Importers have to meet many requirements to bring goods into the UK from any other country. And after Brexit, the UK has some new import and export policies. Therefore, if you are considering importing from China to the UK, it is better to have a clear understanding of these requirements and policies.

Also, if you know the time and cost range of the entire import process, including customs charges and shipping, you will be able to roughly estimate the cost of your products as well as the import cycle. It’s critical to your business.

Ensure that You Have an Economic Operator Registration Identification (EORI) Number.

UK customs use an EORI number to record imports and exports. Similar to an EU EORI number, but it is issued by the British Customs Authority (HMRC) and is only valid in the UK. You’ll need an EORI number to clear your goods through UK Customs, even if you use a freight agents.

From January 1, 2021, when you move goods into Great Britain (England, Wales, or Scotland), the UK customs only accept an EORI number starting with GB, for example, GB123456789000. If you already have a non-GB EORI number, you’ll need a new one. You can validate your GB EORI number here.

While moving goods into Northern Ireland, you need an EORI number that starts with XI. To validate non-GB EORI numbers, you can check here.

HMRC allocate EORI numbers. After submitting an online application to HMRC using your Government Gateway account, you will get a GB EORI number immediately, or within 5 days if HMRC needs to check your application, and XI EORI also within 5 days. More information for your application, you can get here.

Check if You Need a Licence and that Your Goods Aren’t Banned from Importing to the UK.

Before you try to import from China to the UK, it is essential to check if there are any import controls on your goods. The goods subject to import controls are firearms, anti-personnel mines, and certain nuclear and chemical goods. Know more information about import controls, please read Open General Import Licence – December 2020 (PDF).

Apart from import controls, for peace and security, the UK has import sanctions on arms embargoes and trade restrictions.

Though there are import controls and sanctions, for most industrial goods, you don’t need an import licence to bring them into the UK. But ensure to obtain one if your products are under control, like firearms, torture equipment, etc. It is issued by DIT’s Import Licensing Branch (ILB).

If you want to check whether there are any licences, certificates, and restrictions on your products and find out how to get one, visit the Department for International Trade.

Register with the CHIEF System to Declare Your Imported Goods.

Freight forwarders, importers, and exporters use the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system to submit an electronic declaration, input customs data, automatically check for errors as well as calculate payable taxes and duties. The CHIEF system also identifies which of your consignments need documentation or examination, thus allowing for a faster entry for low-risk goods.

If you hire a freight forwarder or agent to handle all your shipment woes for you, then he should do this registration for you. However, if you manage shipping by yourself, ensure that you have registered with CHIEF to declare your imported goods.

Ensure that You Can Include Full Details on All the Invoices and Labels.

Details of the receiver and sender should be in all the invoices and labels you use. Other details include the quantities of goods and their value, a complete description of the imported contents, and the commodity codes. Make sure that your invoice is typed and avoid making manual changes.

Use the Right Commodity Code for the Goods You’re Importing.

Commodity codes in the UK are 10-digit numbers to classify goods for import and export. It adds 4 other numbers to the international 6-digit HS code. You should use the right commodity codes if you want to:

  • find out the right rates of Customs Duty and import VAT
  • complete declarations as well as other paperwork
  • Check if there are any duty reliefs

To find the correct commodity code for the products you are importing from China, you can go to The UK Integrated Online Tariff.

1. If you already have the name or the commodity code of your goods, you can directly enter them on this Trade Tariff tool to get more information about your products. Or you can look for your product on the A–Z list.


2. If you’re not so sure about the name of your goods, you can browse the goods classification. Choose the section, chapter, heading, the commodity step by step to select the commodity code that best matches your goods.

No matter which way you use, you will finally get the commodity code you want. If you cannot find the right commodity code for your goods, please contact HMRC for help.

Pay the Right Tax and Duty for Your Goods.

Find Out What Tariffs And Taxes You Need to Pay.

Import Duty

Import duty, or customs duty, is subject to goods from outside the UK to GB (England, Scotland, and Wales), or from outside the UK and the EU to Northern Ireland, if they are:

  • excise goods of any value (tobacco and alcohol)
  • non-excise goods worth more than £135 (including gifts)

The rate of customs duty depends on the types of goods and the country of origin. But the tariff rate of gifts valued from £135 to £630 is 2.5%, and lower for some goods.

