Europe - Country Commercial Guide
Import Requirements and Documentation

Includes import documentation and other requirements for both the U.S. exporter and foreign importer.

Last published date: 2021-11-11

The Integrated Tariff is also available to help determine if a license is required for a particular product.   The European Commission maintains a link to the EU Trade Helpdesk where information can be found using Harmonized Systems codes to determine, among other information, potential requirements, tariffs, the European Union’s market’s import rules, and taxes.  The EU Trade Helpdesk does not provide information for exports from the United States to the European Union.  (Using information for a similar North American country, such as exports from Canada, approximates key requirements may be used as a starting point for your most current Harmonized Systems code.)

 

Import Documentation

Summary Deceleration and the Single Administrative Document

Goods brought into the European Union customs territory are, from the time of their entry, subject to customs supervision until customs formalities are completed.  Such goods are covered by a Summary Declaration, which is filed once the items have been presented to customs officials.  The customs authorities may, however, allow a period for completing the Summary Declaration, which cannot be extended beyond the first working day following the day on which the goods are presented to customs.

 

The Summary Declaration is completed by the person who brought the goods into the customs territory of the European Union, by any person who assumes responsibility for carriage of the goods following such entry, or the person in whose name the person referred to above acted.

 

The Summary Declaration can be made on a form provided by the customs authorities.  However, customs authorities may also allow the use of any commercial or official document that contains the specific information required to identify the goods.  The Single Administrative Document serves as the European Union importer’s declaration.  This form describes goods and their movement around the world and is essential for trade outside the European Union or trade of non-EU goods.  It encompasses both customs duties and VAT and is valid in all Member States.  The declaration is made by whomever is clearing the goods, normally the importer of record or an agent on behalf of the importer.

 

European Free Trade Association countries, including Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein also use the Single Administrative Document.  Information on import/export forms is contained in Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 2015/2446.

 

The Union Customs Code

The European Union Customs Union, in place since 1968, is a pillar of the European Union’s single market and is vital to the free flow of goods and services across Member States.  In 2013, the European Union adopted the Union Customs Code, the legal framework for ongoing actions to modernize EU customs.  Its substantive provisions went into effect in May 2016.  Its goals are to provide a comprehensive framework for customs rules and procedures in the EU customs territory and to create a paperless and fully automated customs union system. 

 

A comprehensive framework for customs rules and procedures is needed because while customs rules are the same across the European Union, Member States’ customs authorities have not always applied them in a consistent manner regarding customs duties and clearance, creating fragmentation and additional administrative burdens.  The Union Customs Code forms the basis for structural and administrative changes to customs policy, procedures, and implementation.  

 

The Union Customs Code also mandates a move to an all-electronic customs system.  The system consists of seventeen separate but interconnected components and was originally due to be in place by the end of 2020.  While some systems are currently in place or expected to be in place by the December 2020, a number of components are lagging due to the complexity of the tasks, and timeframes have been extended for some provisions until 2022 and others until 2025.  

 

Economic Operator Registration and Identification

Since July 1, 2009, all companies established outside of the European Union are required to have an Economic Operator Identification and Registration (EORI) number if they wish to lodge a customs declaration or a Summary Declaration.  All U.S. companies should use the EORI number for their customs clearances, which must be formally requested from the customs authorities of the specific Member State to which the company first exports.  Member State customs authorities may request additional documents to be submitted alongside a formal request for an EORI number.  Once a company has received an EORI number, it can use it for exports to any Member States.  There is no single format for the EORI number.  Once an operator holds an EORI number, they can request an Authorized Economic Operator (AEO), which can give quicker access to certain simplified customs procedures.

U.S.-EU Customs Cooperation

Since 1997, the United States and the European Union have a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement.  In 2012, the United States and the European Union signed a decision recognizing the compatibility of AEO and Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) programs, thereby facilitating faster and more secure trade between transatlantic operators.  AEO certification is issued by a national customs authority and is recognized by all Member States’ customs agencies.  An AEO can consist of two different types of authorization: customs simplification or security and safety.  The former allows for an AEO to benefit from simplification related to customs legislation, while the latter allows for facilitation through security and safety procedures.  Shipping to a trader with AEO status could facilitate an exporter’s trade, with benefits such as expedited processing of shipments, reduced thefts and losses, reduced data requirements, lower inspection costs, and enhanced loyalty and recognition.  Under the revised Union Customs Code, in order for an operator to make use of certain customs simplifications, the authorization of AEO becomes mandatory.

Since 2012, the United States and the European Union have recognized each other’s security certified operators and will take the respective membership status of certified trusted traders favorably into account.  Furthermore, Customers and Border Protection identification numbers for foreign manufacturers are therefore recognized by customs authorities in the European Union.