Imports to the UK

Imports into the UK continue to grow In 2022, the value of UK imports exceeded USD $645.8bn, according to official figures. Importing is big business and there are several options to be considered when importing into the UK.

Whatever option is chosen a considered approach is necessary as transportation costs can be a large percentage of your import budget. Any mistakes when importing goods into the UK can become very costly and time-consuming.


What modes of transport are best suited for your import requirements?

Before selecting your mode of transport, it’s beneficial to first investigate your budget and time frames.

Sea freight

There are various options available to you. Either a 20ft/40ft/40ft high cube which you can fill if you have enough product. If you do not have enough to ship a full container, there are Less than Container Load (LCL) options available. Transit times will vary depending on what port you are using.

Premium Service from China to UK​

Based on customer demand we have launched a premium service, whereby we will get you space on a vessel, if you provide us with a four-six-week lead time. Let us take the complexity out of your sea freight shipments. 

Air Freight

If you're importing goods that are small in quantity, high value or needed urgently, then air freight is the option for you.

It’s the more expensive option compared to sea freight; however, the goods will arrive much faster. The transit time is typically only a few days, rather than weeks or months.

Rail Freight

Currently, rail freight is becoming more and more popular, especially from China. Transit times are faster than ocean and are usually cheaper than airfreight. More detailed rail freight information can be found here.

Rail freight is also a significantly more environmentally friendly method of transport than air or road freight. Railroads are roughly four times more fuel efficient than moving the same goods by truck.

However, the availability of rail freight shipments is significantly reduced compared to ocean freight.

Customs and compliance

When importing goods into the UK, understanding what the requirements are for customs and compliance is essential. Having your goods delayed at any UK port due to wrong paperwork can be incredibly expensive.

You will need an EORI number, and information on how to do this can be found here.

A Commodity Code and information on how to secure the right commodity code can be found here.

You will need to notify customs regarding the goods you are importing. A customs declaration will need to be filled out. This can be quite a complicated process, and we suggest that you find a provider who can handle your customs requirements for you, such as WTA who has direct access to the CDS system.

Check what the VAT and Duty are that needs to be paid on your goods. Information can be found here.

Make sure you don’t need an imports licence, some goods can be restricted such as animal products, plants etc. and if they are you will need to apply for an imports licence.


When importing goods into the UK, you need to decide what incoterms are going to be best suited for your business. Incoterms are a standardised set of rules that define the rights and liabilities of both buyer and seller in an international transaction. Incoterms are prepared by the International Chamber of Commerce and include FOB, EXW, CIF, DDU etc.

Have you secured your copy of our new whitepaper?

The new WTA report has launched, deep diving into why the world has such a strong import reliance on China, and the risks this is now posing for companies, but the strengths that are making it difficult to change. We explore the alternatives to importing from China and the strengths and weaknesses of each option. Allowing you to make informed decisions for your supply chains. Taking the fright out of freight. 


Have a question? Speak to our import specialist

Jade Blackburn is out import specialist and has worked with many companies of all sizes across the globe to create effective import strategies.


If you are planning an import strategy, we are here to help.

WTA. Here for the journey.