Finance Division

Import Duty

This page gives a brief explanation of import duty, how it is calculated and the changes that will apply from 2021 onwards

Import duty is a tax paid on imported goods. With a few exceptions, VAT import duty cannot be recovered and so is always a cost to the University.

The amount of tax paid on an individual item depends upon three factors:

  1. The category of the goods imported. A detailed list of commodity codes is used to ensure goods are consistently categorised and the correct tariff applied.
  2. The country of origin of the goods. Trade agreements with other countries, or trading blocs may give preferential treatment to goods from those countries.
  3. The value of goods. Tariffs are calculated using a percentage of the value of the goods imported.

Commodity codes

The UK Global Tariff will apply to imported goods from 1 January 2021. It replaces the EU Common External Tariff (CET) and will apply to all imported goods unless overridden by a trade agreement or a UK Tariff suspension. In addition some developing countries that belong to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences may pay less or no duty on import.

The new tariff removes many small tariffs and reduces some others.

A new set of commodity codes will also apply from 1 January 2021. HMRC have produced a useful commodity code checker tool that allows users to search for a commodity codes using a wordsearch, or by entering the old EU CET code. The commodity code checker tool can be found here. In addition to listing individual commodity codes it also gives the tariff rate that applies, along with the old CET tariff for comparison.

Importing goods into the UK

Goods imported into the UK from overseas (including the EU from 1 January 2021) must be accompanied by a Customs Declaration, in addition to being subject to both customs duties and VAT. As this can be a complicated process the University’s policy is to use couriers to import goods, rather than arrange importation itself. Couriers will complete all the necessary paperwork on the University’s behalf. Sussex Estates and Facilities is the supplier for all courier activity (except temperature controlled items).


Under the new UK-EU Trade agreement, which came into force at 23:00 GMT on 31 December 2020, there are no tariffs or quotas on goods traded between the UK and EU. Goods must meet the “rules of origin” requirement that the content of the goods originated in the UK or EU and not from third countries (i.e. those apart from UK and the EU Member States). If this requirement is not met, then tariffs may apply.