What Documents Do I Need When Importing To The UK?

When importing goods to the UK, there is a lot of documentation involved. Many first time importers may not know about what type of documents they'll need during the process, so here's an overview of some of the most common!

When it comes to importing, there is such a broad spectrum of goods that naturally the certification that is needed is not the same across the board. There are, however, certain documents that all importers will need to get their goods into the country regardless of what those goods actually are.

For the first part of this post, we’re going to take you through the compulsory documents that need to be drafted up for you to successfully import goods into the UK – and then we’ll take you through the more specific ones so that you can discover if you need any extra documentation.


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Documents All Importers Need

Bill of lading (can be telex released or the original)

The bill of lading is the official shipping document containing all the details about the shipment.

It represents ownership of the goods; when the bill of lading is transferred, the goods are moved from belonging to the supplier to you. This means that you can legally resell them on. This also means that it’s ‘release’ to the intended recipient of the goods is often held until a final payment for the goods is complete. Without either an Original paper B/L or an electronic release, the goods cannot be delivered.

Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice contains the buyer and seller’s details in addition to the type of goods, quantity, price of each product and terms of sale.

For customs to work out how much Duty and Tax you need to be paying, they need to know the value of your goods. The commercial invoice is a detailed account of the value of your goods and is used to declare them to customs, dictating the amount of Duties and Taxes to be paid.

Packing List

A document provided by the shipper detailing what goods are within the shipment and how they are packed. It includes carton numbers, number of items within the cartons and weight and dimensions of the cartons.

This allows everyone involved in the process at various stages the ability to check what they’re shipping – and allows you to compare what’s been shipped to what you paid for on your invoice.

Although it may not seem like an essential document, a packing list is actually vital for many reasons:

  • It can accompany an inspection certificate.
  • The packing list is used by customs for clearance and entry into the country.
  • Can be used to compare what has been ordered to what has been shipped.
  • It is used to issue a bill of lading.

EORI number

The easiest way to think of an EORI number is as an importing passport. Your EORI number can be used to identify you and your shipments. An EORI number is a European identification – to ship anywhere within the EU you’ll need an EORI number, but you can use the same number in all the included countries.

An EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number allows customs to keep a record of what’s being imported and exported. You’ll need one in order to import goods into the UK. We can help you with this and, once you have an EORI number, you can use it on your future imports too.

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Documents Importers May Need (Depending On The Products They’re Importing)

If you think about the incredible variety in goods that people import, you’ll understand the need for different levels of scrutiny and safety they each come with. Goods such as firearms and chemicals will naturally be needed to treated much differently than T-Shirts. Depending on what you’re importing, you may need some of these additional documents.

Certificate of Origin/GSP Form A

A document certifying the country in which the goods originated. It’s normally issued or signed by the relevant Government Department, Chamber of Commerce or Embassy of the exporting country.

These certificates aren’t always required, but sometimes they can be greatly beneficial. If you’re importing from certain countries that are part of the GSP Scheme (Generalised System of Preferences), then you can use your certificate of origin to prove that your goods are eligible for a duty reduction.

If you aren’t sure what the GSP scheme is, the brief rundown is that in an effort to encourage trade with developing countries the government offers reduced or free duty ratings on goods from certain countries. To find out what countries are eligible for lower duty ratings, you can read more about it here.

CE Certificate

For certain products, having a CE certificate is essential for ensuring that your goods can clear UK customs. A CE certificate is a safety compliance certification that confirms that your goods have been produced to the EU standards.

“The CE marking is required for many products. It:

  • shows that the manufacturer has checked that these products meet EU safety, health or environmental requirements
  • is an indicator of a product’s compliance with EU legislation
  • allows the free movement of products within the European market,”  – Gov.Uk, CE Marking

Goods that require CE markings are:

  • Toys
  • Machinery
  • Electrical equipment
  • Electronic equipment
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Pressure equipment
  • Medical devices
  • Active implantable medical devices
  • In vitro diagnostica
  • Radio and Telecommunications terminal equipment
  • Simple pressure vessels
  • Gas appliances
  • Lifts
  • Recreational craft
  • Equipment and protective systems for use in explosive atmospheres
  • Non-automatic weighing instruments
  • Cableways
  • Construction products
  • Explosives for civil use
  • New hot water boilers
  • Measuring Equipment

Certification for Port Health

You may need extra documents if your goods are edible or used in or with food/drink. This is to ensure that your goods will pass through Port Health easily.

Port Health is an authority that is charged with making sure of the public, environmental and animal health of the UK. Any goods that could pose a threat to these things are likely to need a certificate for Port Health. The need for this test certificate may not be immediately apparent; for example, you may need test reports for food/drink containers to prove that they are safe (e.g. plastic packaging won’t react with food under certain conditions).

A few examples of the certificates you may need include:

  • Organic Certification
  • Phytosanitary certificate
  • Sanitary Certificate etc.

Test Certificates

Certain products (such as some electricals) may be stopped by Trading Standards to check for their safety. To help streamline their journey through customs, you should be able to prove that they’ve been officially tested to prove their safety by providing test certificates.

  • Certificates of Conformity
  • Electrical/Chemical test reports
  • Report for Safe Transport of Goods

Test certificates are important in determining how safe a product is.


Material Safety Data Sheets must accompany any hazardous shipment as they identify and classify the potential hazard/risk. They also include details on what to do if there is an issue (what first aid to administer, how to fight a potential fire etc.) and how to safely handle/store the product.

If you are importing something dangerous, naturally this information is essential for the port to be aware of – as well as you.

Import/Export Licences

Although a vast majority of products do not need an import license, a few do. Products do often need licenses to export them before they’re allowed to leave their country of origin – but, unless you’re buying on EXW terms, the export license cost is not your responsibility.

The thing to remember about import licenses is that an importing license is a way for the government to cap and monitor imports – most goods will be unaffected, but certain goods like firearms and military-use goods will require a license. Most goods that require an import license are the same; items that the government would not want an unlimited supply of saturating the market.

A few goods you need an import license for:

  • Military goods
  • Paramilitary goods
  • Dual-use technology
  • Artwork
  • Plants
  • Animals
  • Medicine
  • Chemicals

Certificates of Authorisation

If you’re importing anything that contains intellectual property of someone else, (for example: branded products, or products containing images or characters that a company owns – like pyjamas with Winnie the Pooh on them, or a lunchbox with a celebrity’s face on it) you will need proof that your manufacturer has made these goods with the company’s permission. If your supplier doesn’t manage to provide proof, Customs will destroy your goods – and you could even be fined.

Certificates of authorisation serve as proof. They’re often in the form of letters from the intellectual-property holders.

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We hope this post was helpful – remember, when you import, you typically won’t need to know too much about these documents. It’s your freight forwarder’s job to tell you about what documents you need to be drawing up and help you through the process. If you want more advice or are unsure about anything, feel free to contact us at info@shippo.co.uk or 0203 384 0498.

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