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Import Export Hub


Q. What is a customs agent/broker?

The main function of a customs agent/broker is to offer a professional customs clearance and representation service to traders importing and/or exporting goods from/to countries outside Great Britain. The primary activity for a customs agent is to lodge import/export customs declarations to Customs (HMRC in the UK) and to facilitate the payment of import VAT, customs duty, excise duty etc.

See the Agents page

Q. Do we have a preferred customs agent?

The University of Cambridge does not have a preferred customs agent; however, we are able to advise on which agents are currently being used by various departments.

See the Agents page

Q. I would like to sign up a customs agent, what do I do? Who signs the direct representative/appointment letter?

Once you have decided on a customs agent that suits your needs, you will need to set them up as a supplier on the internal systems.

You will also need to set up an account with the agent. This will usually involve completing and signing an agreement confirming that you are appointing the customs agent to act on your behalf as a representative. This should be signed by an authorised individual within your Department e.g Head of Department.

See the Agents page

Q. What are Incoterms® rules?

Incoterms® rules are globally recognised terms of trade for the sale of goods. Incoterms® defines a transaction between importer and exporter so that both parties understand the tasks, costs, risks, and responsibilities, as well as the logistics and transportation management from the exit of the product to the reception by the importing country.

You can find more information here.

Q. What Incoterms® should I use?

The University's preferred Incoterms are DDP, meaning that the supplier will be legally responsbile for submitting the import declaration in the UK and paying any VAT & duty on import. However, DDP is often misunderstood and if not applied correctly, can result in the Univeristy becoming the importer, perhaps unexpectedly. Creating additional costs and administration. It is important to agree Incoterms early in the importing process.

You can find more information here.

Q. I have received an invoice from DHL, FedEx etc. and I’m not sure what the charges are for

The Import Export Hub can help you investigate your invoice queries. Please send us an email with the details of your query along with the following information:

  • A copy of the payment invoice
  • The waybill/tracking number
  • A copy of the C88/E2 import entry (if available)
  • A copy of the commercial/shipping invoice (if available)
  • A copy of your purchase order (if applicable)

Q. I would like to bring some goods with me on a field trip. What do I do?

We would need to understand more about the goods and your trip before we can advise further. Please complete as much of the ITC form as possible ensuring that the following areas are covered:

  • How you are intending to export the goods e.g., will they be sent using a courier or freight forwarder, will they be hand carried as merchandise in baggage?
  • What exactly the goods are including part number and description
  • Will the goods be returned to Great Britain? If so, when will they be returned?
  • Will the goods remain unaltered, or will they be upgraded, repaired etc.?

For more information, see the guidance of temporary movements.

Q. Are there any exemptions/reliefs for import VAT/duty?

There are exemptions/reliefs we can sometimes use to reduce the amount of import VAT and customs duty we need to pay; however, we must ensure that we qualify for these before we use them. In addition, it is important that we meet the conditions set out by the exemption/relief and maintain sufficient records.

Please complete as much of the ITC form as possible so we can understand more about the goods and your shipment.

It is best practice to approach the Import Export Hub as early as possible as some exemptions/reliefs require applications with HMRC and therefore, have subsequent approval times.

Further information can be found here.

Q. I want to temporarily export some goods. What do I do? Can I reduce the amount of import VAT/duty we pay as we are only temporarily exporting the goods?

We will need to know reason for exporting i.e., for testing, repair, fieldtrip, research collaboration. The University is not authorised to use Outward Processing Relief (OPR). A lot of people read about this online or it is suggested by couriers and assume we can use it.

Q. What is Postponed VAT Accounting (PVA)?

Postponed VAT Accounting (PVA) is a way for UK VAT-registered businesses to account for import VAT after Brexit. Businesses can record the VAT on their VAT Return rather than paying it immediately upon entry of the goods into the United Kingdom.

The University promotes the usage of PVA and advises departments to instruct their customs agents to use PVA. For more guidance on PVA see here.

There may be situations where PVA is not the best option such as donated goods or where a purchase order / supplier invoice is not being used. Please seek advice.

Q. What is a commodity code and how do I determine one?

A commodity code (also known as HS or tariff codes) is a sequence of numbers made up of eight or ten digits. Commodity codes for exports are eight digits and imports are 10 digits long. Commodity codes are a globally recognised means of identifying a product for customs purposes.

The commodity code determines:

  • The import VAT, customs duties and other charges levied on the goods;
  • The preferential treatments that may apply to their import; and
  • The restrictions and prohibitions that may apply to the import, export, or transit of the goods.

In the first instance, the supplier or manufacturer of the goods should be able to advise you of a commodity code. If this is not possible, you can determine the commodity code by using the UK Tariff Checker.

More guidance on commodity codes can be found here.

Q. I have been asked to provide a Customs Procedure Code (CPC). How do I know which one to use?

A Customs Procedure Code (CPC) is a pre-defined HMRC code that is required to describe the purpose of your overseas shipment. The code is used to determine how your shipment will be processed and how the duties and taxes, if applicable, will be collected.

There are many CPCs available, and it can be a bit daunting to try and find the right one. The Import Export Hub can help you determine the most appropriate CPC for you to use for your shipment. Please complete as much of the ITC form as possible so we can understand more about your shipment.

Q. How do I find out if my goods require an import/export licence?

For imports, please contact:

  • Your department’s Health and Safety Officer (as appropriate)
  • The Safety Office – for chemical, biological or radioactive imports

For exports, please contact:

  • The Research Strategy Office – for dual-use and military related exports
  • The Safety Office – for chemical, biological or radioactive exports

If you are unsure who to contact, please contact the Import Export Hub in the first instance and we can provide guidance and/or re-direct you as necessary.

Q. I want to import/export some goods which may involve a sanctioned country. What do I do? Is there someone I can contact?

Please contact the Import Export Hub with details of your query and as much background information as possible. We will liaise with the University’s Financial Sanctions Triage Group

The Financial Sanctions Triage Group will review and provide guidance on how to proceed.

Q. How do I code my purchase order?

Please contact the UFS Helpdesk in the first instance:

For VAT queries:

Q. I want to export some goods. What documentation do I require?

To export goods, you will require a completed commercial/shipping invoice. Please see the exporting basics guidance.

Please contact the Import Export Hub if you require guidance.

Q. How do I contact the Import Export Hub

Rhianna Yau Import & Export Manager
Laura Piovesan Import & Export Adviser

Please contact the team at

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