Value-Added Tax (VAT)

VAT is also levied on goods sent from outside the UK to GB (England, Scotland, and Wales), or outside the UK and the EU to Northern Ireland, the same as customs duty. You will need to pay VAT to the delivery company if your goods are:

  • Gifts worth more than £39
  • Any items valued more than £135 (except goods exempt from VAT)
  • Excise goods of any value

The VAT rate also depends on the types of your goods and services. In most cases, the standard VAT rate is 20%. For some goods and services, like children’s car seats and home energy, you can apply a reduced rate (5%). A zero rate (0%) is for goods such as books & newspapers, and children’s clothes & shoes.

You must pay VAT if you are VAT registered and ensure you pay any pending VAT fee that is due, but you can claim it back through your VAT return.

Excise Duty

In addition to customs duty and VAT, the UK also charges excise duty if you import alcohol or tobacco from outside the UK.

You can also use the commodity code to check the rate of excise. For example, 2204101100 is for Champagne, and excise is 3.8115 GBP/l.


Here I’ve made a chart to make a simple summary so that you can have a clearer idea about what duties and taxes you need to pay for different products in different value ranges.


Look Up the Rates of Duty and Tax.

After knowing the types of duty and tax you need to pay, you may want to check the relevant rates. Again, you can use the UK Integrated Online Tariff to look up rates of duty and tax. Just enter the right commodity code of your products, you will get the rates of import duty, import VAT, and excise (if any).

Meanwhile, it will tell you if your product is applicable to any tariff preference for the trade agreement between the UK and the country you are importing. Customs charges are unavoidable as it is required by law, but if there is a tariff preference, you can apply it to reduce your tariff. And a “Third country duty” means no tariff preference.

tariff preference of import duty

For example, if you want to import parasols from China to the UK, you enter the commodity code (6601 1000 00) on the tool and you will get the following information:

  • The customs duty rate is 4.00 %.
  • The import VAT rate is 20%.
  • No chargeable excise duty and applicable tariff preference.


Calculate the Tax and Duty (Live Example).

For common imports from China, the UK charges customs duty and VAT on your imports. After knowing what duties and taxes you need to pay, you’d better know how to calculate the charges. It can help you estimate your costs and check if there are any mistakes when you are paying.

Customs duty is due to the value of goods + freight and insurance.

VAT is levied on the value of the goods + freight and insurance + any customs duties and taxes.

For example, now you are importing sun umbrellas from China to the UK, the value of goods is £10,000, and the freight and insurance cost is £4,000. The customs duty rate is 4.00 %, the VAT rate is 20%, and no chargeable excise duty, as we searched above.

The customs duty fee payable = rate * (the value of goods + freight and insurance cost) = 4% * (£10,000 + £4,000) = £560.

The VAT = rate * 20% * (the value of goods + freight and insurance cost + customs duty) = (£10,000 + £4,000 + £560) = £2,912

Thus, the import prices, or the landed cost, you need to pay for importing products to the UK generally consist of: cost, insurance, freight, duty, and standard VAT of 20%, which is £17472 (£10,000+ £4,000+ £560+ £2,912)

Free Import Duty Calculator

Import duty calculators are good tools to save time and energy and make calculation much easier. Take the calculator on UK Integrated Online Tariff as an example.

First of all, visit the UK Integrated Online Tariff and enter the right commodity code. Then click tariff duty calculator and enter the information as required:

  1. The date the goods will be imported
  2. The destination (England/ Scotland/ Wales/ Northern Ireland)
  3. The country of origin
  4. The customs value of the goods in GBP (the value of the goods & freight & insurance)

Check the information you enter and click “Calculate import duties”, you will get the calculation details, as the below picture shows.

free import duty calculator (3)

Except for the calculator on UK Integrated Online Tariff, there are other import duty calculators on some non-government websites. But these tools may limit the number of times you can use them, require you to send an inquiry or become a member of their websites, need currency conversion, or not update rates timely. Thus, the calculator on UK Integrated Online Tariff may be more practical for you.

How to Pay Customs Charges in the UK?

The UK customs will let Royal Mail, Parcelforce or the courier company contact you if you need to pay any VAT, duty or delivery charges (handling fees) to receive your goods. They will send you a bill and tell you what and how many fees you need to pay. And you will have about 21 days to pay the bill. Otherwise, you can’t receive your goods.

