Importing goods into the UK - FAQs

The process of moving goods around the world is one of the most daunting and complex aspects of running an ecommerce business, and Brexit has added a new layer of complications when to comes to bringing stock into the UK. Fortunately, there are companies dedicated to helping business owners through this process.

UK importing guide

While the goods are ultimately the business owner’s responsibility, the knowledge and experience of a freight forwarder and customs agent can help you make sense of the import procedure and the surrounding requirements.

Enlisting the help of these companies will minimise the risk of disruption or fines and allow you to focus on the other aspects of running your international ecommerce operation.

Importing FAQs for ecommerce businesses

To import goods into the UK, you will need support from two types of company:

  • A freight forwarder: or ‘forwarding agent’ receives and ships goods on behalf of other companies. They organise shipments of large volumes of goods via air, rail and sea.
  • A customs agent: or ‘customs broker’ makes sure that your goods can be cleared through customs en route to the final place of delivery.

Vdepot works closely with freight forwarder Sovereign Cargo, making introductions for our customers when they need this support, allowing them to continue to easily trade within and from the UK. Sovereign in turn work with customs agents, managing the transportation and importing process on your behalf.

A freight forwarder will ask you for the following information in order to quote accurately for their services. The cost will vary depending on the date of the shipment.

If they are managing customs clearance on your behalf, they will also need the customs information outlined in the next section.

  • Number of pieces (pallets or containers)
  • Weight
  • Dimensions
  • Collection address
  • Delivery address

A customs agent will need the following information about your shipment, to make sure that all necessary taxes are paid and rules are followed before your goods can be accepted into the UK.

Your freight forwarder will help with information about the transportation method/dates, but you are expected to provide your EORI number, your product commodity/HS codes, and the individual values of the goods.

  1. Supplier Name
  2. Supplier EORI Number
  3. Collection Date
  4. Collection address & contact
  5. Delivery address & contact
  6. Purchase Invoice Ref
  7. Invoice values and Currency
    • Value of goods
    • Insurance
    • Shipping costs
    • Total
  8. Incoterms
  9. Commodity Code and Description for each product
  10. Number of packages
  11. Gross & Net Weight
  12. Number of cartons
  13. Country or Origin and Country of Dispatch
  14. Method of transport: Sea/Rail/Road/Air
  15. Truck/Trailer Number
  16. Port of Arrival
  17. Approx date of arrival

Your customs agent will also request a deferment authorisation letter for each shipment in advance of the goods arriving at the respective port to avoid delays.

Make sure you regularly read the guidance published on relating to importing and exporting. Although your fulfilment partner, freight forwarder and customs agent can assist you, your goods are ultimately your responsibility. Ensure you are clued up on the requirements pertaining to your products, as some types of product (such as food and medicine) are subject to additional regulations and checks.

Useful links:

Some products will need additional paperwork and additional checks at the Border Control Point into the UK. You may need to get licences or certificates if you are importing certain goods, such as food, medicine, plants or hazardous chemicals.

The products that fall under these extra requirements are changing regularly and this will mean that you will need to check the online guidance on in advance of each time you wish to import into the UK. You will find the latest list of industries these circumstances apply to on this page.

You will need to liaise with your supplier, freight forwarder and relevant port of entry to ensure that hard copies of any certifications are sent with your shipment.

Our understanding is that some of the new processes and requirements are going to be introduced in April and July 2021 for ‘high-risk’ food and animal-based products, to give affected companies additional time to prepare. These are detailed in the Government’s importing and exporting guide from December 2020.

Common problems and mistakes when importing into the UK

We asked our contact at Sovereign Cargo bout their experience of working with ecommerce companies and the most common issues they have to guide their customers through. Here is Sovereign’s view on the most common pitfalls around importing and exporting:

“The main mistake people make when transporting goods is not giving enough information. The best thing to do is to provide as much information as possible. It’s better to give too much information than not enough.

Any missing information may cause delays and result in items being held by HMRC. This can in turn lead to additional storage charges while issues around missing information are resolved.

In addition, the customer should make sure the goods are packaged and palletised correctly – nothing should be oversized.”

When asked how the process might differ for UK/EU/RoW companies, Sovereign replied:

“At the moment the only change we are aware of is the fact we now have to arrange customs clearance and pay duty/ taxes at the UK border. I believe more will become clear once we know the goods being imported and the restrictions (if any) and charges involved. This may also cause delays if the goods are in a groupage vehicle, as it is not just the business’ goods that will need to be cleared before the truck can continue into the UK, all goods within the vehicle will need to be cleared.”

Are you an ecommerce business selling in the UK?

Contact Sovereign Cargo for assistance with importing your stock into the UK.

If you are looking for a UK-based fulfilment partner or storage solution for your UK operations, get in touch with Vdepot. We can support your expansion into the UK market.


You should seek independent advice outside of Vdepot’s updates on this matter. This message is Vdepot’s understanding of the new requirements but we encourage you to do your own research on how Brexit impacts your business.