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Shipping to UK: 5 things you need to know

icontainers_news_1a50488895.svgLogistics & Shipping
Updated on 10 Jan 2024
5 min read
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As one of the United States’ most important export partners, the United Kingdom is responsible for around 3.7 percent of the value of total US exports every year.

Among the top categories of US exports to the UK are machinery, transportation products, and precious metals. Here’s a breakdown of the products in each category.


  • Gas turbines: $1.31 billion (2.8% of total value of exports)
  • Office machine parts: $540 million (1.2%)
  • Valves: $534 million (1.1%)
  • Computers: $490 million (1.1%)
  • Broadcasting equipment: $485 million (1.0%)


  • Planes, helicopters, and/or spacecraft: $5.6 billion (12%)
  • Aircraft parts: $1.74 billion (3.7%)
  • Vehicle parts: $619 million (1.3%)
  • Cars: $168 million (0.36%)
  • Tractors: $83.3 million (0.18%)

Precious metals

  • Gold: $4.78 billion (10%)
  • Precious metal scraps: $478 million (1.0%)
  • Jewelry: $167 million (0.36%)
  • Diamonds: $100 million (1.8%)
  • Platinum: $52.8 million (0.93%)

Shipping to the UK tips

The current political and economic situation in the UK remains somewhat uncertain. At the time of writing (December), the deadline for Brexit has been postponed to the end of January 2020.

Whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal, as a US exporter looking to ship merchandise to the UK, there are certain things to be aware of to ensure your shipment is carried out smoothly.

Here are 5 things you need to know when shipping to the UK*.

*These are general guidelines that may not be applicable to all shipments from the US to the UK. For more details and specifics, please contact your freight forwarder or destination agent in the UK.

1. Apply for an EORI number

In order to export to the UK, you will need an EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number. This is an identification number tagged to businesses that conduct imports and exports in and out of the UK and is used for customs declarations purposes.

The UK government offers an online service through which you can apply for an EORI number. The process takes just three working days and you may access it here.

2. Familiarize yourself with the C88

The customs form used for exports and imports in and out of the UK is called the C88, equivalent to the Customs and Border Protection’s 6059B form in the US. It’s also commonly known as the Single Administrative Document (SAD).

Information about the importer and exporter, merchandise, and transportation method must be specified on the form. It can be submitted either in paper form or online via CHIEF (Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight).

Once your declaration is accepted by the UK customs office, all applicable duties and taxes must be paid in full before cargo retrieval is permitted.

3. Check your HS code and duties and taxes

Unlike the US, which uses HTS codes to categorize their imported merchandise, the UK uses a six-digit HS code. This code is used to determine the amount of duties and VAT (Value Added Tax) that are payable, which is based on the total value of the goods (including costs of shipping and insurance).

If you are a VAT registered business, you will be able to claim the VAT paid by filling out and submitting the C79 form. Import duties cannot be claimed.

If you need assistance looking up HS codes, you may refer to the UK government’s commodity code guide. This comprehensive tool also tells you how much VAT and duties are due, or if there are any duty reliefs applicable to the merchandise you’re looking to ship to the UK.

4. Shipping to UK: Air freight or sea freight

The two main modes of shipping cargo from the US to the UK is ocean freight and air freight. Taking anywhere from a matter of days to a couple of weeks, air freight from the US to the UK is clearly the more efficient option. However, it comes at a much higher cost and volumes are much more restricted when compared to ocean freight.

The time taken for shipping ocean freight to the UK varies quite a bit. The fastest (and more costly) routes can take around nine to ten days and as many as three weeks or more for the longer and cheaper routes. In general, transit times depend on the routing the carrier opts for, and the departure and arrival ports (more on this in the next point).

5. Consider the varying transit times when choosing a departure seaport

Though the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the US’ busiest ports, these may not be the most practical ports from which to ship your merchandise in the UK.

Transit times for shipments departing west coast ports to the UK are usually around four to six weeks. On the other hand, shipping from east coast ports such as the Ports of New York or Charleston, which are located just across the Atlantic, is likely to take much shorter — even as fast as nine to ten days, depending on the carrier. But as mentioned in the previous point, shorter transit times tend to incur higher shipping costs.

As an extra - and more generic - tip, remember that no matter where you’re shipping to, if you’re dealing with hazardous materials, there are certain steps you should always take.

You may obtain an instant ocean freight shipping quote from the US to the UK with iContainers.

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