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Shipping to the UK: 4 Logistical Problems and How to Solve Them

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Despite its small size, the UK is one of the world’s largest economies. 

In 2019, the UK imported nearly US$ 7 billion worth of goods into the country, which represented 3.5% of all global imports. While its biggest imports (in terms of value) are vehicles and precious metals, many smaller and lower-cost items like clothing, textiles, plastic items and medical supplies are all imported in large volumes. This is why being part of the UK market is an attractive prospect to many.

If you are shipping to the UK for the first time, working out how to move your products and navigate UK customs can be a big headache. Here, we explain the biggest problems you might encounter with UK shipping and how you can overcome them

1. Understanding your options

The UK is an island nation, so all imports must cross water to get there. This means that your first decision is often whether to send your goods via air or sea

Despite its many thousands of miles of coastline, there are only a few major seaports in the UK today. Southampton on the south coast receives goods from the USA and elsewhere, whereas the port of Felixstowe handles vast quantities of goods that largely come from continental Europe via ports in Belgium and the Netherlands. Other ports include London Gateway, Liverpool on the northeast coast of England and Grangemouth in Scotland. 

Some ocean trade routes to the UK are amongst the busiest in the world, and these include routes from Savannah, Long Beach, and Charleston in the USA to Southampton. You will no doubt find a way of getting your goods to the UK by sea.  

Inevitably, however, if your goods are traveling a long way via ship, they may be in transit for quite some time. Typical transit times are around two weeks from the east coast of the USA or three weeks from the west. Shipments from China take around five weeks. If your goods are making their way from mainland Europe, they usually take just two or three days.  

For time-sensitive goods, then air freight will likely be more suitable. Air freight route options are more expensive but can get your goods to the UK more quickly. London Heathrow is the UK’s main air freight hub.

The most well-used air freight routes come from continental Europe (from Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid and Munich), but large volumes of freight arrive from elsewhere in the world. Flight times vary from around one hour from Western Europe, to six to ten hours from the USA, to 17 hours from Western Australia.

If you are unsure which option to take, air or ocean, then cost may be the biggest deciding factor. It is easy to get freight quotes online for both through a freight forwarding platform. This helps you to explore your options and make a more informed choice. 

2. Finding the right carrier

Finding the right carrier can be a daunting prospect if you’ve not shipped to the UK before. Again, you can get help with this by using an online shipping service. It can help you work through several options in one convenient place as you can compare quotes side by side. 

Services like this are there to help you move your goods across borders smoothly. Not only can you find competitive quotes from carriers, but you can book through the same site, too, quickly and easily. You can save a lot of time and stress this way. 

3. Understanding restrictions

Before you make concrete plans to import your goods into the UK, you must ensure that they do not appear on the list of goods that are not eligible for import into the UK. Alternatively, they may be allowed, but be subject to extra controls. Currently, these are:

  • Agricultural products (license controlled)
  • Controlled drugs (restricted and controlled by licensing)
  • Explosives (prohibited under most circumstances)
  • Firearms (license controlled)

Certain products may be moved freely from EU countries into the UK but not from elsewhere. If you are considering importing these products from outside the EU, some may be permitted with extra certification, permissions or checks. They currently include:

  • Nuts and dried fruits 
  • Animal products 
  • Honey (always prohibited)
  • Cordless telephones 
  • Foods and beverages 
  • Plants 
  • Products manufactured in foreign prisons 

You can find further information on the customs and export section of the UK government website. 

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4. Fulfilling legal requirements 

The regulations set by the UK Government HM Revenue and Customs are particularly complex. The situation is complicated by the UK’s exit period from the EU. Rules and regulations are likely to be subject to change in the near future. The government agency’s website contains up-to-date information and should be studied carefully. 

At present, importers need the following:

  • An EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number. This is an identification number for any business wishing to import or export goods across the UK border. 
  • A commodity code for the goods in transit. This follows the international Harmonized Coding system.
  • A customs declaration document
  • The bill of lading (for ocean freight) or airway bill (for air freight)
  • The commercial invoice issued by the supplier of the goods
  • A packing list

Collating all this information and presenting it correctly to HM Revenue and Customs can be a big headache for small to medium-sized enterprises.

However, if you are using a reputable online shipping service, they should collate your information, check it for compliance and submit all required documentation to the customs authority themselves. This will save you an enormous amount of effort and time, provided you supply them with accurate and timely information. Their expertise and experience mean that your goods should be on their way as quickly as possible.  

The logistics of shipping freight to the UK

Before you begin importing to the UK, the process can seem challenging. The UK’s particularly strict customs regulations are especially daunting. 

However, with professional advice and efficient service from an online freight platform, your first experience of shopping to the UK can easily go without a hitch. They will get your goods to the UK as quickly and as smoothly as possible, at the least possible cost to your business.

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