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Exporting: delivery and documentation

Resources to help with exporting fulfilment, including customs and tariff information.

Moving your goods and services

Once you’ve completed an export plan and understand the nature of trading with international markets, you need to establish processes for getting your goods or services to the people that want them. There are several areas to consider, from export licensing, customs declarations and tariffs to modes of transport and how to classify your products.

This phase of getting goods out to market, its associated processes and paperwork, can involve lots of exporting terminology. The Institute of Export (IOE)’s Key Exporting Termsopens in a new window is a useful, plain English glossary of the most common terms.

Many Scottish exporters appoint expert support to help them organise some or all of their delivery arrangements and shipping, customs clearances, documentation and licensing. You may want to take on these processes yourself, in which case there are several useful webinars, training courses and supporting resources available.

This section provides links to specific advice from the UK Government, Scottish Government and support from third-party organisations if you need help in a particular area.

It addresses issues and considerations common across international markets.

Resources to help with delivery and documentation

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the principal methods of delivery – road, rail, air and water – depending on what you are shipping, how much of it there is, and where you are sending it.

Most exporters use the services of a freight forwarder, logistics company, customs agent (or a combination of the three) to manage transportation, customs clearance and trade documentation. Often their roles are interchangeable, so it is important to establish their particular responsibilities.

You can search for a freight forwarder on the following organisations' websites:

Freight forwarders offer a range of services across air, road, rail and sea.

You may also wish to use fast parcels operators.

Find an operator on the AICES websiteopens in a new window 

Browse the government's list of agents and fast parcels operatorsopens in a new window 

Written by the International Chamber of Commerce, and applied globally, Incoterms are pre-defined goods movement terms that form a key part of international sales contracts.

If you are agreeing to sell internationally, it’s vital you pick the correct Incoterm so responsibilities and costs to buyers and sellers are clearly understood when a contract is signed. The Incoterm agreed dictates who (either you or your overseas buyer) is responsible for arranging and paying for transport, the loading process, customs clearance, paying customs duties and storage costs. You should also therefore carefully consider the elements of risk associated with each Incoterm before agreeing on them.

Incoterms are not required when exporting services.

The most recent set of terms are Incoterms 2020opens in a new window 

Find more details on the CC websiteopens in a new window

This Open to Export webinar explains how to select and agree Incoterms for exporting goods:

International IP protection is generally provided by the UN’s IP agency, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The WIPO provides trademark registration and management in up to 123 countries through the Madrid Systemopens in a new window, which requires only one application and a single set of fees to secure protection around the world.

The Intellectual Property Office is the UK government body which provides guidance on trade marks, copyright, patents and designsopens in a new window. It also provides advice around protecting your UK intellectual property abroad.

You can also get free and impartial advice from our team of IP specialists. We can help you understand how to protect your IP whether you're exporting, licensing or franchising internationally.

Find out more about our IP support

All items that are sold overseas need a commodity code, also known as a tariff code, so that the correct VAT and other import duties and restrictions can be applied. Different types of goods attract different kinds of taxes and controls.

The Government has published specific guidance on finding commodity codesopens in a new window, including advice on items that are difficult to classify. It’s important to assign the right commodity codes to your goods. Using the wrong code could result in them being delayed or seized, or the wrong charges being applied when the goods are processed when entering their destination country.

If you’re not sure about the correct commodity code for your goods, you can try the HMRC service for general advice on classifying your goodsopens in a new window.

If you need a legally binding decision on a commodity code, you can apply to HMRC for an Advanced Tariff Rulingopens in a new window.

Watch a video by HM Revenue & Customs on controlled goods: 

The terms ‘tariffs’, ‘duties’ and ‘taxes’ are often used interchangeably. They all refer to the cost of getting your goods into other countries. The cost of each type of product entering each market is established as the ‘tariff’ within a trade agreement, should one exist between the exporting country and destination country. If a trade agreement is not in place, then trade takes place under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on tariffsopens in a new window.

On this website, we use ‘tariff’ to refer to these charges wherever possible, and VAT to refer to the separate considerations needed for Value Added Tax.

