Customs clearance documents and procedures
This section is aimed at EU importers. It provides detailed information on EU import procedures, including topics such as registering as an economic operator and the Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number, the various documents you need to complete and links to sector and country specific requirements. For more detailed product specific information, you should consult My Trade Assistant.
In this chapter you will find
- the documents needed for customs clearance in the EU
- information on how to obtain an EORI number
- the various customs procedures
- information on proofs of origin as a part of customs clearance
- specific information for each EU member state relating to imports
Documents needed for customs clearance in the EU
Proof of origin
A proof of origin is an international trade document which certifies that goods included in a consignment originate from a particular country or territory. It shall be declared with the SAD and presented with it for customs clearance.
In general terms, the originating status of the goods may be proved by
- certificates of non-preferential origin, which certify that the country of origin of the goods does not qualify for any preferential treatment. These certificates are normally issued by the chambers of commerce.
- certificates of preferential origin, which allow goods to benefit from reduced or nil duties when they are imported from those third countries with which a preferential agreement has been signed.
Such certificates must be issued by the customs authorities of the exporting country and shall be presented at the time of customs clearance
- the type of certificate to apply for is determined by each preferential agreement: Form A (for GSP regime), EUR MED (for some concrete cases in the PEM system) or EUR 1 (all other cases)
- invoice declarations issued by the exporter in the beneficiary or partner country. Two situations should be distinguished
- for consignments up to €6,000, invoice declarations may be issued by any exporter in the beneficiary country/partner country
- for consignments beyond €6,000, invoice declarations shall be issued only by an approved exporter
A particular case of invoice declarations is the REX system.
Certificates of Binding Tariff Information and/or Binding Origin Information may also be presented.
- Download Single Administrative Document (SAD) (Excel document)
- More information on customs declaration
Entry Summary Declaration (ENS)
The entry summary declaration contains advance cargo information about consignments entering the EU. It allows customs to conduct a risk analysis for security and safety purposes. The ENS must be lodged at the first customs office of entry to the EU by the carrier of the goods (by the carrier of the goods, although in some cases it can be done by the importer-consignee, or a representative of the carrier or importer) - even if the goods are not going to be imported in the EU. The following deadlines for lodging the ENS based on the mode of transport carrying the goods apply
- container maritime cargo: at least 24 hours before loading commences in the foreign port
- bulk maritime cargo: at least 4 hours before arrival
- short sea shipping: at least 2 hours before arrival
- short haul flights (less than 4 hours): at least by the actual time of take-off of the aircraft
- long haul flights (4 hours or more): at least 4 hours before arrival at the first airport in the customs territory of the EU
- road traffic: at least 1 hour before arrival
Note: The Entry Summary Declaration requires information included in documents originating with the exporter (bill of lading, commercial invoices, etc ). Make sure these documents reach the party responsible for lodging the declaration in time. More information about the entry summary declaration. The Union Customs Code has introduced more details on risk analysis to this declaration. See frequently asked questions on ENS.
Registering as an economic operator (EORI number)
The Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number is a unique identifier, assigned by a customs authority in an EU country to all economic operators (both companies and individuals) persons engaging in activities covered by EU customs legislation. Importers established outside the EU will be assigned an EORI the first time they lodge:
- a customs declaration
- an entry summary declaration (ENS)
- an exit summary declaration (EXS)
Operators use this number in all communications with any EU customs authorities where an EU-based identifier is required, for example in customs declarations. Already assigned EORI numbers can be checked in a of the European Commission. The authorities who are registering EORI numbers in each EU country can be retrieved.
See also the EORI Guidelines
Customs procedures in the EU
When goods arrive at the customs office of entry to the EU, they are placed into temporary storage under customs supervision (no longer than 90 days) until they are assigned one of the following customs procedures (or re-exported):
Release for free circulation
The purpose of the release for free circulation procedure is to fulfil all import formalities so that the goods can be sold on the Union market.
Goods are released for consumption once all the import requirements have been met:
- All applicable tariff duties and other charges have been paid.
- Import licences for goods subject to quotas have been presented.
- All applicable authorisations and certificates (e.g. a veterinary certificate for certain animals or animal products) have been presented.
Imported goods are entered for the procedure by means of a customs declaration. The date on which this declaration is accepted by the customs office in an EU country is also the date that is taken into account for the calculation of the amount of import duty, value added tax and excise duty, if applicable.
Goods may be placed under any of the following treatments:
- Union Transit, which comprises:
- External transit - non-Union goods may be moved from one point to another within the customs territory of the EU without being subject to import duties, other charges related to the import of the goods (i.e. internal taxes) and commercial policy measures. Moving goods to another EU Member State means the customs clearance procedures are transferred to the customs office of destination.
- Internal transit - Union goods may be moved from one point to another within the customs territory of the EU without any change to their customs status. This includes transporting goods through another territory that is outside the EU customs territory.
- Storage, which comprises customs warehousing and free zones:
- Customs warehousing - non-Union goods may be stored in premises or any other location authorised by the customs authorities and under customs supervision ('customs warehouses') without being subject to import duties, other charges related to the import of the goods and commercial policy measures.
- Free zones - Member States may designate parts of the customs territory of the Union as free zones. They are where goods can be introduced free of import duties, other charges (i.e. internal taxes) and commercial policy measures, until they are either assigned another approved customs procedure or re-exported. Goods may also undergo simple operations such as processing and re-packing.
- Specific use which comprises temporary admission and end-use:
- Temporary admission - Non-Union goods can enter the EU without the payment of import duties, provided they are intended for re-export without being changed. The maximum period for temporary import is two years.
- End-use - goods may be released for free circulation under a duty exemption or at a reduced rate of duty on account of their specific use.
- Processing, which comprises inward and outward processing:
- Inward processing - Goods can be imported into the EU, without being subject to duties, taxes and formalities, to be processed under customs control and then re-exported. If the finished products are ultimately not exported, they become subject to the applicable duties and formalities.
- Outward processing - Union goods may be temporarily exported from the customs territory of the Union for processing purposes. The processed goods may be released for free circulation with total or partial relief from import duties.
- More information on customs procedures
- Generic import scenario (European Customs Information portal)
- UCC Guidance documents (DG TAXUD)
Member State Import Requirements and Authorities
As a customs union, the EU benefits from import procedures that are greatly harmonised. However, a few differences amongst the 27 Member States remain.
See the list of EU Member states and their main competent authorities which can provide information on import procedures, trade regimes, import licences, and competent authorities for inspecting specific requirements. They should be able to help you with unique requirements for their country. These authorities may assist you with questions, such as:
- Where to lodge the single administrative document
- Which free zones are available for use
- How to obtain import licences
- Inspections of live animals and products of animal origin
- Phytosanitary inspections
- Health control of foodstuffs and feedingstuffs
- Marketing standards for agricultural and fishery products
- Control of trade in chemicals, fertilisers, and waste
- Technical standardisation
- Packaging and labelling requirements
- Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council, laying down the Customs Code(OJ L-269 10/10/2013) (CELEX 32013R0952)
- Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/341 supplementing Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards transitional rules for certain provisions of the Union Customs Code where the relevant electronic systems are not yet operational and amending Delegated Regulation (EU) 2015/2446 (OJ L-69 15/03/2016) (CELEX 32016R0341).