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Moving goods across international borders typically creates an import/export and there are reporting obligations, customs declarations as well as potential VAT and duty liabilities, unless reliefs can be claimed.

This is the case even if there is no commercial sale. Universities often send goods out of the UK and reimport them, for example:

  • to use on field trips
  • to use in research projects
  • for repair or servicing
  • for exhibitions
  • on loan to a third party

Available reliefs and facilitative measures

The following reliefs may be available at the point that the goods are re-imported, or imported if the intention is that they will be re-exported.

Please note that these reliefs may require advanced authorisation and/or some form of financial guarantee being in place with HMRC before use and are not always obtainable.

Temporary Admission - VAT and duty free entry (HMRC authorisation required)

Temporary Admission relieves both VAT and duty on import when the goods are being re-exported within 2 years.  There are different time limits for different types of goods.  It is likely that a deposit would have to be lodged with HMRC equivalent to any import VAT due – this would be refundable, however. Authorisation by declaration can be made using form C108 when the import declaration is submitted at the border. 

> Examples of goods that are covered and HMRC guidance

ATA carnets

Known as a “passport for goods”, a Carnet is an international customs and temporary export-import document. It is used to clear customs in many countries and territories without paying duties and import taxes on goods that will be re-exported within 12 months. They are particularly useful where you send goods overseas in instances where there is no third party in the country of destination to act as importer, such as field trips or research projects.

Using a Carnet would avoid the requirement to lodge a deposit (required under Temporary Admission) but there are costs to purchase the Carnet and possible financial guarantees needed depending on the value of the goods being moved.

Obtaining and using a Carnet

The Carnet is purchased through a chamber of commerce, e.g.:

Fees vary depending on how long the Carnet is to run for and the value of the goods. Once the Carnet is purchased (online), it is sent to you and then it needs to be processed at a government inland border facility – a freight agent will facilitate this.  It can be quite a slow process as the agent has to arrange for the Carnet to be delivered to border force at the airport/port for inspection. Once it has been inspected and approved by border force the agent can then arrange the collection and delivery. It needs final approval from border force once freight has been delivered.


A further consideration is insurance.  Please involve our Insurance Team on to make sure goods being moved are covered during transit.

Returned goods relief for VAT and duty (claim on re-import)

Example uses:

  • goods returned after being exported on exhibition or loan; 
  • after use in a field trip or research project. 

The goods must be re-imported in an unaltered state, apart from any work that may have been carried out to maintain the goods in working order, the goods cannot have been upgraded to increase their value. This does not apply to repaired or processed goods.

Outward Processing Relief (OPR) for reduced VAT and duty  (HMRC authorisation required)

Example use: goods being returned to the UK following export for repair or service

Import VAT and duty will only be payable on the “added value” of the goods, usually the cost of the service. Full audit trail needed and good compliance. Will be required to show:

  • original export declaration with you as the exporter
  • re-import declaration with you as the importer

> see HMRC Notice 3001 (Outward processing relief)

Inward Processing Relief for VAT and duty (authorisation needed)

Example use: importing goods to process or repair and then re-exporting from the UK. 

If you are authorised by HMRC, you will not need to pay Customs Duty and Import VAT on goods on the import.

> see HMRC Notice 3001 (Inward processing relief).

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