The apparel and footwear market in the UK is robust and still growing. You may be thinking of filling the local demand for clothing from major European brands such as Zara, H&M, Mango, Stradivarius and Bershka. Admittedly, Brexit and the TCA have made the process of importing clothing more complicated, and businesses importing clothing from EU to UK will now require new registration details, licences and certificates. Here is a guide on the most critical processes to follow when importing bulk clothing and shoes from the EU to the UK to make the process easier.

Renewing Your Registration and Identification Details

All companies importing to the UK require an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number. Before Brexit, EU simplifications had allowed traders to import using EU EORI numbers. However, under the TCA, you will not import clothing from the EU to the UK without a GB EORI number. For HMRC to give you a GB EORI number, you will need to be permanently established in the country and have:

  • A Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR),
  • A Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code,
  • A Government Gateway user ID and password, and
  • A VAT number and National Insurance number

You may also want to consider getting VAT registered and applying for Authorised Economic Operator status. As a VAT registered business, you can apply for a refund of any VAT you pay for your clothing during the import process. With AEO status, you will enjoy faster applications for declarations and be subject to fewer checks at the border.

Getting the Classification Codes

When importing shoes, clothing or any other goods into the UK, you must include the correct commodity code in the customs declarations; otherwise, you risk paying the wrong duties, severe legal consequences and delays to your delivery.

Before you can look up the commodity codes from the tariff tool, you will need to know the types of material making up your clothing import, e.g. cotton, polyester, silk etc., whether it is woven or non-woven and if it is printed or not.

The tariff covers clothing and footwear in detail in chapters 61 and 62, with chapter 61 covering knitted or crocheted apparel and clothing accessories, and chapter 62 covering articles of apparel and clothing accessories that are not knitted or crocheted. Sections in each chapter cover a specific type of garment, for example;

  • 6201 covers (non-knitted) men’s or boys’ overcoats, car coats, capes, cloaks, anoraks
  • 6215 covers (non-knitted) ties, bow ties and cravats
  • 6210 covers clothing made of felt, non wovens and wadding
  • 6109 covers knitted baby garments

Filling an Import Declaration

You need to complete an import declaration, also known as a C88 document. The process of completing an import declaration is quite complicated; that’s why many importers choose to have a specialist freight forwarding company deal with this aspect.

VAT, Import Duty and Getting Preferential Rates

If you are importing wholesale clothing (valued over £135) from the EU to the UK, you will need to account for import VAT. You can choose to pay VAT at the point where your clothing and footwear consignment enters free circulation or take advantage of the postponed VAT accounting system.

Children’s or Babies clothing is also zero-rated (0.0%) for VAT. If you are importing children’s items, including bridesmaid dresses, make sure to mark this clearly in all your invoices and paperwork.

Most EU clothing and footwear brands produce their clothing in the far east, and you will need to request your supplier for an exporters proof of origin with each consignment if you want to get preferential rates.

If you are importing clothing samples, ensure to import items in minimal quantities. Request your supplier to mark the clothing items as “Samples – Not for Resale”, or pack them in a condition where they cannot be re-sold, such as single gloves or a single item in each colour.

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