Guide for import of goods
Does your company plan to import goods from outside the EU? This section helps you understand if your company is ready to import, and outlines the different steps of the import process.
4 Steps towards Importing a Product
Are you planning to import a product into the EU for the first time?
Before doing so, check whether your company is ready:
- Could be the product successful on your domestic market or in other EU countries?
- Does your company have the capacity to buy the product in foreign markets outside the EU? Does it have sufficient staff, time, financial and legal resources?
- Is your company ready to make international sales, choose the most appropriate means of transport and go through customs procedures?
- Does your company have a comprehensive financial/marketing/business plan with clearly defined goals in support of import product from countries outside the EU?
- Does your company have a concrete strategy for how to import the product to your market? For example, you may import your product directly from the producer or indirectly by employing a third party, such a distributor. Both direct and indirect import may also be supported by e-commerce platforms.
- If applicable, is the intellectual property related to your product protected in your export market?
- Does your company have the capacity to analyse and check if the product complies with EU health, safety, technical and/or marketing standards?
Before you continue, consider the questions above carefully and discuss them within your company to decide whether you are ready to trade with non-EU countries, or which steps you need to take to prepare yourself to do so.
Step 1: Find a supplier abroad
To import goods from outside the EU, start by identifying possible suppliers of the product.
- Chambers of commerce can give you information on markets and business partners, and direct you to relevant reports.
- Trade-specific news providers or trade promotion agencies tthat cover market analysis and assessment of business opportunities can be of help. These institutions often provide studies for key sectors.
- Trade consultants and relevant banks can also provide advice.
How to select your markets of supply?
Screen potential import markets to assess whether there is supply of your product.
Check the trade statistics of your potential market of supply.
How to find potential suppliers?
Once you have selected a market of supply, look into potential trade partners and business contacts.
You can find partners and contacts at:
- trade fairs specifically organised for buyers and sellers to meet. For example, the Enterprise Europe Network organises regular matchmaking events for specific sectors, in which companies from non-EU countries also participate.
- events or assistance provided by chambers of commerce to establish contacts between potential business partners.
Check import conditions and duties and ensure the product complies with EU requirements
The import conditions and duties will depend on how you want to import and on your market of supply.
Who can import into the EU?
- You normally need to be established in the EU as a company or permanent business establishment. This includes being registered for VAT purposes.
- If you are a non-EU resident, you need to have a work permit to carry out an independent commercial activity; furthermore, you need to find a person established in the EU who is willing to act on your behalf as exporter (e.g. a logistics service provider or customs agent).
Generally, you also need to register with the national commercial register. For more information, check with your local chamber of commerce. As an EU importer you need to apply for an EORI number. The EORI is an identification number that is valid throughout the EU.
- You can get it from your national central customs authority.
Tip: EORI registration can take some time, so plan and apply well ahead.
In some EU countries, companies above a certain size must be egistered in a national commercial register.
For more information, consult the EU market or check with your local chamber of commerce.
- If you are a non-EU resident you need to be established as a firm and/or have a work permit that allows you to carry out an independent commercial activity.
Which import or marketing rules apply to your imported product in the EU?
Check whether there are any import restrictions in the EU or a particular Member State.
Imports of some sensitive goods or imports of certain goods coming from specific countries may be prohibited or restricted. You may need permits, a licence or present an officially approved import notification.
Check the TARIC database to see if you need an import licence for your product
The main types of products that face import restrictions are:
- agricultural products,
- medicinal products,
- iron and steel products,
- cultural assets,
- textile products and clothing,
- counterfeit or pirated goods,
- indecent articles/publications/video recordings,
- endangered species,
- some live animals and products containing animal substances,
- plants and product containing vegetable substances.
For such products check which rules apply.
Which import tariffs apply to your product?
- Import tariffs may need to be paid for your product when it enters the EU. The EU is a customs union, which means that a single import tariff is due at the place of entry where the import declaration is made, irrespective of the EU Member State. The product can then circulate in the EU market without further customs formalities.
