United Kingdom - Country Commercial Guide
Customs Regulations

Includes customs regulations and contact information for this country's customs office.

Last published date: 2021-09-22

UK custom regulations are established by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC).  VAT is chargeable on the supply of most goods and services made in the UK by ‘taxable persons’ during business, when their taxable turnover exceeds the registration thresholds. Taxable persons include individuals, companies, partnerships, clubs, associations, or charities. The standard rate of VAT in the UK is 20%, with about half the items households spend money on subject to this rate.  The UK’s VAT rate of 20% seems to be roughly in the middle when compared with European Union countries.

For goods, the basic rule is that a supply of goods is taxable in the territory where those goods are physically located at the time of supply. Hence, if goods are supplied in the UK by a non-established taxable person, there will still be a liability for VAT purposes.

For services, the basic rule is that services are treated as made where the customer ‘belongs’ or is established for VAT purposes, and the customer is responsible for accounting for the VAT due via the reverse-charge procedure.

Most food, most books and publications, and certain essential goods and services are zero-rated. Some supplies are exempt, the main categories being the grant of certain interests in land, insurance, financial services, betting and gaming, education, certain sports services, cultural services, and health and welfare.

When you see a price for something in a shop, any VAT will already have been added. There are also various items for which you do not have to pay any VAT, such as most supermarket food, children’s clothing, newspapers, and magazines.

Consignments of goods with a value of £135 or less that are from outside the UK and sold directly to customers (not through an online marketplace) in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will have UK supply VAT charged at the point of sale. The £135 limit applies to the value of a total consignment that is imported, not the separate value of individual items that are in a consignment.

 The seller must work out the consignment value of the goods by deciding their ‘intrinsic value’, this is the price the goods were sold for, not including any transport or insurance costs, unless they are included in the price and not separately shown on the invoice.

The seller will not need to charge and account for VAT if the customer gives them their VAT registration number.  The seller can add a note to the invoice (for example, by writing ‘reverse charge: customer to account for VAT to HMRC’) then send it to the UK business customer.

The business customer will then be responsible for accounting for any VAT due on their VAT Return, if the goods are supplied in Great Britain – using a ‘reverse charge’ procedure.

If you sell goods into the UK on an online marketplace, you are subject to VAT.  The UK defines you as an overseas seller if you sell goods stored in the UK to UK customers and do not have a business establishment in the UK.  You’re also an overseas seller if you’re based outside the UK and sell goods to customers in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), then import them into Great Britain.

You must register for VAT if you’re:

  • an overseas seller and the online marketplace provide you with the VAT details of a business customer
  • an overseas seller selling goods located in Northern Ireland at the point of sale, and sold to customers in Northern Ireland
  • an overseas seller with goods stored in the EU and your total sales to customers in Northern Ireland are more than £70,000 a year

You can register for VAT online.

After you’ve registered for VAT, you’ll get a VAT registration number from HMRC. You should give it to every online marketplace where you offer goods for sale in the UK, so they can check it and display it on their website.

More information on VAT can be found by visiting HMRC’s VAT Information Page.