If you receive a “Fee to Pay” card from Royal Mail, you can pay online at the Royal Mail payment webpage. But make sure you have a UK credit or debit card ready, or you can pay with PayPal.

If you receive a Parcelforce “Fee to Pay” card, please visit Parcelforce to pay online. 

Or,  you can go to the address on the “Fee to Pay” card to pay the charge and collect your items. 

Brexit: Postponed VAT Accounting (PVA)

Before Brexit, you must pay for the import VAT first when clearing your goods through customs, and then recover it later through your quarterly VAT Return.

But after Brexit, the HMRC has implemented PVA since January 1, 2021. This means that you only need to record the import VAT amount on your customs declaration and then pay the actual VAT based on your sales later, rather than paying it upfront at customs clearance.

Pay attention, you still have to declare and pay VAT on time. The VAT declaration process remains unchanged, requiring sellers to provide full and complete sales data. 

PVA applies to any imports from other countries to the UK, except the EU into Northern Ireland. So if you import from China to the UK, certainly you can apply for PVA.

If you hire a freight forwarder, then you don’t need to apply PVA by yourself. You can entrust your freight forwarder to choose PVA on your customs declaration. But they must use your EORI number or VAT registration number.

Decide Who Will Make Customs Clearance and Transport Your Goods.

You can hire a freight forwarder to help you, or just do it by yourself. But most of our clients will choose the former because customs clearance is complex. You can consult them about the custom limits of imported goods. They will give you advice on all the aforementioned and handle everything about customs clearance and shipping for you, thus making importing from China to the UK hassle-free and simple. Except for freight forwarders, customs agents or brokers can also help you deal with customs.

What to Do after Confirming the Product You Want to Import?

After the above steps, you are eligible to import and able to estimate your importing cost.
The next step is finding a manufacturer from China. You can find them through Chinese business websites, markets, and fairs.

If you’re just starting up with a small order and don’t want to go all the way to China, you can find online suppliers, such as Alibaba, AliExpress & DHgate, Global Sources, Made in China, etc.

Also, you can choose a sourcing company in China, like Jingsourcing, to help you deal with the whole importing process. They can help you overcome the language barrier and the lack of importing experience and attach great importance to your business.

However, if you have experience in importing goods from China to the UK and you want to dig deeper into a certain product category, it is advisable that you go to China and visit a large-scale exhibition or a wholesale market to find a cooperative supplier.

Labeling & Marking Requirements

The CE Marking

Essentially, the CE mark is a label that shows an item is compliant with all the applicable directives from the CE or EN. Products that are not regulated by these directives shall not be marked with the CE label. This mark is to be affixed to the product unit as well as its user instructions and packaging and should be done by the Chinese supplier.

However, keep in mind that your supplier may not always be aware of the specific labeling requirements applicable to the product being imported. Therefore it is essential that you offer your supplier affixing position, dimensions, and graphical files on the product. 

Some EU directives of a CE marking

EN 71: Toy safety directive – This not only regulates toys but also other children’s products. It is used to regulate physical and mechanical properties, flammability, heavy metals, and chemicals. EN 71 is an umbrella standard that can be divided into 13 different ones. It also stipulates the requirements for graphical symbols such as age warnings.

Low voltage directive (LVD) – This applies to electronics and electrical components that have an input or output of 50 to 1000 volts AC and 75 to 1500 volts DC. Because of this, the LVD requirement covers a myriad of products including home appliances, cables, sockets outlets, and chargers with an exception of battery-powered devices.

European echo-design directive – applicable to domestic electrical appliances, light bulbs as well as non-electrical products such as insulation materials, this was put in place to decrease the emission of greenhouse gases.

Machinery Directive (MD) – This is applicable to machinery as well as interchangeable parts and equipment excluding motor vehicles and a wide range of consumer electronic appliances.

RoHS 2 – restrictions of hazardous substances – This restricts the amounts of certain substances in electronics such as mercury and lead. Even though they’re a few exceptions this labeling requirement is compulsory for all electrical items with a CE mark.

Radio equipment directive (RED) – This is used to regulate telecommunication and radio equipment such as Bluetooth and WiFi receivers and transmitters, radio, wifi routers, and some smartphones and android tablets.

Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) – This directive whose aim is to make sure that electrical equipment does not interfere with other signals and electronics, is only applicable to fixed electronic appliances like LED displays.

Brexit: Using the UKCA Marking

After Brexit, the UK established the UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) system to replace the European CE Marking for goods sold in the GB (England, Scotland, Wales). It covers most of the goods that once require the CE marking. To check if your product needs a UKCA marking, please refer to the relevant product legislation.

The UKCA marking came into effect on 1 January 2021, but you can still use the CE marking before 1 January 2023, unless your CE marked goods can’t meet the UK requirements.

For example, if you have existing stock only with CE marking but meet UK requirements, you can still sell them in the UK until 31 December 2022.

All in all, you’d better apply for the UKCA mark as soon as possible, in case there are any new adjustments between EU and UK requirements.

When affixing the UACK mark to your product, it must be legible and clearly visible. If not, you should affix it to the packaging, user manual, or other relevant documents. The exact rules depend on the specific regulations. You can download UKCA mark image fills from Department for International Trade.

Noted: CE Marking will continue to be recognized in Northern Ireland. You can not place the imported goods only with UKCA marking on the Northern Ireland market.

Shipping from China to the UK

Click to enlarge

China is located about 7, 775 kilometers away from the UK, and this distance is longer when the route is defined by water bodies. When it comes to shipping products from China to the UK, you can choose sea freight, air freight, rail freight, or express, depending on your shipping needs.

Sea Freight

Sea freight uses ships to transport goods between ports in different countries and regions. It is definitely the cheapest way to transport your products from China to the UK if ignore that it is slow and takes longer.

It is usually about 24 days from port to port, plus 1-2 days to unload from the ship and take out of the container, and about a week for customs clearance and delivery. In total, you may need to wait about 40 days to get the goods.

Therefore, if you are not in a hurry to get your bulky goods from China to the UK, sea freight is undoubtedly the best method of transportation.

When shipping your goods by sea, you can choose FCL (full container load) or LCL (less than container load). FCL means that the whole container only holds your cargo and you don’t need to share the container with others. On the contrary, LCL means several clients use the same container to hold their cargo. FCL or LCL, which is right for you? It depends on whether your cargo can fill the whole container, your shipping cost, your time, etc.

Air Freight

The fastest way for your cargo to reach the UK from China is through air freight. It is faster, more punctual and safer, thus can greatly shorten the delivery time.

Direct flights from Chinese airports to UK airports can arrive within 24 hours. If it needs to transit in other cities, the time will be a little longer. It usually takes 5-15 days shipping from China to the UK by air, including pickup, transportation, customs clearance, and delivery to you.

But the cost of air freight is high, normally 4 to 6 times more expensive than sea freight.

So, if you want a quick shipment and your budget is adequate, or you need to ship sensitive or valuable cargo, air freight is a good option, especially when your cargo is about 300-500 kgs.

Railway Freight

For shipments from China to the UK, due to geographical reasons, the railway cannot reach the UK directly. The so-called railway transportation is also transited from other countries. This will increase the shipping time, usually about 30 days, and the shipping cost is between air freight and sea freight.


Known to provide bulk services for every process involving importation, express services ensure that your product is delivered to your doorstep. DHL China to the UK is among the most trusted carrier companies together FedEx, TNT, and UPS. Express is usually for small-batch goods and normally takes 5-7 days.

Top Products Imported from China to the UK

You may also be very concerned about the products often imported into the UK from China. According to Trading Economics, here I will list some for your reference:

  • Electrical, electronic equipment
  • Machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers
  • Furniture, lighting signs, prefabricated buildings
  • Miscellaneous chemical products
  • Toys, games, sports requisites
  • Vehicles other than railway, tramway
  • Plastics
  • Articles of iron or steel
  • Articles of apparel, knit or crocheted
  • Articles of apparel, not knit or crocheted
  • Optical, photo, technical, medical apparatus
  • Footwear, gaiters, and the like
  • Other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing

The End

It is safe to say that importing from China to the UK is quite simple and straightforward. With the help of this guide, you should be able to understand the basics of importing from China to the UK, the rules and regulations, evaluating costs, and choosing the right mode of transport for you. Also, remember that hiring a professional freight forwarder is a smart thing to do. If you have any questions, feel free to CONTACT US, or leave a comment below.

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