Get your goods out of the UK

How to make a UK customs declaration

View transcript for Episode 9 - How to make a UK customs declaration recording
A customs declaration allows you to ship goods from the UK to anywhere in the world. It’s required for all countries, including the EU. It’s a legal document that helps governments track goods, pay duties, and ensures shipments are both safe and legal.

It’s essential to get these forms right. Otherwise they can cause delays to your shipment. But they also act as proof that you’ve sent goods overseas, which you'll need if you’re claiming back any excise duties in the UK.

It’s often be simpler to pay someone to help, such as a freight forwarder, customs agent or international courier. Completed customs declarations can be part of the service. All the details are taken care of and the cost is worked into the overall contract.

Most customs declarations are submitted electronically via the National Export System, or NES. If you do this yourself, register via gov.uk, where you’ll find a step-by-step guide to help you.

Even if you use an agent or freight forwarder, you’ll need an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number, which you can apply for on gov.uk.

What you’ll learn

  • what a UK customs declaration is and why it’s important
  • how to make one and where to get help and advice
  • the risks associated with not getting it right

When to make a customs declaration

To export goods from the UK to any country, including the EU, you need to make a customs declaration. A customs declaration is a legal document that helps governments track the movement of goods across the world, making sure that the correct duties are paid and shipments are safe and legal. 

Completing a customs declaration

It's essential you provide accurate information about your business and your shipment. But because completing a customs declaration can be complicated, large businesses often have dedicated in-house teams with expert knowledge and specialist software to do it.

For smaller companies, it’s often simpler to pay someone to look after this process, such as:

  • a freight forwarder
  • customs agents or brokers (including some chambers of commerce)
  • international couriers

Completed customs declarations are often offered as part of the service by freight forwarders or courier companies. All the specifics and technicalities are taken care of and the cost is worked into the overall contract.

To ship goods anywhere, even if you use an agent or freight forwarder, you need an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number. Most declarations are submitted electronically using the National Export System (NES) and if you’re going to do this yourself, rather than appoint an agent, you’ll need to register at GOV.UK.

A step-by-step guide of how to move goods from the UK, including any special rules you’ll need to follow in the UK and the destination country, can be found on can be found on GOV.UK.

Keeping your paperwork accurate

A customs declaration is a legal document, and if you don’t have one, your goods simply will not be allowed to leave the UK. Any delays on your shipment can lead to disappointed customers, additional costs, or both.

Making sure the details on your declaration are accurate is very important. Once your goods arrive at their destination, local customs officials will check the shipment and paperwork, including tariff codes, weight of consignments and rules of origin. If anything is inaccurate, they could hold the goods and you could face further delays.

Finally, your customs declaration is your proof that you have sent goods overseas, which you will need if you’re claiming back some excise duties in the UK. It’s good practice to keep your declaration with all your other export sales paperwork, ready for when you need it.

Learn about customs declarations so you are informed of the process, but get the help of a third party – freight forwarder, courier, or an independent customs broker – as it will save you time and money.

International trade adviser

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