Getting set for UK customs

Customs implications for trading with the UK

Under the old dispensation, goods travelled freely between Ireland and Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Ireland and Wales: all were members of the European Union, and there were no trade barriers. No need to fill in customs declarations and prepare documentation for bureaucratic checks and filing. No need to pay duties on most goods. When the UK leaves the EU shortly, it will become a Third Country and full customs procedures will come in to force.

Enterprise Ireland organised an information day on what Irish businesses need to do to facilitate importing from the United Kingdom once it leaves the EU.

The good news is that there will be plenty of leeway to get most of the systems and documents in order, according to David Vallelly of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

According to Vallelly, there will be no requirement from the UK side for anything to change in customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. “There will be no customs tariffs or formalities on most goods moving from Ireland to Northern Ireland,” he confirmed. “This is a unilateral measure, from the UK side.”

In the meantime, as Donna Hemphill of Deloitte’s Global Trade Advisory section, Belfast, noted, the Revenue Commissioners will still expect a customs declaration for goods exported to Northern Ireland.

There will remain a few requirements, for goods which fall under Excise or Licensed categories, such as tobacco, and these will be subject to HMRC inspection on occasion.  Exporters are likely to be notified ahead of time of these checks. “Companies are most likely to know if their product falls into one of these categories,” Vallely said.


Transitional Simplified Procedures

Turning to trade from the island of Ireland to Britain, Vallely explained the new set of Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP) for goods coming into the UK from the EU.  Traders registered for TSP won’t need to make full customs declarations immediately.  In addition, the vast majority of imports from the EU into the UK will be duty free for a temporary period. However, a company must have some form of legal entity in the UK in order to qualify.


Exception when trading with non EU members

A number of exceptions, known as easements, are ready to be in place to minimise the impact of No Deal. A Duty Deferment Account can also be set up to allow you make one payment of customs duties by way of direct debit instead of paying for individual shipments. 

Other important acronyms, and the reality behind them, include EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification). This is needed for either exporting or importing with the UK.

Full details of required registration procedures, documentation and how to obtain relevant numbers are on the UK Government website,, which is searchable.


The landbridge

As for the landbridge, when goods transit through the UK, these will require a transit declaration, which is completed using the NCTS (New Customs Transit System). Traders need to ensure a guarantee is in place to cover any financial liabilities. This procedure is under the Common Transit Convention, which covers all EU countries, and to which the UK as a potential non-EU country has been invited to accede.

In his presentation, Vallely recommended use of customs agents to handle the customs process because of their familiarity with the acronyms, how to correctly fill out forms, and the software to use. In addition, he advised: “Talk to your customers, find out what they are doing and are prepared to do.” Some of the administrative burden could be shared by cooperation.


Establishing a UK Presence

Having a business entity in the UK will help ease customs processes in the post-Brexit world, the Enterprise Ireland conference was told. This is needed in order to apply for Transitional Simplified Procedures. The UK company could then act as an importer of goods coming from Ireland.

Gerry Collins of ECOVIS, a business consultancy which specialises in assisting companies set up inside the UK, said companies should first decide if they need a UK presence, and then choose which model suits bests.

The options are a branch of the business, a separate company, or a limited liability partnership (LLP). Collins said the most popular option in his experience is a separate company, which indicates more commitment to the UK market than a branch office. The major issues are the time frame, legal protection, accounts filing and taxation. Visas for staff who cannot avail of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK are also a priority.

Collins said 95% of his clients choose to set up a company, which is relatively simple and quick – “you can do it the same day if you are keen”.


Learn more on preparing your business for customs with Enterprise Ireland’s free, online Customs Insight course.