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Get your goods into the destination country:Using Harmonised System (HS) or commodity codes

What you’ll learn

  • how goods are categorised with commodity codes
  • why commodity codes matter for your exports
  • how to use commodity codes for your products, and where you can get support

What are commodity codes?

Commodity codes are also known as:

  • HS (Harmonised System) codes
  • tariff codes
  • HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) codes – this applies to the US only

The Harmonised System is internationally recognised – it’s used by customs authorities to classify any product and to determine the correct taxes, tariffs and duties to be paid for exporting or importing it. It’s also used to gather official export statistics.

Each code is a specific string of up to 10 digits, given to each type of product. This is included in your import or export declaration when you bring goods in or send goods out of the UK to other countries, including EU countries. It’s also needed for documentation such as shipping invoices, letters of credit, certificate of origin and  packing lists.

What each part of the code means

Every code is structured in the same way, as part of a wider system of classification. The classification has various groupings, starting with chapters at the top level, followed by headings and sub-headings, as the description of the product becomes more detailed.

For example, this is how the HS6 code for fresh apples (080810) is broken down into chapters, headings and sub-headings:

  • Chapter – the first 2 numbers (08….) is the HS2 code for edible fruit and nuts, peel of citrus fruit or melons.
  • Heading – adding the next two numbers (0808..) gives the HS4 code for apples, pears and quinces, fresh.
  • Sub-heading – adding the final 2 numbers (080810) gives the HS6 code for fresh apples.

In this example, apples (080810), pears (080830) and quinces (080840) are different sub-headings, but share the same heading and chapter, which is why the first 4 numbers are the same for each product.


Similar products might have quite different commodity codes, according to what they’re made of, how they’re made and who they’re made for.

For example, women’s wool trousers have an HS6 code of 610461, but men’s cotton trousers have an HS6 code of 620342.

The Harmonised System is a global one, and the first 6 digits of a code are usually the same worldwide. But countries can then add up to 4 digits for their own classification purposes. This means countries may apply slightly different codes to the same product.

Why it’s important to get HS codes right

Using the wrong codes can lead to delays and extra charges. For example, shipping your product with the wrong commodity code could lead to hold-ups in port – and you may have to pay for the cost of storage. Or you could face a penalty if the customs authority think you’ve used the wrong code deliberately and you're trying to avoid paying taxes and duties.

Using the right codes can give clear benefits, allowing you to take advantage of free trade agreements, with lower tariff rates for specific products. They can inform your market research, and confirm whether you’ll need health certification or an export licence.

How to find the right code

HM Revenue & Customs provides tools and advice to help you identify the correct code for your product and the associated tariffs and taxes which will apply to it in global markets.

You can also ask for advice from your international trade adviser or those in your supply chain, such as buyers and freight forwarders. But remember that the legal responsibility for getting the right commodity code for your product lies with you.

HS codes are there for taxation – so people pay the right amount of tax. They’re needed for statistics collection, so government and policy makers know which products are being exported and imported. They’re also used for setting quotas, and for determining general trade policy. So they’re very important.

International trade adviser

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