How to Get UK Customs Clearance – 2022 Guide

Customs clearance form

How to Get UK Customs Clearance?

What is UK customs clearance? As a supplier of goods and services, it may be beneficial to know all there is about customs clearance. Simply put, customs clearance is an obligatory process subject to good entering or leaving a country. Documentation – import and/or export – will need to be submitted, whilst the payment of liabilities such as duties and VAT will need to be completed.

Additional costs may be incurred via the storage and testing of goods by customs agents.

How Long Does it Usually Take?

Usually no more than a couple of hours, sometimes it may even take just minutes to complete a customs clearance process. However, if packages have been highlighted for inspection, or important documents have gone missing or are still en route, the clearance time may be extended indefinitely.

The goods will not be released until all integral documents have been received or customs checks have been completed.

How Do They Calculate Customs Charges?

The entire calculation of customs charges are made up of the following:

  • Additional costs – Importers can be charged for costs accumulated by goods being held by customs authorities. This cost is cumulative as it is incurred by a charge of the storage of goods (when held longer than free-time holding) as well as the cost of any tests. x-rays used to determine the legality and safety of the goods being imported.
  • Anti-dumping duty – Used by countries who seek to protect the domestic manufacturing market, to deter importers from importing cheaper foreign alternatives to a domestically manufactured product. The UK’s list is frequently updated.
  • Duty – The normal tax for imported goods enforced by the destination country. Usually charged as a percentile of the value of the incoming product: worked out by the relevant associated duty rating and commodity code.
  • VAT – Much like when you buy a good from a store or website, VAT is charged on the final cost of the item. The UK’s current VAT rate is 20%, though other countries differ.

How Are Customs Charges Paid?

If you have an agreement in place with a freight forwarding company – such as a 3PL or 4PL – they tend to handle all customs clearance and other import/export procedures: a customs broker will also cover customs clearance charges.

However, if you manage your order fulfilment and shipment process, once your goods arrive at customs, you will receive an invoice demonstrating the charges required for the releasing of goods into your possession: it is required that these charges are paid before any packages will be released to you.

Customs charges can be delayed via an application for a duty deferment account, through HMRC.

Interestingly, there are some scenarios where an importer will not be liable for any import charges, though the incoterm which has been agreed between you and your supplier is important. For example, if a DDP (delivered duty paid) shipping agreement has been established, it is up to your supplier to handle all customs charges before shipping your goods.

Can You Claim Back Customs Charges?

Unfortunately for businesses, there is no way to claim import duty back. Fortunately, businesses that are VAt-registered can claim any VAT on all imports.

Are There Any Legitimate Ways to Avoid Customs Charges?

Fortunately, there are several duty relief schemes allowing importers to pay lower customs charges, perhaps even none at all: though, this often depends on certain differentiates such as the product type, use of the product and its country of origin.

One of the main schemes is the UK Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) – adopted from the EU GSP – allowing goods originating in determined countries to be exempt or subject to a lower rate of customs duty: incorporated to stimulate global trade. To find out if you are eligible for an exemption, refer to your relevant commodity code.

Note: declaring a lower value on goods to reduce customs charges is illegal. It is advisable not to do this.

Documents Crucial For Customs Clearance

Though it varies from country to country, we have detailed the following documents as important for most cross-border transactions:


  • Final purchase order confirmation from seller
  • Sales invoice
  • Air waybill or bill of lading
  • Packing list (must be extensive and accurate)
  • Certification of product origin
  • Import license (if required by law for certain items)


  • Final purchase order (as the exporter, you will produce this)
  • Sales invoice (as the exporter, you will produce this)
  • Packing list(must be extensive and accurate)
  • Certification of product origin
  • Export license (if required by law for certain items)

Items Requiring a License

Certain items will require an import/export license: typically dangerous or requiring industry regulation. These include:

  • Blood
  • Fur
  • Drugs
  • Medicine
  • Firearms
  • Endangered species
  • Meat, poultry, fish and shellfish

Breakwells Expert Customs Clearance

At Breakwells, we are experts in import/export logistics, storage, order fulfilment and haulage. As part of our logistical service package, Breakwells offer a range of advice and assistance relating to customs clearance such as:

  • Accept and store shipments
  • Detailing and advising on all legislative details and customs paperwork, delivering on our pledge to provide market-leading customer service

Changes to Customers Clearance As of January 2021

As a result of Brexit, customs clearance has received some changes: now also requiring shipments from the EU to be subject to customs clearance.


What is customs clearance?

A compulsory clearance procedure for all goods entering or leaving the UK. This is the process for ensuring all charges and documents are in line with the legal requirements.

How long does customs clearance take?

Though it varies from shipment to shipment, the vast majority of imports take a few hours. Depending on the type of product, or if duties are unpaid or documentation is missing, this procedure may take longer.

What are the most basic customs clearance documents required?

The most common and basic documents for customs clearance would be:

  • Packing list
  • Supplier’s sales invoice
  • Shipping document

How can I pay import duties and taxes?

As a freight company, Breakwells cannot pay customs directly on your behalf, however, we can give recommendations on who the customer should refer to with regards to paying any duties that are due.

Who decides the taxes and import duties?

Each country has its own VAT – the UK’s being set, currently, at 20%. Goods vary from country to country based on their commodity code.

Contact us if you have trouble or require advice on Breakwells freight forwarding, warehousing or customs charges.

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