How to apply for an import licence in the UK?

How to apply for an import licence in the uk

Thursday, 10 November 2022, 3 minute read

When importing goods into the UK, it’s your responsibility to keep yourself informed about UK importing controls and restrictions. Ensuring you have the right import licence or certificate is a vital part of ensuring that you are bringing goods into the UK legally, safely and smoothly. 

With so many details to consider, the application process can feel daunting, but there are a whole host of resources available to help you apply for your UK import licence with confidence.

In today’s article, we’ll be breaking down how to identify whether you need to apply for an import licence (including food, alcohol and gold import licences), how to apply for your UK import licence and how to save money when importing goods into the UK

What is a UK import licence?

Import licences are documents needed to import goods that the Government wants to be carefully monitored as they enter the UK. Most import licences are issued by the UK Government’s Department for International Trade, at its Import Licensing Branch, but for some goods (including certain medicines or chemicals), import licences will be issued by other bodies, such as the Animal & Plant Health Agency (who would need to issue you a UK import licence for importing pet birds or tropical fish, for example) or the Home Office Drugs Licensing and Compliance Unit

Keep in mind that if you’re also planning to send goods outside of the UK, you’ll need to apply for an export licence too. 

Do you need a UK import licence? 

Whether you need an import licence to import goods into the UK completely depends on what type of goods you are importing. The majority of products don’t need a UK import licence, but the ones that do include: 

  • Pets and animals (including tropical fish and pet birds)

  • Certain high-risk food products

  • Plants

  • Alcohol

  • Military and paramilitary goods

  • Medicine (veterinary or human) 

  • Art

The full list of goods you need a licence to import is published on the Government’s website, but the commodity code of your goods will confirm which category the goods you’re importing fall under (and therefore whether or not you need to apply for a UK import licence). You can find out the commodity code of the goods you’re importing on the Government’s website. 

How to get an import licence in the UK

#1 Establish whether you need a UK import licence

As we mentioned above, the first step to getting an import licence is to identify the commodity code of your goods, which will determine whether you need to apply for a UK import licence or not. 

#2 Prepare your documentation

When it comes to importing goods into the UK, there are certain documents that all UK importers will need, such as a commercial invoice and packing list. However, the specific documentation that is needed for importing will differ largely depending on which goods you are importing. When you look up the commodity codes of your goods online, you will be told if any extra documentation is required (such as a certificate of origin, test certificate or material safety data sheets).

If you are still unsure about what you need to apply for your import licence, you should ask the relevant authority for guidance. Some of the main UK licensing authorities include the Animal & Plant Health Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Home Office Drugs Licensing and Compliance Unit, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

#3 Apply for your UK import licence

You can apply for an import licence online through the Department for International Trade’s Import Licensing Branch website

#4 Ensure your supplier has the correct licence for exporting to the UK

Once you have your UK import licence, it’s important to check that the supplier has the right certificate to legally export goods to the UK. If the supplier of your goods is exporting goods from a country with lower product safety standards, they might need to obtain a Certificate of Free Sale (CFS).

How to get a UK food import licence 

As we touched on earlier, not all food products will require an import licence, but if your business is planning to import food products, you’ll need to first check that they don’t fall into the high-risk category.

High-risk food products are food items which could potentially cause harm or have high food safety standards that they need to meet. Examples of high-risk food products are foods containing contaminants, salmonella or pesticides. For more information about what makes food products high-risk, and on how to import these products into the UK safely, please read the Food Standards Agency (FSA)’s official guidance.

How to lower the cost of importing to the UK

The cost of applying for, obtaining or renewing your UK import licence will completely depend on which goods you are importing, and where they are coming from. 

While not all UK import licences will be expensive, it’s important to remember that you might need multiple licences, certificates or other documents to legally import a range of goods into the UK, so do ensure that you budget for this when applying for your UK import licence/s. 

Beyond not budgeting for multiple UK import licences, one fairly common yet unnecessary mistake made by businesses when importing goods into the UK is losing money when paying international suppliers. Unfortunately, many traditional banks charge excessive fees to transfer money abroad, and won’t offer you the best exchange rate. 

Crezco can help

You can easily reduce the cost of importing goods into the UK with an account-to-account payments solution like Crezco, which lets you pay international suppliers directly from your existing local bank account, benefitting from competitive rates and no hidden fees.

Learn more

Crezco will also provide both you and the supplier with complete transparency, as both you and the supplier will get live updates when payments leave your account and arrive in theirs. You’ll also benefit from Crezco’s use of open banking and award-winning proprietary risk tools (Sentinel), which keep international payments safe and secure. 

When you use Crezco’s cross-border payment solution, you won’t just benefit from the most competitive rates. You can be confident that your payment will be made quickly and securely, with minimal effort required on your part. 

Read more: How to import goods from the EU to the UK cost-effectively

Start applying for your UK import licence 

Before importing any goods, make sure you have thoroughly done your research, and that you understand exactly what documentation is needed to import your goods.  

If you plan to import any of the following items to the UK (or obtaining a UK import licence or certificate), please read through the Government’s detailed official guidance to avoid facing customs delays, fines or other penalties: 

If you also need to find information on applying for a UK export licence, read our latest article on how to get an export licence in the UK.

Good luck, and happy trading!

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