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HS Codes: Harmonised System Tariff Code

Glossary Shipping

HS Codes: Harmonised System Tariff Code

Your Passport to Smooth International Trade

Imagine a universal language understood by customs authorities in over 200 countries: That is the HS in a nutshell! More than 98% of goods traded globally are categorised according to the HS system: from avocados to aeroplanes, each product has its own HS code passport, determining its journey through the labyrinthine world of tariffs, taxes, and regulations.

What Is an HS Code?

What is an HS Code? An HS Code, known in the UK as a Commodity Code, is a unique six-digit code assigned to nearly every tradable good on Earth classified according to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. This is an internationally standardised list of product classifications devised by the World Customs Organization (WCO). The system is commonly known as the “Harmonized System” or “Harmonised System” or “HS” that is where the abbreviation HS derives. 

It enables the classification of cross-border trade goods, determining the applicable taxes, duties, and any specific restrictions that might pertain to the goods being transported. This code is crucial for categorising items on the Bill of Lading and additional shipping papers provided by the shipper.

Originating in the early 1970s and subject to a review every five years, the system has undergone several updates, with the 7th Edition having been implemented as of January 1, 2022. 

Demystifying the HS Code Structure

The system categorises approximately 5,000 commodity groups, arranged in a hierarchical structure. It is enhanced with implementation rules and explanatory notes, enabling the universal identification of products through numeric codes.

Each six-digit HS code is like a layered map, offering increasing detail with each level:

  • Chapters: Broad categories like live animals, vegetable products, or chemicals.
  • Headings: More specific groupings within chapters, for example, fruits or footwear.
  • Subheadings: Even finer distinctions, such as apples or leather boots.

For example, the HS Code Structure for a Track laying machine is 842911:

00 00
Local Classification Number

This information is in Section XVI “Machinery and mechanical appliances”:

  • Chapter 84: Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances.
  • Heading 29: Self-propelled bulldozers, angledozers, graders, levellers, scrapers, mechanical shovels, excavators, shovel loaders, tamping machines and road rollers.
  • Sub-heading 11: Bulldozers and angledozers.

HS Code Finder: How to Find an HS code?

Imagine you’re standing in a vast library, filled with countless shelves stacked with intricate, cryptic labels. That’s essentially the feeling of facing the HS code database—a seemingly endless world of codes. But fear not, intrepid explorer! Finding your specific HS code isn’t as daunting as it seems. 

Finding the correct Harmonised System (HS) codes for your products is crucial for international trade. Here are some HS code finders that can help you:

  • World Customs Organization (WCO): The WCO website is a primary source for HS codes. They provide the basic 6-digit HS codes that are used internationally. Click here to access the HS Code lookup
  • Trade Tariff Tool by UK Government: The UK Government provides a Trade Tariff tool which allows you to search for commodity codes, duty and VAT rates. This tool not only gives you the HS code but also the full 10-digit commodity code used for UK imports and exports. Click here to find the HS tariff code
  • HS Code, Customs Tariff Number – European Database: The European Customs Portal provides access to customs tariff numbers and harmonised codes. Click here to access the Tariff portal.
  • Customs Info Global Tariff Classification Tool: This HS code checker enables users to investigate international tariff data for goods shipped from the United States. Click here to access the tool
  • Consulting a Freight Forwarder: Professionals in the field of international trade, such as customs brokers and freight forwarders, have extensive knowledge of HS codes and can provide accurate classification services.

It is worth noting that sometimes, the manufacturer of a product provides its HS code in the product manual or on their website.

We are friendly, easy to work with, honest and we do not charge the earth.

At Barrington Freight, we specialise in making your importing and exporting straightforward. From customs clearance to finding the right commodity codes, our expert team is here to assist. Don’t let the complexities of global trade hold you back. Reach out to Barrington Freight for efficient and reliable shipping solutions.

HS Code Search: How to Find the One

When searching for your HS code, keep in mind that it is not solely about the product itself; context matters. Consider the broader perspective:

  • Country of origin and destination: Different countries might interpret HS codes slightly differently. Consult your forwarder or the relevant national trade authorities for specific interpretations.
  • Trade terms (Incoterms): Depending on the agreed-upon Incoterms, the responsibility for assigning the HS code might fall on you, the buyer, or your supplier. Clarify this upfront to avoid confusion.
  • Commercial documentation: Ensure your invoices, packing lists, and other trade documents accurately reflect the chosen HS code and product description. Consistency is key for smooth customs clearance.
  •  Embrace Continuous Learning: HS codes aren’t static; they evolve with the ever-changing world of trade. Familiarise yourself with updates and emerging trends, and do not be afraid to revisit your chosen code if your product specifications or trade agreements change.

Finding your HS code is the first step on your smooth international trade journey. By equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge, you can navigate the database with confidence, ensuring your shipments arrive at their destination without delays or unexpected costs.

Why HS Tariff Codes Matter

It’s used globally by economic operators, customs officials, and lawmakers for consistent product classification. Think of HS codes as the Rosetta Stone of international trade. They unlock a wealth of information, such as:

  • Duty rates: Understanding an HS code reveals the potential import and export duties your shipment might face, allowing you to budget and plan accordingly.
  • Trade statistics: HS codes are integral to global trade data, informing governments and businesses about trade patterns and market trends.
  • Streamlined clearance: Accurate HS codes act as a golden ticket for smooth customs clearance. Having the right code minimises the risk of delays or complications.

What Is the Difference between Tariff Codes (UK) and HS Codes?

While HS codes and tariff codes are often used interchangeably, there are key differences between them.

HS codes are the universal language for identifying goods, while tariff codes are the national dialect that determines duties and regulations. 

Think of HS codes as the foundation stones, and tariff codes as the additional layers that build upon them, adding specific details and requirements for each country.  Tariff codes are specific to individual countries or customs unions. 

They build upon the HS code foundation but often add additional digits for even more granular classification. In the UK, tariff codes typically have ten digits, including the initial six HS digits.

HS Code: Your Key to a Smooth Journey

Understanding HS codes empowers you to navigate the complexities of international trade with confidence. By partnering with a knowledgeable freight forwarder well-versed in HS code classification, you can ensure your shipments reach their destination seamlessly, opening doors to global market opportunities.

 For expert guidance and consultation in this area, contact us. With over 35 years of experience in freight forwarding, our team offers the expertise and support necessary for successful international shipping.

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