You can search the online Trade Tariff to find the correct classificationopens in a new window for the item or items you are importing or exporting. This tool also gives you an overview of the tariffs that apply in your export market and any other considerations you need to make when exporting.

Tariffs on exports from the UK

Depending on the UK’s trade agreements with your export market, you may have to pay tariffs on your exports. These are stipulated by the customs tariff codes which relate to the goods. You can find details for exporting to any country in the world by using the UK government’s duties and customs checkeropens in a new window, which will tell you the applicable rules and restrictions, the tariff rates on your products, and the exporting documents that you need.

Watch this 60-second video to learn how to use the duties and customs checkeropens in a new window.

You can also check tariffs through the World Trade Organization’s tariff dataopens in a new window, which includes a tariff download facilityopens in a new window for saving detailed information according to product and export market.

If a Free Trade Agreement is in place, exporters generally benefit from ‘preferential’ tariff rates if goods qualify under rules of origin. To be eligible, you need to make sure your products meet rules of origin and that you can provide proof of origin. You will need to prove to HMRC that you can claim preference for the goods you are importing or, if you are exporting give the person receiving your goods evidence of the origin so they can claim preference.


VAT implications and processes are different depending on whether you are exporting goods or services (see ‘Exporting services’ section). For goods, you should be able to zero-rate most exports from a UK VAT perspective, as your goods will be consumed outside the UK. To do this, you need documentary evidence of goods leaving the country, which you need to keep for six years. Read the government’s advice on VAT for exports from the UK:

Guidance on exports, sending goods abroad and VATopens in a new window

Guidance on VAT on goods exported from the UKopens in a new window

When exporting goods, import VAT or sales tax may be due in some countries – the liability for this depends on the Incoterm agreed between you and the buyer. If the Incoterm selected is Delivery Duty Paid (DDP), then the liability for import VAT in the destination market lies with you.

You will need to pay import VAT on goods imported into the UK to be re-exportedopens in a new window (from the EU or the rest of the world), with the liability for the VAT dependent on the agreed Incoterm.

VAT rules are different if you are exporting services – although no cross-border UK VAT applies, the market you are supplying may charge VAT, so you may need to register and account for VAT in that country. You should contact the tax authority in that country to find out how to treat the services you're supplying.

Read some exporting and VAT practical examples

Customs special procedures

Customs special procedures provide many benefits for business, particularly for businesses which import and process raw materials or store imported goods for re-exporting. You can check if you are eligible for customs special proceduresopens in a new window opens in a new window that could help reduce or defer duty on products.

International tariff, tax and accountancy support

For general VAT queries, you can use the HMRC VAT helpline and webchatopens in a new window.

You can access professional advice on international tax and VAT through the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)opens in a new window.

Chartered Accountants Worldwideopens in a new window bring together the leading institutes of Chartered Accountants from across the globe. More accounting bodies are listed with the Global Accounting Allianceopens in a new window.

Customs clearance procedures are a key part of exporting, both in ensuring that your goods can leave the UK and that they can be accepted in their destination country. Clearing customs in the UK requires the correct licensing, contracts and declarations to be in place.

Do it yourself

You can read the UK government guidance on getting customs clearanceopens in a new window for step-by-step advice on how to make customs declarations for exported goods. However, it is advisable to familiarise yourself with the process and the details you will need to provide.

If you need direct support on a particular issue, HMRC’s Customs and International Trade Helplineopens in a new window can help with customs declarations, simplified customs procedures, duties and tariffs and general import and export queries.

More generally, there is a range of training courses and providers available, including options from:

There are also many online learning options and webinars. You can also browse the UK government list of customs training providersopens in a new window.

If you are completing customs declarations yourself and have followed the correct processes, but your goods do not clear customs at the UK border for some reason, you can contact the National Clearance Hubopens in a new window to get help.

