Imports and Exports

The University is now required to keep detailed records of all imports and exports of goods, even those with no value, or free samples.  It also applies to the temporary import and export of goods sent abroad for servicing, repair or recalibration, or for research purposes.

In effect the rules cover all goods leaving the country or coming into the country for any purpose.  The University has already implemented procedures for all goods sent to or received from the European Union (INTRASTAT) and these will remain the same.


All goods entering the UK from outside the EU are liable for import Duty and VAT at the applicable rates.

Import Duty
Duty is calculated on the declared invoice value of the goods (even if a gift) entering the EU. Universities may apply for relief from import Duty for scientific instruments imported for educational purposes or non-commercial scientific research. Donated medical equipment, if imported for medical purposes, may also be exempt from import duty. Applications for Duty relief must be made to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.  It is unlikely for Duty relief to be granted if the DTI decide that like items can be obtained from within the EU, regardless of cost.


All goods, whether from EU or non EU countries, entering the UK are liable for VAT (currently 20%) which is added to the total of the declared invoice value plus freight and insurance costs and any applicable import Duty.

This applies regardless of whether the University is purchasing the goods, hiring them or receiving them as a sample or a gift.

Medical, scientific, computer, video, sterilizing, laboratory or refrigeration equipment for use in medical research, training, diagnosis or treatment are exempt from VAT.  When this applies, the shipping agent will require a copy of the order with the proper VAT zero-rating certificate prior to arrival of the goods. Failure to comply will result in the payment of VAT on importation following which it is very difficult to obtain a refund.

Permanent Imports by Air
At the time of placing an overseas order, the supplier should be instructed to consign goods to "The University of Birmingham, Department of ........ (i.e., normal full address VIA or C/O Birmingham International Airport". On arrival anywhere in the UK the goods will normally be transferred to Birmingham and clear Customs locally. (There will soon be only 1 customs UK clearance centre based in Manchester).  This helps to avoid difficulties caused by distant and unfamiliar shipping agents. Unfortunately, many suppliers ignore shipping instructions in favour of their usual agent.

Imports by Post
The Post Office will not release imported parcels until duty and VAT have been paid in full, even if Duty relief has been granted or if VAT zero-rating applies.  If Duty relief has been granted or has been applied for, and/or VAT zero-rating applies, you should retain the part of the packaging which carries the Customs declaration and Customs stamp in order to reclaim Duty or VAT.

Temporary Imports
Goods entering the country on a temporary basis are still liable for Duty and VAT where applicable. However in this case the Duty and VAT will be paid "on deposit" for redemption when the goods are re-exported. It is essential that the shipping agent is instructed to enter the goods as a temporary import.  There are specific "customs import/export procedure codes" for each type of temporary import and export.

It is not sufficient to state the goods may possibly be a temporary import. If they are a temporary import, then further questions arise:

  • Are we paying for the goods, or paying a hire fee, or are they on free loan, remaining in ownership of the sender?

  • Are the goods being returned in the same manner that they arrived or will they be incorporated into other goods or converted into another mechanical or chemical form?

  • Are the goods being used to destruction?

  • How long do you intend to keep the goods in this country? (There is a time limit of between 6 and 12 months unless advance application for a longer period is made)

All documents relating to a temporary importation must be retained pending re-exportation.

It would help us if you could fill in and send this information to the University VAT office by completing the temporary imports document.

On re-export, the goods must be sent via the original importing agent. Our local Customs Officer must be given 48 hours notice of our intention to pack the goods for re-export.  Please note -The Customs Officer is entitled to demand to be present when the goods are packed.

Goods Imported with Personal Effects
(for example, a visiting lecturer bringing in a portable computer).
Visitors must be requested to obtain the necessary documentation before leaving their own country. If sending equipment c/o a University Budget Centre, the sender must clearly indicate on the Customs documents that the goods are their personal effects and are not the property of the University. Note - a time limit applies as with all temporary imports. In some cases, we may have to pay Duty and VAT on deposit. To reclaim this we must provide documentary evidence of re-export, e.g., Certificate of Shipment and invoice relating to the import. Any Duty or VAT will be a charge against the Budget Centre's accounts. It is very much in the Budget Centre's interest to comply with procedures for re-claiming Duty and VAT.

Staff and research students travelling abroad with University equipment will require documents (Carnets) to cover import and export charges for each country they visit including countries visited "in transit". The completion and authorisation is from the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.

Some countries are not covered by EU or ATA carnets.

The Budget Centre must complete the details of the carnet, one for each country, listing all the goods being carried.

As members of the Chamber of Commerce the cost is approximately £2000 including VAT and is available within 3 hours via email.

Temporary Exports
If goods are to be sent abroad on a temporary basis (repair/ recalibration etc) it is imperative that the carrier/ shipping agent consigns them as a temporary export. If this is not carried out Customs and Excise will treat the return of  goods as an import and charge any applicable Duty and VAT.

Export Licences
Certain categories of goods may require an export licence from the Department of Trade and Industry. The main purpose of export control is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile delivery systems.The official definition of goods needing an export licence is contained in the Export of Goods (Control) Order. There are certain proscribed destinations where tighter rules apply, as described in the DTI's Security Export Control Booklet.

Require a Home Office Licence.  This is a lengthy but legally necessary procedure. If you are unsure about the need for an export licence, please contact the Procurement Office.

General Advice
It is essential to keep your documents. All documents relating to import/ export should be retained on file for 6 years. Please note - If for any reason you have a query/ problem with any importation or exportation of goods it will assist if you have the details of the airway bill number and the point of entry to the UK.There are a number of leaflets on import/ export related matters.

LINK to Customs Website.  However, please note that ALL contact with HM Revenue and Customs must be through the Finance Office.

Claim for repayment or remission of Import Duty, CAP charges,VAT and Excise Duty





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