. 

By establishing a separate entity in the EU, UK businesses can raise commercial invoices with their EU entity, which will then be able to claim back the VAT. This approach is also helpful for UK businesses that decide to import directly into an EU member state. If this is something you are considering, we would advise appointing a fiscal representative or accountant to ensure that your business is complying with EU rules and regulations.

With the UK becoming a “third country” for VAT purposes after Brexit, most EU tax authorities will require UK businesses with non-resident EU VAT registrations to appoint a fiscal representative, while some may require a financial guarantee.

Agree on incoterms

Agreeing the appropriate incoterms for shipments should prevent any unexpected costs or delays. Speak to suppliers and customers to clarify which incoterm you will be working to. This will provide much-needed clarity on the areas of responsibility for each party. 

For example, under DDP incoterm rules, the seller would normally assume responsibility for customs clearance and the payment of duties and taxes at destination. However, as alluded to above, if the seller is not a VAT-registered entity in the EU, there would be no way of reclaiming this cost, which could have a big impact on their business. If both parties still wish to trade under DDP terms, the seller could look to reach an agreement with the buyer whereby the buyer would be responsible for the VAT. 

Each incoterm comes with its own pros and cons, so it is important to have clarity both internally and with your clients on these ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Consider European storage 

If the majority of your imported products are exported to Europe upon arrival in the UK, you may benefit from storing the product within an EU member state and importing directly from other international markets into the EU. This would allow for faster lead times and stock availability for clients, while possibly reducing shipping and distribution costs, or double paying duty and taxes.  

Alternatively, you could look into bonded warehousing facilities in the UK, allowing you to store goods and not pay any duty until they are released for onward distribution. If you already own a warehouse, this could be converted into a customs bonded warehouse, otherwise a company like HFS can store your goods securely in their own dedicated facility.

Here at HFS, we have helped many customers set up a European warehousing operation, so please get in touch if this is something you are considering. 

Check the new tariff codes 

In May 2020, the government unveiled the UK Global Tariff (UKGT), which will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff on 1 January 2021. The new tariff affects the duty payable on imports, which will vary depending on the nature or category of goods. 

The new tariff was introduced to protect key industries while making it cheaper for businesses to import certain items. Zero tariffs will apply to many goods, from freezers and dishwashers to garden tools and cooking products, as well as products used in UK manufacturing. 


However, tariffs will remain in place on agricultural products such as beef, lamb and poultry, while new cars imported to the UK from the EU will be subject to a 10% tariff unless an alternative trade deal is agreed before 1 January 2021. 

Businesses are advised to check which tariffs will apply to their goods and make contingency plans ahead of time.  

Prepare for customs processes  

From 1 January 2021, businesses will need to make customs declarations to import and export goods between the UK and the EU. The changes to customs procedures were announced by the government earlier this year, and will effectively see customs clearance follow a similar process to other international shipments. 

If you still intend to ship products from the UK to the EU, you will need to produce the following paperwork, while ensuring products are cleared for export and declared for import at the other end.

Road haulage has short lead times, so paperwork and import/export clearances will need to be taken care of before trucks have been loaded, in order to avoid costly delays. 

The government has also unveiled the Trader Support Service, which will provide customs support to companies trading between the UK and Northern Ireland from 1 January 2021.

Working with a logistics or customs clearance partner will help keep your processes as efficient and cost-effective as possible. For a third party to manage customs procedures on your behalf, it will need written authority to act as your ‘direct representative’. However, you will still be liable for the accuracy of information on customs declarations, keeping records and the payment of customs duty and VAT.

Here at HFS, we have received numerous enquiries about Brexit and the impact it could have on customers’ shipments. We are well prepared for any eventuality, so please feel free to get in touch to discuss your requirements or arrange a bespoke consultation with a member of the team.