Appoint an expert

You may want to appoint an expert (for example a customs agent or broker) to deal with export transactions and produce the necessary customs documentation on your behalf. The UK government has also published advice on advice on appointing expert customs supportopens in a new window and you can also search for customs agents through the British International Freight Associationopens in a new window (BIFA) or the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associationopens in a new window (FIATA).

Even if you appoint an expert to support you, it is still your responsibility to provide accurate information for any documentation required. ChamberCustomsopens in a new window, an advisory, training and brokerage service provided by Chambers of Commerce across the UK, can train staff and advise you on how to deal with customs processes whatever your company’s preferred approach.

You can also watch this HM Revenue & Customs video which gives more information about how a customs intermediary or agent can help you:

Export declarations

You have to complete an export declaration when exporting physical goods from the UK.

Export declarations can be complicated and most companies appoint a freight forwarder or customs agent to deal with customs clearance processes for them. However, even if you appoint a specialist, it remains your responsibility to ensure that the information on an export declaration is accurate, as the exporter is ultimately liable.

You can read the UK government guidance on making a full export declarationopens in a new window for advice on how to make these declarations, whether doing so yourself or through a representative.

You can also get help with questions on export and customs documentation by contacting your nearest Chamber in Scotland (open to all companies, not just members). More information can be found on the following chamber websites:

If you need to temporarily take your goods out of the UK, for example to take sales samples to a trade show or for testing purposes, you can apply for an ATA Carnetopens in a new window to avoid paying duty. You can apply for an ATA Carnet through the London Chamber of Commerceopens in a new window.

Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number

An EORI number is a required part of a customs declaration. Any business exporting goods from Scotland will need an EORI number beginning with GB.

If you move goods to Northern Ireland you will also need an EORI number beginning with XI.

You can find out more about and apply for EORI numbersopens in a new window on the GOV.UK website.

Rules of origin

Rules of origin are used by customs authorities to identify the country of origin of goods, establish whether tariffs are due and if restrictions are in place. The country of origin is where goods originate from or were manufactured in, not just where they are shipped from. When exporting you need to make sure that your goods check your goods meet the rules of origin for your export marketopens in a new window.

If the UK has a free trade agreement (FTA) in place with your export market, this could mean that there are preferential tariff rates (or zero tariffs) for your goods. You can check if there is a free trade agreement in effect for your marketopens in a new window on the GOV.UK website.

Companies need to complete a complete a proof of origin certification processopens in a new window to prove that goods are eligible for any tariff reductions. The type of proof needed depends on the goods you are exporting, where they are being exported to and the details of any existing FTA.

Some FTAs allow an exporter to self-certify that their goods comply with the requirements, but others require a chamber of commerce or HMRC to provide formal confirmation.

The Scottish chambers of commerce that are accredited issuers of this type of trade documentation are Aberdeen & Grampian, Ayrshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Renfrewshire, Inverness and Fife.

Marking, labelling and marketing standards

Labels and markings are required on certain types of products so buyers can be assured that goods meet certain industry and market standards. These considerations mainly apply to manufactured goods, food and plants.

If you’re not sure which types of marking or regulatory framework to use, it’s advisable to speak to your importer about standards in your export market. You can also contact a solicitor or the relevant trade association to get help. The UK government's customs duties checkeropens in a new window is also a useful tool for researching country and origin marking and labelling requirements.

Mutual recognition agreement

A mutual recognition agreement (MRA) is one in which countries recognise one another’s conformity assessments. When conformity assessments are applied to products, they are tested to an established performance standard. Inspections, quality management, surveillance, accreditation, and declarations of conformity also take place.

Access an up-to-date list of the MRAs signed by the UKopens in a new window.

You may need to include supporting information, including certificates, export licences and other documentation, with the shipment of certain goods. We have listed the most common export sectors requiring forms of certification. If your product doesn’t fit into these categories and you find the guidance does not apply, then you can check the export processes for all goodsopens in a new window on GOV.UK.

Food, drink, and agricultural products

The UK government has published advice on exporting food, drink, and agricultural productsopens in a new window.

Animals or animal products

The UK government has published advice on exporting live animals or animal productsopens in a new window.

