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United Kingdom (UK) - Customs and Import Duties

The HM Revenue and Customs organisation is in charge of any customs and import duties paid by expats. The United Kingdom has a list of restricted and prohibited items; generally, the worst that will happen if someone attempts to bring one of these items in is that the customs officials will seize the goods. There is also the possibility of a fine. To avoid any issues, note that no more than £10,000 GBP (or Euro equivalent) can be carried into the country in cash, and duty-free items are limited to 200 cigarettes, 16 beers, 4 wines, and 2 spirits (22% or less alcohol). Food products are also limited, for example only 20 kg of fish and 2 kg of honey can be brought into the UK. It is possible to import one plant, as long as it is from one of the listed Mediterranean or European countries.

For personal belongings, expats need a valid visa and a declaration form. The paperwork required will ask for a list of items being brought into the country. It is a comprehensive list that also includes estimated acquisition dates and current values. Any items purchased between six to twelve months before moving to the UK can be subject to VAT charges, otherwise personal belongings are considered duty-free.

Expats typically find it easier to use an import agent service and freight company because both the agent and freight company have the necessary customs and import paperwork one has to fill out. There is a fee for using both services, which varies from company to company based on an estimate of weight for items shipped. There is a fee for the customs clearing agent that will look at the shipping container the items are in. A copy of the passport and visa will also be needed by the customs agent to ensure that the process runs smoothly.

Comprehensive Import List

There are no restrictions on personal effects and household goods, but VAT fees may apply depending on the age of the goods. Additionally, household goods cannot include cleaning supplies. It is possible to import medications, although customs requires the medication to be in its labelled container with English instructions. Certain medications such as controlled drugs will require a doctor's letter, personal licence, and the amount allowed will be limited. These prescriptions include Ritalin, morphine sulphate painkillers, and other medications that can be fatal if taken in large doses. A licence may only be required for some prescriptions if a three-month supply is being imported. It is best to bring enough supply for one to four weeks, and then find a local doctor and pharmacy to continue the prescription, rather than struggling with customs and import duties.

Restricted and Forbidden Items

Any animal products such as fur, ivory or reptile skins are strictly restricted. Endangered plants including cacti, orchids, and mahogany are also on the restricted list. Rough diamonds, unlicensed radio transmitters, firearms, ammunition, and explosives are on the restricted list. These items may be imported for a high fee and with the proper licence. Prohibited or forbidden items include knives, mace sprays, daggers, stun guns, illegal drugs, narcotics, and pornographic media, including anything that could be considered obscene or indecent.

Duty Rates

Once an item has been accepted by customs, the next concern is how much you are expected to pay and what type of duties you are expected to pay. There are custom duty rates for particular products. The list of custom duty items includes 14,000 classifications in which 5-9% is charged on average; however rates of up to 85% can be required.

An excise duty is different from the custom duty rate and is applied to alcohol and tobacco. There is a flat rate charged per item or per kilogram depending on the product.

Import VAT is a Valued Added Tax, typically for freight goods including household items, vehicles, and other goods not considered as part of excise or custom duty categories. Goods imported from outside the UK will have a VAT unless considered part of the duty-free list. The rate is a percentage based on the value of the goods, which is where the paperwork listing all items and their value comes into play.

Importing Vehicles as an Expat

Like any person importing a vehicle into the UK, expats need to ensure that the imported vehicle meets UK driving and safety standards. All vehicles must fit the Road Vehicle Regulations 1986 and Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989. A European Certificate of Conformity is required for vehicles being imported from the EU, as well as a Mutual Recognition Certificate. A new vehicle will require additional VAT, duty, and tax payments along with a registration once it arrives. HMRC sets the VAT and the registration department will determine the vehicle tax to be paid. For vehicles imported outside of the UK from any country not in the EU a NOVA form and DVLA registration is required. VAT and vehicle tax must also be paid.

HM Revenue and Customs

More information on customs and import duties can be found through the contact details below.

+44(0) 292 201 261

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