Importing From Asia to the UK: A Guide for Businesses


As the world’s largest continent with close to two-thirds of the globe’s population residing there, it is little surprise Asia exports trillions of pounds, dollars and euros worth of products every year.

Such a vast and varied region, each individual country has certain goods they specialise in producing, from jewellery and clothing in India to toys and electrical equipment from China.

It’s China who are the world’s biggest exporters and provide numerous opportunities for British businesses. Whether you’re after large numbers of goods at cheaper prices or specific items unattainable elsewhere, importing from Asia is an attractive option for many companies. Ensure your imports arrive on time by following the correct procedures in our guide to importing from Asia.

Shipping Costs from Asia

Air freight is the quickest method of getting your imports into the UK given the huge distance between Asia and the UK. If you require them as quickly as possible, this is the best although most expensive option. Sea freight provides a cheaper yet longer solution, and is advisable for large orders. There are additional costs involved when your shipment reaches the UK, such as unloading and docking fees to be included too.


Taxes and Duties for Importing from Asia

Importing items from any non-EU country into the UK requires VAT and duty to be paid on them. A commodity code is essential to show correct tax, duty and regulations have been followed when bringing goods into the country.



The duty paid will depend on two things: how the goods are classified under the UK Trade Tariff and how they will be used. These usually vary between 0 and 17%, though there are exceptional circumstances where it is more. Reduced or zero rate duty can be applied to goods from certain Asian countries with preferential import status and which you have proof of origin for. Some of the included nations are Jordan, Lebanon and Israel.



The standard rate of VAT in the UK is 20%, which applies to most imports from Asia. Some items have a reduced rate of just 5%, such as children’s car seats, while books, children’s clothes and shoes for example are exempt from VAT altogether. VAT can be reclaimed on your VAT return if the goods are for use in your business or to make taxable supplies.


Customs Warehouse

When importing many expensive items from non-EU countries the duty and VAT can become astronomical. Importing bicycles made in China come with an additional 48.5% anti-dumping duty. Keeping them in a customs warehouse avoids paying import duty or VAT as it is suspended and will only need to be paid when the goods are put into free circulation within the EU. It can be fully avoided if their final destination is not within the EU.


Import Declaration

All imports from outside of the EU must be declared to HMRC using their set of procedures. This can be done by your company or using a third party such as TNT. At TNT our Express Import system has options for every timescale and budget to get your orders to you or your customers’ doors in top condition and a timely manner.


CHIEF System

All imports into the UK from Asia are declared by submitting a Single Administration Document (SAD) through the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system. This records the declaration to customs of goods imported by land, sea or air into the country. It allows traders to make their declarations quickly using this electronic system which also picks out any errors, ensuring an accurate record.


EORI Number

Every importer needs to have an Economic Operator Registration and Identification number to ship goods into the UK and carry out customs activities within the EU. This is valid throughout the EU and used on the customs declaration when importing items into the UK from non-EU nations. Only one EORI number is issued per legal entity, whether an individual or business. These replaced the old Trader’s Unique Reference Number (TURN) so check with your company as it may already have one.


Import Restrictions from Asia

There are many goods which are banned from being imported into the UK from Asia or come with restrictions in place. For example, in order to prevent the import of illegally culled furs many animal furs are banned from being imported as they may have been made using illegal leg hold traps.


Import Licence

An import licence is required for importing restricted items such as firearms into the UK from any Asian country. Use the online Trade Tariff to discover commodity codes, six-digit international numbers, for all the items you intend to import and this will flag up if there are any restrictions on the goods. It will also help you see any exemptions from licences in other countries and other measures.