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Get your goods out of the UK:Understanding export licensing

What you’ll learn

  • why the UK has a system of export controls and licensing
  • the main types of export licences
  • how to check if you need an export licence for your goods

Why the UK issues export licences

An export licence permits you to trade in strategically controlled goods that would otherwise be prohibited from export. Goods are controlled because of their nature and what they could be used for, or their destination market.

If you're exporting goods out of the UK, it's your responsibility to make sure you comply with the UK government’s regulations.

You should be aware of any export controls which apply to your goods, and any export licences you may need.

Goods which are likely to be controlled

Goods which are likely to be controlled are:

  • most items which have been specially designed or modified for military use and their components, including any technology and software used in or with the item
  • dual-use items — goods that can be used for both commercial or military purposes and some of their components, such as parts, raw materials and processing machinery for manufacturing
  • goods that could be used for torture
  • radioactive material
  • any commercial items which fall within the remit of trade sanctions on any one country

For example, your product may be controlled as a dual-use item if it uses technology which could be repurposed to make ballistic missiles, such as ball bearings.

You may also now need an export licence if you’re selling into the EU, if your product is listed as controlled – even if this was not required before.

You can find out if you’ll need a licence for your goods by consulting the UK Strategic Export Controls List.

Why exports are controlled

Exports are controlled for various reasons, including:

  • concerns about internal repression, regional instability, or other human rights violations
  • concerns about the development of weapons of mass destruction
  • foreign policy and international treaty commitments, such as the imposition of trade sanctions or arms embargoes
  • protection of the national and collective security of the UK and its allies

The main types of export licenses

The Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) administers the UK's system of export controls and licensing.

It issues several types of export licence:

Open General Export Licences

Open General Export Licences (OGELs) are available for pre-determined military and dual-use controlled items being exported to a range of permitted restricted destinations.

They’re the most flexible and commonly used licence as they enable you to make unlimited exports — and you only need to register once to start using them.

To check whether there is an OGEL that covers the export you wish to make, you can use the OGEL Checker.

Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs)

If your goods, technology, software, destination or situation is controlled and not covered by an OGEL, you’ll need to apply for a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL).

Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs)

ECJU also issues an Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL) which is designed to cover long-term contracts, projects and repeat business.

Applying for a licence

All licence applications and OGEL registrations should be made electronically via ECJU’s central online licensing system, SPIRE.

Keep records and stay compliant

If you do not comply with the terms of the export licences you use, you could face a penalty. These can range from de-registration of your licence, to fines, or even a potential prison term.

So, it’s vital your business puts in place clear guidance and procedures around export licence compliance — in terms of record keeping, training and lines of responsibility.

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