International trade: Commodity codes when moving goods

International trade: Commodity codes when moving goods

Posted: Thu 1st Dec 2022

Whenever you move goods from country to country, you need to assign certain master data to them. The master data you assign to your goods may affect how much customs or excise duty you pay.

Custom master data includes commodity codes. These codes are used across the world to classify goods that are imported or exported. Having the correct code helps make sure you're keeping to customs rules and paying the right taxes and rates of duty. It also indicates whether you need any licences.

In this blog, we explain commodity codes in more detail: what they are and how they're used. We also tell you where to go online to check commodity codes and find the relevant codes you need.

What is a commodity code?

Commodity codes are reference numbers assigned to goods that move into or out of the UK. Recognised worldwide, they are used to describe a specific product being imported or exported. They are usually 10 digits long (sometimes eight for exports).

Why are commodity codes used?

Each commodity code accords to a set tariff of taxes that the government imposes on goods imported from another country. The exact amount of tax charged varies between commodity codes, which is why it's so important to make sure the code you're using is correct.

Whenever you complete a customs declaration (such as an import declaration or export declaration), you'll need to provide the correct commodity code, as it helps calculate:

  • the customs duty rates and import VAT you owe

  • any taxes due

  • any preferential duty rating that may apply to the goods being moved

It also determines whether:

  • you need an import licence to move your product (for example, if you're importing animal products, medicines or hazardous chemicals)

  • any anti-dumping duty will be charged (in line with anti-dumping laws)


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Why do I need a commodity code?

When you move goods into or out of the UK, you're charged customs duty (or import duty). This is worked out as a percentage of your product's value.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) asks you to provide an accurate commodity code for your product so it can classify your product and calculate how much duty you must pay.

Consequently, it's vital that you give an exact code. If you declare your goods with the wrong commodity code, HMRC may not release your goods. It's also likely that you end up paying far more in costs and fines than you otherwise would have done.

How do I find the commodity code I need?

You can search for commodity codes using the commodity code checker on the government's Trade Tariff website. When you use the Trade Tariff search tool, you'll need to be able to describe your product in detail, as this will make sure you're given the correct commodity code.

The information you're asked to provide may include:

  • what product type you're bringing in

  • its purpose

  • what materials and production methods were used to make it

  • how it's packaged

How does the Trade Tariff tool work?

When you land on the web page for the Trade Tariff tool, you'll see this: 

The Trade Tariff search tool on GOV.UK, used to search for commodity codes  

Simply type in what your goods are – or enter the commodity code, if you know it – and the tool's online database will find the correct code for you.

Alternatively, you can:

What if I'm importing goods into Northern Ireland?

If you're importing goods into Northern Ireland from outside the UK and the EU and the goods are not 'at risk' of onward movement to the EU, you can use the Trade Tariff to search for your commodity codes.

If the goods are 'at risk' of onward movement to the EU, you should use the Northern Ireland (EU) Tariff to find your commodity code.


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