What is a HS code?
Harmonised System (HS) codes are an international standard for calculating Import Duty tax. Controlled by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the system was first introduced in 1988.
Each HS code describes a particular trade product, which allows governments around the world to charge the right tariffs.
HS codes form the basis for tariff codes all over the world. For instance, the UK commodity codes are taking their first 6 digits from the corresponding HS code.
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HS code format
HS codes are made up of 4 parts, adding up to 10 digits in total. Each part provides more detailed information about the product — starting with the ‘chapter’, which describes the industry, and ending with a country-specific code which describes the particular product.
The system of codes breaks down into 21 sections, and 98 chapters within those sections, describing different industries (such as Textiles, or Animal & Animal Products).
Here, we’ve given a breakdown of the HS code for chocolate bars with nuts: 1806.32.1000.
18 - Cocoa and Cocoa Preparations
1806 - Chocolate and other food preparations containing cocoa
1806.32 - In blocks, slabs or bars
1806.32.1000 - containing nuts, fruits or cereal
How do countries use HS codes?
As of 2015, 180 countries use the HS code system for tracking trade goods. Each of these countries use HS codes as the basis for their own systems of tariff codes, allowing them to charge taxes on goods entering and leaving their jurisdictions.
Countries can also use the codes to conduct trade negotiations, watch for controlled or illegal goods, and to calculate the total cost of imports.
How to find a HS code
You can find the right HS code by searching for the product.
Taking chocolate bar with nuts as an example, you’d start by searching for the section and chapter that represents the industry. In this case, it would be section 4 (Prepared Foodstuffs) and chapter 18 (Cocoa and Cocoa Preparations).
Next, you’d search for the right Heading and Subheading, both of which would continue to describe your product in greater detail. In this case, the Heading would be 06 (Chocolate and other food preparations containing cocoa), and the Subheading would be 32 (Not Filled).
Combining these digits will give you the HS code — 1806 32.
Countries can use an additional 2-4 digits for country-specific categorizations. For example, the UK HS code relies on ten digit number usually called commodity code. In this case 1000 represents products with nuts. Combining these digits will give you the full code for our product — 1806 32 1000.
Animal & Animal Products
Animal or Vegetable Fats and Oils
Chemicals & Allied Industries
Plastics / Rubbers
Raw Hides, Skins, Leather, & Furs
Wood & Wood Products
Pulp of Wood or of Other Fibrous Material
Footwear / Headgear
Stone / Glass
Natural or Cultured Pearls
Machinery / Electrical
Arms and Ammunition
Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles
Works of Art
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Commodity codes, HS codes, and HTS codes — what’s the difference?
Depending on the type of international trade you’ll be doing, there are a few numbers and codes you might need.
UK tariff codes help the UK government to track trade imports into the country, and charge the right tariffs each product. If you’re planning on importing goods from abroad into the UK, you’ll need to have the right commodity (or tariff) codes.
HS codes are an international system for tracking trade goods. They form the basis for all tariff codes, including the first 6 digits of Schedule B numbers and HTS codes in the US. You’ll often find HS codes on invoices and shipping documents around the world.
HTS codes are like Schedule B numbers, but for importing goods into the United States instead. They’re also made up of 10 digits, and they help the US government to track imports and apply the right tariffs to different products.