Supply chain 23 September 2015

A guide to navigating UK customs and excise

Think of preparing your shipment as you would prepare for a holiday
Think of preparing your shipment as you would prepare for a holiday

FedEx Express Europe’s managing director of Global Trade Services outlines what support is out there for your firm if you’re intending to go global, and how to make the customs process an easier one.

International trade continues to be a driving force in the world economy. If you are a small business and are reading this, you’ve already taken the first step towards making this growth work in your favour.

As it stands, British micro, small and medium sized enterprises are demonstrating some impressive exporting prowess, by making a positive contribution to reducing the trade deficit – exporting more than they are importing. This was the most striking finding from the FedEx Great British Export Report 2015, which also examined the optimism levels of the SME community. Confidence is high among those currently exporting; however, further findings show over half (58 per cent) of SMEs feel they still require more support to go global – whether from trade bodies, the government, or logistics providers.

When navigating customs is involved, the latter in particular have an important role to play in offering expert advice and strategic guidance – as well as transporting goods from one place to another. I’ve put together some specific advice to help you navigate the world of customs successfully.

The “passport” for your shipment

I can’t stress how important it is to make sure valuations are accurate and goods are clearly labelled in detail and to get advice in this area. Whichever system you are facing, the efficiency of the process depends on the customs officers having accurate information. Make sure you think about the kinds of documentation you will need to provide. If you can complete this accurately then you are well on your way to success:

  • Think of preparing your shipment as you would prepare for a holiday
  • Offer as much detail as you can

It’s important to provide full details with each shipment, including certificates, licenses, etc. Remember, the customs officer on duty will not know you or your business and the documents you provide will help them do their job quickly and efficiently.

  • Be as descriptive as possible when filling in the commercial invoice as this document is probably the most important paperwork for international shipping
  • Commercial invoice = the passport of your shipment

To avoid delays, everything contained in it must be correct and consistent. If the initial preparation is thorough, each individual transaction or shipment will pass through customs with the fewest possible delays. That said, there are a couple of other pointers to consider in getting the best out of the customs process.

Get to know the local market

Many countries already have documentation online to help companies build up their local customs knowledge, but nothing beats visiting the country itself. A further option is to use advice provided by companies, like FedEx, who have a wealth of information available and a team of experts to guide you along the way. Make sure you have an inquisitive mind and ask questions such as:

  • Are there any events relating to the country you could attend?
  • What local small business groups are out there that could provide useful advice?
  • Can you find any in-country contacts to share their knowledge with you?

It’s also important to be aware of any local restrictions that could relate to the market you’re trading in, or more specifically a product you’re selling. Getting to grips with each and every export rule is an overwhelming task, so you’ll need to plan on a country-by-country basis, and lean on a trusted resource.

Expand at a sustainable pace

Make sure you have the processes and support in place to make your product a success internationally and be targeted in your approach – expanding one country at a time will ensure a more sustainable approach to growth.

Ensuring you are 100 per cent ready and have the correct support network of advisors in place before entering new markets will enable you to better navigate customs and achieve real and lasting commercial success around the world.

Sourcing or selling goods internationally can seem tricky; however, there are a range of organisations that can assist, from government agencies to transportation partners.

At FedEx we have years of experience working closely with all sizes of business guiding them through customs procedures and so understand the intricacies involved with building and maintaining international supply chains. With the right support, exporting can be a lot more straightforward than you think, allowing you to reap the rewards without impacting on domestic business. The future is looking bright, and there should be no shortage in optimism on conducting business overseas.

Harald Schoenfelder is managing director of Global Trade Services at FedEx Express Europe.

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