If you’re exporting live animals or animal products from the UK, you need to obtain an export health certificate to confirm that the exports meet the health requirements of the destination country. The government has published specific advice for exporters that require an export health certificateopens in a new window.

The government has also produced webinars on exporting animals and products of animal origin to the European Unionopens in a new window.

Exporting fish – catch certificates

There are also specific rules for exporting or moving fish from the UKopens in a new window. As well as an export health certificate, you will need to create a catch certificate that proves you have caught your fish legally. This is required for many species, but not all.

The UK government has published guidance on creating a UK catch certificateopens in a new window.

You can also watch this video for more advice on catch certificates:

Plants and plant products

Regulated plants or plant products need to be inspected and certified prior to export to certain countries. You should check the requirements for each country before exporting.

If required, you need to certify your products by applying for a phytosanitary certificate (PC), which must be obtained for:

  • plants, including fruit, vegetables and cut flowers
  • plant products
  • seeds
  • potatoes
  • bulbs
  • grain
  • machinery
  • wood and wood products

In Scotland, applications should be made with the Science and Advice for Scottish Agricultureopens in a new window (SASA) services.

The UK government has also published guidance on exporting plants and plant productsopens in a new window including additional requirements for exporting wood or wood products and specific arrangements now in place following the UK leaving the EU.

Composite products

If you are exporting goods that are made up of products of animal and plant origin, the government has published guidance on guidance on composite products and the export rules that applyopens in a new window.

Drugs and medicines

You need a drug manufacturer, wholesale dealer and marketing licence to export medicines for humans or animals. The UK government has published information about applying for manufacturer or wholesaler of medicines licencesopens in a new window.

You also need specific permission to export medicines for humans or animals. For human medicines, you need to apply for one of five types of certificates, all of which are provided by the MHRA. You should speak to your importer to find out which one you need.

There are also five types of certificates (DEFRA certificates) for medicines for animals, which are issued by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

Check the UK government website for all the details you need on how to apply for veterinary and human medicine export certificatesopens in a new window.

If your drug is on the list of controlled drugsopens in a new window (a drug controlled or regulated by misuse legislation), you need to apply for a Home Office controlled drug licenceopens in a new window. This is in addition to any domestic drugs licencesopens in a new window you need to possess the drug in the UK.

There is also specific guidance on exporting drugs that can be used for lethal injectionsopens in a new window.

Medical devices

Certificates are needed for some medical devices. You need to check the rules in your particular export market. The certificate needed to export medical devices is called a Certificate of Free Sale (CFS). The UK government has published a Certificate of Free Sale video tutorialopens in a new window and a guide to ordering Certificates of Free Saleopens in a new window to help exporters.

If you need a CFS, you must register your device with the MHRA’s Device Online Registration System (DORS)opens in a new window. The certificates are only issued to UK-based manufacturers, UK Responsible Persons or Northern Ireland-based Authorised Representatives.

You’ll also have to show that the medical devices you are exporting hold relevant conformity assessment marks for the domestic market.


The UK government has published advice on the licences and rules for exporting chemicalsopens in a new window.

You may need a licence to export controlled chemicals (like those with potential military uses, controlled drugs, ozone-depleting substances or radioactive substances) or hazardous chemicals.

You will also need a reference identification number (RIN) if the chemical you are exporting is listed in Parts 1, 2 or 3 of the GB PIC list – a list of chemicals that must comply with the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) regulation, which manages the import of hazardous chemicals. The government's guidance has information on how to apply.

Manufactured goods

Documentation may be needed for some manufactured goods which are being exported from the UK. Rules around product and service conformity vary by export market. For example, CE marking requirements apply to some products which are sold within the European Economic Area (EEA) and the China Compulsory Certification (CCC) is the required safety and quality marking for certain products placed in China.

New conformity assessment marking regulations have been introduced for certain products manufactured and handled within Great Britain and Northern Ireland. GOV.UK provides further information on the UK Conformity Assessment (UKCA)opens in a new window and United Kingdom Northern Ireland marking (UKNI)opens in a new window.

