Importing from the USA to the UK: A Guide for Businesses

The UK and the USA are major allies on the world scene, and it’s easy to see why. With an intertwined history, a shared language and a very similar culture, the two countries are natural trading partners, and the US market is a great place for UK businesses to export to. However, in spite of this great international friendship, there’s still a number of barriers to trade when you’re importing from the USA. In this guide, we take a look at everything you need to know about importing from the USA.

Fact File

  • Capital City: Washington D.C.
  • Largest City: New York City
  • National Language: English
  • Currency: United States Dollar ($)
  • GDP Total: $17.419 trillion
  • Population: 322,369,319
  • Area: 9,857,306 km2


America’s Top Exports

As expected, the relationship between Great Britain and the US means that the two countries are regular trading partners. With the most powerful economy in the world, it’s perhaps unsurprising that America has a vast amount of exports. In 2014, American exports amounted to $1.62 trillion, which is up 26.7% since 2010. Plus, based on statistics released by the International Monetary Fund, US total Gross Domestic Product amounted to $17.42 trillion in 2014.


Due to this, economists believe that exports account for almost 10% of America’s total economic output. With a population of 322 million and $1.62 trillion in exports, that’s around $5,000 for everyone in the country!

America’s Top 5 Exports

If you’re looking to America for goods, then it’s important to know that there are a number of exports they specialise in. By percentage of total exports, America’s top exports are:


  • Machines, engines, pumps (13.6%)
  • Electronic equipment (10.6%)
  • Oil (9.6%)
  • Vehicles (8.4%)
  • Aircraft, spacecraft (7.7%)


Over the course of the past five years, oil has been America’s fastest growing export, up in value by 90.5% since 2010. Aircraft and spacecraft sales have also risen by 57.2% thanks to sales of small helicopter, large aircraft and communication satellites.

Importing from the USA

Firstly, you’ll have to make sure that the items you’re importing are not either banned or restricted from entering the UK from a non-EU country. You can read more about your responsibilities when importing from outside the EU here.


Even though the UK and America are close and are good trading partners, there are still certain barriers. When you’re importing from America, you’re importing from a non-EU country. According to the Government’s website, this means that:


  • All of your imports need to be declared to customs. This can be done using the Single Administration Document (SAD), which can be submitted through CHIEF.
  • You’ll have to pay VAT and duty on all imports.
  • To classify your goods for tax and regulations you’ll need a commodity code and potentially an import licence.
  • You’ll also need to make sure an Entry Submission Declaration is made if the goods pass through another EU country on their way to you. As the receiver, you’re responsible for this, not the other country.
  • Paying the Correct Duty on USA Imports


Fortunately, there’s a guide to help you calculate the correct amount of duty to pay on your imports. The amount you pay is dependent on a number of factors, such as how they’re classified under the Trade Tariff and how they’ll be used in the UK. Some goods qualify for a lower or zero rate, too. So make sure you check carefully.

Crucially, it’s also important to remember that none of your goods can be released from customs until you’ve paid the necessary VAT and duty on them. It’s also important to remember that some of this can either be claimed back or suspended, so make sure that you know the rules. Finally, if you’re only holding the goods you’re importing and aren’t planning to put them into free circulation, you can use customs warehousing to avoid paying duty and VAT.


Paying VAT on USA Imports

You have to pay VAT directly to HMRC when you bring in goods to the UK from America (or anywhere outside the EU). The amount you pay is dependent on the costs of importing the goods and any duties or levies payable on importation into the UK.