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What import and export documentation does my business need from 1st January 2021?

It has been well-publicised that the way the UK trades with the EU is due to change from 1st January 2021, as a new chapter begins in the relationship between the two sides.

As a result of the changes, UK businesses that import or export with the EU will need to have appropriate processes and measures in place to prevent disruption when trading. This includes having the right documentation in place so your goods can pass border checks and safely arrive at their intended destination.

With limited time left until the end of the year and the end of the transition period, it is vital to understand now what your business needs to have and make sure it is ready for 1st January.

In our blog, we have outlined the different documents required for future importing and exporting between the EU and the UK.

Documents needed for importing from the EU

If your business intends to import or exports goods or services from the EU after 1st January, there will be amendments to the processes you may have previously used to bring goods into the UK or out to the EU. As a result of leaving the European single market, the UK will not have access to the free movement of goods from the EU – so specific requirements will now be needed to facilitate your imported and exported products. Below is a list of the documentation you will need.

Customs declarations

One of the first changes to account for is the need for customs declarations. A customs declaration is a form that contains details about the goods being imported into a customs territory (such as crossing a UK border).

In the form, you will need to provide details about the country of origin, relevant commodity codes and the sender and receiver’s names and addresses. The declarations must be submitted in full at the time the goods enter their destination country (either the UK or EU). If you do not complete a customs declaration with the correct information, it will create a delay during border checks or prevent the goods from being accepted into the country.

Filling out a customs declaration is a complex task and usually requires specific software to do so. They must be submitted electronically via the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. As such, it is essential to ensure your company is equipped to deal with customs or appoint someone who is.

Appropriate third-party customs handlers could include a freight forwarder, customs agent or courier. You can hire any of these to handle customs declarations on your behalf, though they will need to be established in the EU. You may also hire someone within your enterprise to deal with customs, in which case you will be liable keeping records of your imports and exports and providing accurate information.

The exception to the rule is if you have applied for a simplified declarations process. This applies to imports coming into the UK from anywhere in the world. Whether you will be accepted for the simplified process will depend on the goods you are importing and the eligibility of your business. You can find out more about these here. If you are able to utilise the simplified process, you will still need to submit a declaration – but the way these are done will differ.


From next year, the import and export of some goods will need specific licenses or certificates. The licences you need will depend on the kind of products you are importing or exporting, but they mainly relate to areas such as livestock, agricultural goods, weapons, drugs, chemicals and waste.

Similarly, certification may be required – for example, health certificates from a qualified vet on livestock entering the country.

You should check if you need any licences or certificates for your imports or exports as soon as possible and, if you do, apply so that you have them in place by 31st December. Many goods that require licenses will also have special rules to follow when importing or exporting them, so you should also check this.

Valid applications for licences take around ten days to process. Import licences last three months and export licences for two months. Once you have shipped in or out the quantity of goods detailed in the licence, it will have been used, and you will need to apply for a new licence if you import or export those goods again.

If you do not have an appropriate licence or certificate, your goods will likely be refused at border checks. It is also a criminal offence to trade without a proper licence, which could lead to worse trouble for your business.

EORI number

Your business will need to have an EORI number from 1st January for both importing and exporting. This is a unique ID that relates only to your company and will begin with the letters ‘GB’. You may already have an EORI number if you have previously imported or exported outside of the EU, but you should check to make sure it starts with ‘GB’ and is therefore accurate.

If you don’t have an EORI number, you can apply online. You will need to have your VAT registration certificate, National Insurance number, Taxpayer Reference and SIC code handy before doing so.

EORI numbers take about a week to process, but it is worth applying for one as soon as possible to make sure you’re fully prepared.


Another change that will come into play when the EU transition period ends is the way UK goods are labelled and marked. The markings you use will depend on whether the goods are for a UK market or an EU market.

Previously, there was a universal marking system for EU products – however, as the UK is no longer part of the EU, goods will need to be labelled according to the standards for each side.

Appropriate marking will be needed to showcase that goods are in keeping with regulation for the market they will be sold in. This means adopting a CE mark (subject to the product passing standards checks) for EU markets, and a UKCA mark for UK markets. If you intend for your goods to be sold in the UK and EU, they will need both marks.

It is worth noting that existing UK goods with a CE mark rather than a UKCA mark can still be sold in the UK after 1st January if it has passed the right standards – so, you can import EU goods with this mark into the UK and still sell them.

Similarly, labelling will need to change for certain products, such as organic and food products. Changes here include labelling goods as ‘UK origin’ and not EU origin and making sure that labelling showcases that the right control body has passed goods.

If you are an importer or exporter, you may bear legal responsibility for ensuring your products are marked and labelled correctly and fitting with the appropriate standards. It is, therefore, necessary to check what the requirements are and be prepared to implement them from 1st January 2021.

Documents needed for the rest of the world

Much of the guidance detailed above is already relevant when trading with countries outside of the EU. As a result, there won’t be any change in how you import from and export to the rest of the world – except for that the way you trade with the EU will now be the same as the way you would deal with any other country. In this sense, businesses may now be encouraged to trade with new countries with a level-playing field for import and export process and documentation. However, you should check the rules for specific countries if you have not imported or exported there before.

It is worth noting that the UK is currently undergoing negotiations with non-EU countries, such as Japan and Australia, with the aim of securing new trade deals. Moving forward, if any of these deals were to come into fruition, there might be changes to the documentation required to import and export with those specific countries.

If this is the case, the government will outline the processes for businesses to follow when the time comes.

Get advice

If you import and export with the EU, you will want to continue to do so with minimal disruption. To achieve this, you need to ensure you are fully prepared, with the documentation you need to successfully move your goods between countries and prevent delays at the border.

If you need support in understanding the changes to trade documentation and process, and what your business specifically needs to have in place, we are here to help.

Our team of experts have knowledge of key topics, including trade and documentation, so we can inform you of the measures you need to implement and how to do so.