- Who pays for the tariffs depends on the agreement with the seller, but often import duties are paid by the importer.
What is an import tariff?
Can my company benefit from an EU Trade Agreement?
If the EU has a trade agreement with the country you want to import from, tariffs on your product may be reduced or even eliminated.
- These are called preferential tariff rates.
- The preferential tariff rate is conditional on your product being in line with rules of origin
- Quotas may apply, either based on the trade agreement or based on the EU policy for agricultural products a specific type of products.
To find out about the specific rules in place for your product and market of interest consult My Trade Assistant.
When do you need a certificate of origin?
Often your supplier needs to provide a proof of the origin of the product in accordance with the rules of origin of the agreement. This proof may be a certificate of origin or also a declaration of origin issued by the authorised exporter or the registered exporter (in the REX system), who shall also provide their numbers of authorisation or registration.
Are there any additional duties that apply?
- It is possible that the EU applies trade defence measures on a product that is imported from a specific country.
- The most frequently used duties are antidumping measures. These are shown in My Trade Assistant. An EU customs authority can provide information as to whether additional duties like antidumping duties apply to your product.
- An explanation of different types of trade defence measures is provided in the goods section.
- If you are looking for a comprehensive overview of the specific measures applied by each country visit the markets section.
What internal taxes apply?
Value added tax (VAT) is applied to goods sold on the EU market and thus also to those imported from outside the EU. VAT varies in each EU Member State and is usually paid by the importer.
- The rate is the same as if you bought the product in your domestic market.
- VAT-registered firms can reclaim the import VAT tax as input tax, just like they can claim back their domestic VAT payments.
- The calculation of your VAT payments is based on the value of your goods, your import duty, and excise duties if they apply. You can read more about VAT and Member States' rates here.
- For selected goods you will be required to pay excise duties, which vary from EU country to EU country. These taxes apply to, for example:
- tobacco products,
- alcoholic beverages,
- mineral oil,
- energy products.
How do you ensure your product complies with EU requirements?
For your imported goods the same requirements apply as for goods produced in the EU for the EU market.
What are the health, safety, environmental and technical requirements for your product and how to certify them?
Most products have to comply with certain technical and/or health and hygiene requirements. These may require different types of testing and certification.
This is often the case for technical requirements for industrial products, and for health and hygiene requirements for food and agricultural products.
It is important to distinguish between mandatory requirements and voluntary requirements.
The product groups where mandatory requirements are often applied include:
- medicinal products,
- agricultural goods, foodstuffs and feedingstuffs,
- live animals,
- and animal products.
Phytosanitary certificates, for example, are required for the import of:
- most fresh fruits,
- other plant materials
- products composed of animal products.
The CE mark indicates that the product is compliant with EU legislation.
- CE marking is mandatory for some products, such as:
- medical devices,
- electrical appliances,
- construction products.
- The CE mark does not apply to:
- motor vehicles,
- and biocides
These all have their own specific rules. Read more about CE Marking.
You can find information on the specific requirements applicable to for your product in My Trade Assistant.
What are the requirements for packaging and labelling?
EU Member States often have detailed requirements for packaging and labelling products.
These requirements can be mandatory or voluntary.
- Mandatory marks and labels on consumer products and their packaging are usually related to public safety, health and/or environmental concerns. They can provide information such as the ingredients or the "use by" date.
- Voluntary marks are for, instance, those indicating the organic production of the good of the eco-label on industrial products
Usually there are different agencies responsible for different industries, e.g. medical, electrical, food and chemicals, which all have very different requirements.
Prepare the sale and organise the transport
How are the liabilities shared between you and your supplier?
You can use Incoterms® to define your contractual liabilities.
- set out the responsibilities of sellers and buyers for the delivery, insurance and transport of goods under sales contracts
- determine who is responsible for customs export formalities in the EU and the formalities in your export market.
"Free on Board" (FOB): means that it is the responsibility of your supplier to pay for all local costs:
- transportation of the goods to the port of shipment
- loading costs
- customs clearance procedures in the exporting country.
