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If your business plans to import goods into the UK from another country, you’ll need to have the correct documentation.

Wrong version? No licence? Lack of appropriate certification?

Incorrect documents = no goods. It’s as simple as that. Or, in many cases, having insufficient documentation means a long wait and a big chunk of cash spent on storage whilst the right ones are processed or licences applied for.

Working out what you’ll need can be confusing. Some documents are compulsory, regardless of the nature of the cargo and where it’s coming from. Others are specific to certain types of goods or circumstances and may or may not be required. 

Read on to discover what sits in both categories and get prepared for your upcoming import.

The Documents Everyone Needs

There are four main documents crucial to the success of any shipment entering the UK.

1 – Bill of Lading (BoL)

The BoL is arguably the most important of all shipping documents. Without one, shipping anything anywhere is impossible.

The Bill of Lading serves as a contract, proof of ownership and proof of receipt, meaning if you haven’t got the original, or an electronic release version, the goods cannot be delivered to you. 

For a more in-depth look at what a BoL is and isn’t, check out our recent blog on the topic.  

2 – Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is a document integral to the customs clearance process because it tells the customs officers what you’re shipping and how much your goods are worth. 

This information is used to calculate the value of duties and tax you are liable to pay. 

3 – Packing List

Packing lists are used in international shipping to give detailed information about the goods in the consignment themselves and are put together by whoever is responsible for packing the goods.

The document includes details about the weight, number and dimensions of the goods as well as how the goods were packed.

While a list might not sound that important, this list plays a big role in customs clearance and is necessary to complete a Bill of Lading.

4 – EORI Number

Ok, so it’s not a physical document, but you’ll still need one if you want your goods.

Anyone wanting to import or export goods to or from the EU needs to register for a unique EORI number, but you’ll only need to do this once. 

EORI numbers, or Economic Operator Registration and Identification Numbers, are used to track and simplify the exchange of customs information between countries. 

The Documents You Might Need

The following documents are not compulsory. You might not need any of them at all. It all depends on the nature of what you’re shipping.


MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet and is a document essential to shipping hazardous goods. 

This extensive legal document contains very detailed information about any potential hazards and how to keep the product safe throughout the shipping process. 

CE Certificate

You’ll likely have seen a CE mark before. A CE certificate tells customs that the products in the consignment meet EU safety, health or environmental requirements and indicates that the products comply with EU legislation.

Whilst you might have spotted CE marking on toys and electrical items, the list of products that require CE certification is longer than you’d think. Products on the list include lifts, medical devices and gas appliances.

Certificates Of Authorisation

Certificates of Authorisation often come in letter form from the owner of the intellectual property rights of any goods you’re shipping. What we mean by intellectual property is products that include brands, images or characters that legally belong to someone.

 Certification For Port Health

Since Brexit, port health checks are mandatory for all trade between the UK and EU, on both sides of the border. Port Health authorities protect the public, environmental and animal health of the UK by monitoring anything that may threaten it.

To check goods are safe, customs officials will need to see the appropriate certification if anything you’re importing falls into that category, such as food and drink.

Other goods that may require a form of certification to satisfy port health checks include:

  • Some plastics. Kitchenware coming from China, for example, often contains melamine, a substance that becomes dangerous to human health when heat is applied. A PDD, or plastic declaration document, would be required for any import of such goods to prove that the product has passed adequate testing.
  • Animal products. It doesn’t matter whether your product is for human consumption or not, you might need a veterinary certificate if your product contains animal products. This document provides proof of both where the animal/s came from and how they were treated.
  • Organic food. Currently, only imports coming from non-EU countries need a valid GB certificate of inspection. This proves that the products in question have been certified to equivalent GB organic standards in their country of origin

Certificate Of Origin (GSP Form A)

This document verifies which country the imported goods have come from. And while you won’t need it for all imports coming into the UK, it can be worth having regardless. 

Why go through the trouble of obtaining a document you don’t need? 

Because, if you’re importing from a country that is part of the GSP, you might be eligible for full or partial duty relief. The GSP is a scheme designed to increase trade with developing countries.

Test Certificates

For certain products being imported into the UK, you’ll need to be able to prove they have been adequately safety tested. This might include dangerous goods, chemicals and electrical goods. 

Certificates of Conformity are one such document necessary when importing vehicles from other countries and are issued by the manufacturer. 

Import Licence

Whether you need an import licence or not hugely depends on what you are shipping, and plenty of goods don’t require one. Import licences allow the government to monitor certain items coming into the country, such as military goods, chemicals and, perhaps surprisingly, artwork.

Export Licences

Your shipment will almost always need an export licence but, unless you’re shipping under the incoterm EXW, this is not your responsibility to sort out. Read our latest blog all about the trade codes and what they mean here.

Without The Correct Documents You Won’t Get Your Goods 

Incorrect documentation may incur large costs and delays, so having a sound base knowledge of what you do and don’t need is vital to a smooth shipping process. 

If you’re not sure where your goods fall, Millennium can help. Our expert advisors will tell you what you need so that you don’t have to worry about it. Call us today!