The Government has published its Border Operating Model, which details how the UK border will operate for importing & exporting after 1 January 2021.

The HTA strongly recommended you start to prepare your business as soon as possible.

This advice is NOT dependent on whether negotiations end in a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. The steps to take outlined below must be taken regardless of any negotiated outcomes.

This advice applies to ANY BUSINESS who buys products, including plants, from the EU (imports) and/or sells products into the EU (exports) including the island of Ireland (i.e. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland)

The main government information page on transition is available here.


1. Apply for a GB EORI number (click for more information)

This is required for all businesses moving goods into or out of GB, including those deferring their import declarations.

It can take up to a week to get one, and around 5-10 minutes to apply. VAT registered businesses with EU trade were previously auto-enrolled with a GB EORI number, so you should check if you already have a number before applying.

Further information, including a link to apply for an EORI number, is available here. Or you can call the EORI team on 0300 322 7067

2. Get a Customs Intermediary (Customs agent, broker, freight forwarder)

Customs declarations are complicated.

The majority of businesses that currently trade outside the EU use an intermediary, such as customs agents, Fast Parcel Operators (FPOs), Freight Forwarders (FFs) or brokers, to help them meet requirements.

Intermediaries can help traders find the information needed to complete formalities and submit the required declarations. This simplifies the declaration processes for traders.

Government information on how to employ a customs agent can be found here.

The British International Freight Association has a search facility where you can narrow down your potential candidates to those who deal in specific areas, such as live or perishable products.

However, if you decide to “go it alone” be aware the process is complicated, time consuming and costs money. You will likely need a dedicated staff resource and training will be required. However, there are benefits such as controlling your own imports/exports, being able to react quickly to issues and being in control of costs.

The UK Government has announced a grant scheme to support intermediaries and those businesses who want to make declarations themselves.

If you decide not to use an intermediary, you will need to make declarations yourself. To do this you will need to get access to HMRC systems and to purchase software, which can be several thousand pounds.

The main HMRC customs interface is call CHIEF, however, HMRC is developing a new system called CDS (Customs Declaration Service) which is used by some customs agents already and is due to launch in the near future.

Further information on the CHIEF system can be found here.

Further information on CDS can be found here

3. Apply for a Duty Deferment Account

Traders who import goods regularly may benefit from having a duty deferment account (DDA). Further information is available here.

This enables customs charges including customs duty, excise duty, and import VAT to be paid once a month through Direct Debit instead of being paid on individual consignments. VAT registered traders can instead account for import VAT on their VAT return using postponed VAT accounting, as detailed below.

To set up a DDA, traders, or their representatives, apply for a deferment account number (DAN) and will need to be authorised by HMRC.

New rules are being introduced which will allow most traders to use duty deferment without a Customs Comprehensive Guarantee (CCG).

4. Prepare to Pay or Account for VAT on Imported Goods

VAT registered traders will be able to account for import VAT on their VAT return by using postponed VAT accounting from 1 January 2021.

Unless they are eligible to defer their supplementary declarations, they will not be compelled to use postponed VAT accounting.

Non-VAT registered traders (and any VAT registered traders not using postponed VAT accounting) will need to report and pay import VAT through the customs processes.

Within this context, VAT payments can be deferred using a DDA as outlined above. VAT on imports of goods in consignments not exceeding £135 in value will be treated differently to those goods in consignments exceeding £135.

Further information on how to apply can be found here

5. Ensure drivers have correct International Driving Permits

If you control your own haulage cross border, then you will need to ensure your drivers have the correct documentation, for example, an international driving permit (IDP) or an additional licence may be required to drive in some countries.

More information will be provided on GOV.UK as the requirements are clarified.

6. Additional Actions for Customs, VAT, and Excise Processes

  • You may be suitable for facilitations processes which might make importing smoother. From 1 January, a number of facilitations will be available to reduce the impact of import processes. The existing range of customs facilitations for RoW trade will also be available for EU imports. Further information to come or your customs agent can help you.
  • Find the right commodity code for your goods, so that you know which identifying codes to put on your declarations
  • Businesses importing goods into GB should ensure they are familiar with using the ‘Trade with the UK’ tool which provides detailed information on tariffs, taxes and rules. The tariffs shown are those currently being applied until 1 January 2021. Use the UK Global Tariff tool to check the tariffs that will apply to goods imported from 1 January 2021.
  • Exporters of goods from GB should ensure they are familiar with using the ‘Check How to Export Goods’ tool which provides detailed information on duties and customs procedures for over 160 countries.
  • You should engage with your supply chains to discuss how to work together going forward and the information required by different entities to complete customs procedures.

7. Consider Commercial Arrangements

Individual commercial contracts and arrangements may alter the default legal responsibilities and requirements. Contractual obligations for international commercial transactions are outlined in the Incoterms rules, which are administered by the International Chamber of Commerce.

These are an important consideration for traders when moving goods internationally and should be considered and understood by businesses if trading outside of GB.

8. Phytosanitary (plant health) requirements

If you are importing plants into GB (England, Scotland, Wales) you will need to obtain a phytosanitary certificate (PC) 24 hours before importing the plants into GB.

The exporter of the plants will obtain the PC from an official inspector from their plant health authority.

This should then be lodged with the UK Government IPAFFS computer system before the goods are brought across the border. IPAFFS will replace the current PEACH system which deals with Statutory Notification of certain high-risk plants.

All plants for planting will be required to have a PC from 1 January 2021.

If exporting plants (including to Northern Ireland) then you will need to obtain a PC from a UK plant health inspector no less than 24 hours before exporting the plants. This should be lodged on the Government’s export IT system called ECHO.

It is believed training will be offered by Government on these new systems. We will update you when this is available.

Here is the detail

Plant Passports

The UK will no longer be in the EU plant health area, so EU issued Plant Passports will no longer be valid. There will be a UK Plant Passport system, which is currently in development. All plants imported into the UK will be expected to be entered into the UK system in order to be traded. Further detail will be added when this is known.


The Government has launched a step by step online tool which guides you to the detail.

For importing to GB

For exporting from GB