As buyer you are responsible for the cost of:
- transport from the port of shipment onwards
- transportation from the arrival port to the final destination.
"Cost, Insurance and Freight" (CIF) means your supplier is responsible for the local costs under FOB, plus:
- freight charges
Under CIF your supplier is responsible for all costs until the products arrive at their destination port.
Prepare the documents for customs clearance in the EU
Which documents to prepare for customs?
- You need to provide a customs declaration to your national customs authority. A customs representative may advise you in this important issue.
- You need to present an Entry Summary Declaration (ENS) before the arrival of the goods at the first point of entry into the EU.
- The ENS should be presented at the first customs office of entry to the EU by the carrier of the goods, or in some cases by the importer-consignee, or a representative of the carrier or importer.
- The deadline for lodging the ENS depends on the mode of transport for the goods. More .
- The EU has a common import declaration form for all EU countries, which is called the Single Administrative Document (SAD). More .
- Depending on the type of goods, additional documents to be presented to customs authorities may include:
- commercial invoice,
- transport documents,
- certificates of origin,
- import licenses,
- test results and other certificates,
- inspection certificates (such as health, veterinary or plant-health certificates).
The customs clearance can be lodged by the importer or by a customs representative, who is the person appointed by the importer to complete all the customs formalities required under EU customs legislation
For more information on the documents and processes, ask your national customs authority, a chamber of commerce or trade promotion agency. More.
What happens when your goods arrive at the border?
- They are placed into temporary storage under customs supervision (no longer than 90 days) until they are cleared.
- Your goodsmay be cleared on the basis of your submitted documents, or
- Your goods may be selected for a document check and you may be asked to submit further documents before your goods can be cleared, or
- Your goods may also be selected for a document or physical check.
Can your product be sold anywhere in the EU after being cleared?
When customs authorities have cleared a product, it has the same status as an EU product and can be circulated freely within the EU and be sold anywhere within the EU market.
- All EU countries apply the same tariff on goods imported from outside the EU.
- The same rules apply to the import, irrespective of the EU country via which it enters the EU market.
Where can you find more information?
Your Checklist: 4 Steps To Import a Product
Step 1: Find a supplier abroad
- Assess the potential countries of interest and compare the competitiveness of potential suppliers (e.g. comparison of prices including import-related costs such as tariffs and transport costs.
- Identify business partners/suppliers.
- Identify an agency/institution/partner for support on the formalities of the import processes (for instance to prepare contracts, payment conditions, credit-worthiness of supplier).
Step 2: Assess the import conditions and duties and ensure the product complies with EU requirements
- Obtain an Economic Operators' Registration and Identification (EORI) registration number (apply well in advance).
- Check that no import restriction applies.
- Check if the EU has a trade agreement with the country from which you want to import.
- ssess if your product complies with relevant rules of origin and identify the applicable (preferential) tariff rate.
- Assess if other duties (e.g. trade defence) or internal taxes apply.
- Identify health, safety, environmental and technical requirements in the EU.
- Ensure that the product complies with the requirements and the supplier can provide the necessary certification.
- Check the packaging and labelling rules in the EU.
- Assess if a certificate of origin is required, which the exporter needs to provide, and what type of certificate shall be presented depending on whether or not there is a trade agreement or arrangement applicable between the EU and the country of origin of the goods.
Step 3: Prepare the sale and organise the transport
- Prepare and sign the contract with the supplier, including an agreement on who is liable for what, and organise the transport process.
- Coordinate with potential institutions that support the process.
Step 4: Prepare the documents for customs clearance at the border
- Contact a custom representative for advice in case of doubts
- Ensure the availability of the Entry Summary Declaration
- Prepare additional documents for an import customs clearance (commercial invoice, transport documents, certificate of origin (such as Form A, Eur.1/Eur.Med, REX communication issued by a registered exporter or origin declaration issued by an authorised exporter), import licence, test results, inspection certificates (such as health, veterinary or plant-health certificates)Complete and submit the import declaration/Single Administrative Document (SAD)