Export licence UK: What is it and which businesses need one?

Remay Villaester (May)

If your business is planning to trade internationally, one of the first things to do is to check whether you need an export licence. Not every business needs a licence to send goods abroad, but it all depends on what you’re exporting and where you’re sending it to.

In this guide, we’ll cover all the essentials you need to know about UK export licences, including who needs one and how to apply.

Let’s start with the basics on UK export licences, including which exporters need to get one.

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What is an export licence?

Import and export licences in the UK are designed to regulate and control certain types of goods entering and leaving the country’s borders.

This means that businesses planning to export any of these controlled goods will need to get an official export licence. These are usually issued by the UK’s Export Control Organisation (ECO).

Once you have a licence, you must adhere to the strict terms and conditions attached to it when exporting your goods.

Which goods require an export licence?

If your company is shipping goods in any of the below categories, you’re likely to need an export licence¹:

  • Military goods, firearms, ammunition or related equipment
  • Animals or animal products
  • Drugs, medicines or medical devices
  • Radioactive substances
  • Diamonds
  • Plants or plant products, including seeds and flowers
  • Chemicals and pesticides
  • Vehicles
  • Art works, antiques and other goods of cultural significance.

However, there are other factors to consider. Whether or not you need a licence will also depend on the destination of the goods, and their ultimate end use.

Types of UK export licence

If you’re exporting controlled goods, even as a one-off, you’re likely to need an export licence. But there are a few different types available²:

1. Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL)

A licence for the export of a set quantity of specified goods to a particular importer

2. Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL)

A licence covering multiple shipments of specific controlled goods to particular destinations. You’re likely to need a solid track record as a licensed exporter to get an OIEL.

3. Open General Licence (OGL)

A broader licence covering the export of specific goods to a wider range of destinations. An OGEL is usually used for less restricted and regulated types of goods.

4. European Union General Export Authorisations

EU GEAs are the European equivalent of the national system of Open General Licences (OGLs) issued under export control law which is specifically designed to licence dual-use exports - goods, software or technology that can be used for either civil or military purposes with which EU has a responsibility for issuing legislation in this area applicable on an EU-wide basis.

Export licence checker

If you’re unsure whether you’ll need a licence to export your goods, there’s a relatively easy way to check. Head to the Export Control Organisation (ECO) website, where you’ll find a couple of handy export licence checker tools.

There’s a goods checker, where you can identify if your products are classed as controlled. You’ll also be able to see which control entry rating they have, and where to apply for your licence.

The second option is the OEGL checker, which helps you work out whether you’re suitable for an Open General Export Licence. If not, then the Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL) will be the most appropriate option for you.

Where to find more information on export licences

The rules around exporting to other countries can be complicated, especially after Brexit. If you’re planning to export to the EU, you’ll need to get fully clued up on the latest requirements and regulations.

You’ll find full information and guidance about UK export licences on the Government’s website. This includes the type of licences available, restrictions on certain goods and which issuing bodies you’ll need to apply to.

How to apply for a UK export licence

Once you’ve used the government’s export licence checker tools, head to the SPIRE portal. This is the ECO’s central online licensing system, where you can apply for the licence you need and attach all supporting documentation.

How much does a UK export licence cost?

The short answer to this is, it depends. The cost of getting an export licence will depend on what type of controlled goods you’re exporting, and the special rules and licences which relate to them.

You may end up needing multiple licences or approvals, so you’ll need to make sure you budget for potential application costs.

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So, that’s pretty much it - all the essential info you need on UK export licences. If your products are in the list of controlled goods above, you’ll almost definitely need a licence. For everything else, it never hurts to check. This article provides only the general information about the topic and should not be taken as advice.

Do your homework and consult with professionals so you could avoid customs delays, penalties and extra charges. Good luck!

Sources used for this article:

  1. gov.uk - export goods
  2. gov.uk - licence types

Sources checked on 27st April 2021

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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