This GOV.UK tool for checking duties and customs proceduresopens in a new window allows you to search by market and specific commodity code to understand any regulations, compliance guidance and required documentation for exporting certain manufactured goods.


Goods, technology, and software supplied in the Space industry may be subject to the UK government's strategic export controls. Exporters can check the consolidated list to see if their goods come under military use, or dual-use and require export authorisation.

Further information can be found in the 'Understand if you need an export licence' section on this page.

Help with regulatory issues

Animal, Plant and Health Agency Export

Phone: 0300 020 0301

Opening hours: Mon-Fri from 8:30am to 5pm

Animal, Plant and Health Agency Import

Phone: 0300 1000 313

Opening hours: Mon-Fri from 6am to 5pm

Environment Agency (importing and exporting of waste)

Phone: 03708 506 506

Opening hours: Mon – Fri from 8am to 6pm

Fish Exports Helpline

Phone: 0330 159 1989

Opening hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Cross-border Plant Health Service

Phone: 0300 067 5155


Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency Customer Service Centre

Phone: 020 3080 6000

Opening hours: Mon - Fri from 9am to 5pm

The Office for Product Safety and Standards

Phone: 0121 345 1201

Opening hours: Mon – Fri from 8am to 5pm

Some goods being imported into or exported from the UK are subject to extra controls, and many require an export licence. These items are known as controlled goods.

Some items that could be subject to an export licence include telecoms and radio equipment, advanced manufacturing tools, aerospace navigation equipment, marine navigation equipment, satellites, and renewable and nuclear energy goods.

In the UK, the Export Control Joint Unitopens in a new window is the issuing authority for licences for controlled goods that are military use and dual-use. Dual-use items can be used for both civil and military purposes, such as software, sensors and lasers.

You must check if you need an export licenceopens in a new window for the controlled goods you are planning to export.

If you do, SPIREopens in a new window is the Export Control Joint Unit’s online system for export licensing related to military and dual-use items.

You can also sign up for export notice email alertsopens in a new window and access UK government training eventsopens in a new window (online training and webinars currently) for strategic export controls, aimed at exporting and trading companies of all sizes.

Watch this video to find out more about controlled goods:

Some processes and documentation are not applicable to exporters selling services rather than goods. However, there are some rules and regulations that do apply to services sold to international markets.


The General Agreement on Trade Servicesopens in a new window (GATS) is a legally binding set of rules covering international trade in services. The GATS provides a general framework encouraging cross-border trade in services and covers:

  • Supply of services cross-border
  • Freedom to consume services in another country
  • Establishment of commercial entities in another country
  • Ability of individuals to travel to other countries to supply services


Incoterms do not apply to the export of services as there isn’t a physical product to be bought or moved. Nevertheless, it is important to define exactly what services you are providing and to what standards when you are negotiating contracts for service provision.

VAT on services

The cross-border supply of services is not subject to UK VAT, but the market you are supplying may charge VAT. The UK government has published guidance on calculating and charging VATopens in a new window if you are supplying services to customers outside the UK. There are specific VAT rules for supplying digital services overseasopens in a new window.

The UK government’s Exporting is Great website also has guides to preparing for, marketing and delivering services overseasopens in a new window.

Similar to exporting, the process of importing goods and services into the UK requires adherence to processes, documentation, regulatory controls and payment of customs duty and VAT where applicable.

GOV.UK has published step-by-step guidance on importing goods into the UKopens in a new window.

Further training and support

In some areas of exporting, you or your staff may benefit from training or support from some of Scotland's dedicated business organisations. They provide a range of services, courses and materials to help you if you decide to deal with exporting and logistics processes within your business.

Find export support organisations 

Global connections

We can connect you with specialists across the globe, whether you’re trying to understand a market or find the right person to talk to.

The GlobalScot Networkopens in a new window is a free network which aims to connect organisations in Scotland with worldwide business who can offer one-to-one support, global market knowledge and vital contacts.

The Department for Business and Trade (DBT)opens in a new window has more than 100 offices around the world.