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EU import procedures

EU customs code

EU customs code is the set of all the rules covering customs matters in trade with non-EU countries. These rules ensure that customs practices in all EU countries are uniform and transparent.


Registering as an economic operator (EORI number)

The Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number is a unique identifier, assigned by a customs authority in an EU country to all economic operators (both companies and individuals) persons engaging in activities covered by EU customs legislation.

Importers established outside the EU will be assigned an EORI the first time they lodge:

  • a customs declaration
  • an entry summary declaration (ENS)
  • an exit summary declaration (EXS)

Operators use this number in all communications with any EU customs authorities where an EU-based identifier is required, for example in customs declarations.

See also the EORI Guidelines

Entry Summary Declaration (ENS)

The entry summary declaration contains advance cargo information about consignments entering the EU. It must be lodged at the first customs office of entry to the EU by the carrier of the goods (by the carrier of the goods, although in some cases it can be done by the importer-consignee, or a representative of the carrier or importer) - even if the goods are not going to be imported to the EU.

The deadline for lodging the ENS depends on the mode of transport carrying the goods:

  • Container maritime cargo: at least 24 hours before loading commences in the foreign port
  • Bulk maritime cargo: at least 4 hours before arrival
  • Short sea shipping: at least 2 hours before arrival
  • Short haul flights (less than 4 hours): at least by the actual time of take off of the aircraft
  • Long haul flights (4 hours or more): at least 4 hours before arrival at the first airport in the customs territory of the EU
  • Road traffic: at least 1 hour before arrival.

Note:The ENS requires information contained in documents originating with the exporter (bill of lading, commercial invoices, etc). Make sure these documents reach the party responsible for lodging the declaration in time!

More information about the entry summary declaration

See also: Transit movements electronic map

Customs approved treatments

When goods arrive at the customs office of entry to the EU, they are placed into temporary storage under customs supervision (no longer than 45 days in the case of goods carried by sea, or 20 days in other cases) until they are assigned one of the following customs approved treatments or uses:

1. Release for free circulation

Goods are released for consumption once all the import requirements have been met:

  • all applicable tariff duties, VAT and excise duties have been paid
  • all applicable authorisations and certificates (e.g. for quotas, health requirements, etc.) have been presented.

2. Transit procedure

When goods are moved between customs offices in different EU countries, customs clearance formalities can be transferred to the customs office of destination.

3. Customs warehousing

Imported goods can be stored in specially designated facilities, and duties, taxes and formalities suspended until the goods are assigned another customs approved treatment.

4. Inward processing

Goods can be imported into the EU, without being subject to duties, taxes and formalities, to be processed under customs control and then re-exported out of the EU. If the finished products are not finally exported, they become subject to the applicable duties and formalities.

5. Temporary importation

Goods can enter the EU without payment of import duties, provided they are intended for re-export without undergoing any change. The maximum period for temporary import is 2 years.

6. Entry into a free zone or warehouse

Free zones are special areas within the EU customs territory where goods can enter without payment of customs duties, VAT and excise duties, and without other import formalities until they are either assigned another approved customs treatment or re-exported. Under this procedure, goods may also undergo simple operations such as processing and re-packing.

See also:

Customs declaration - Single Administrative Document (SAD)

Goods are placed under a customs approved treatment or use using the Single Administrative Document (SAD). The SAD can be presented to the customs authorities by the importer or a representative, either electronically (each EU country has its own system) or by delivery directly to the premises of the customs office.

The SAD covers the placement of any goods under any customs procedure (Export, import, transit where the new computerised transit system (NCTS) is not yet used, warehouses, temporary import, inward and outward processing, etc.) whatever the mode of transport used. The SAD aims at ensuring openness in national administrative requirements, rationalize and reduce administrative documentation, reduce the amount of requested information and standardize and harmonize data.

See also:

Value for Customs purposes

Most customs duties and VAT are expressed as a percentage of the value of the goods being imported. Customs authorities define the value of merchandise for customs purposes based on its commercial value at the point of entry into the EU: purchase price plus delivery costs up to the point where the goods enter the customs territory. This value does not always to the price stated on the sales contract and may be subject to specific adjustments.

More information on customs valuation