Starting an import business in the UK

Starting an import business in the UKStarting an import business in the UK can be a lucrative way to tap into new markets and source products from overseas. However, there are a few things you need to know before getting started. You will need to obtain a license from the UK Import Control Organization. This will allow you to import goods into the UK, you will need to find a reliable supplier.

This is one of the most important aspects of starting an import business, as your supplier will determine the quality of your products. Finally, you will need to create a marketing plan.

This will help you promote your products and attract customers. By following these steps, you can start an import business in the UK and begin reaping the rewards.

Why import?

There are a number of reasons why you might import goods and materials from overseas. Here are four of the main reasons:

Boost profit margins

Boosting profit margins is always a key concern for businesses, and one way to do this is to source goods from overseas. This can be an effective strategy because businesses in other countries may be able to produce goods more cheaply than UK firms can, whether it’s because of natural resources, lower labour costs or more efficient equipment.

Importing them could therefore be more cost-effective. Of course, there are risks associated with importing goods, such as the potential for delays in delivery or problems with quality control. But if these can be managed effectively, sourcing goods from overseas can be a great way to boost profits.

Get hold of non-UK products

Whilst it’s true that every country has limitations on what their land and people can produce, this shouldn’t stop you from getting hold of the products you need from overseas. There may be a special food or material that you need for your business that can only be sourced from abroad. Alternatively, you may simply want to buy overseas products to diversify your product offering and put your business ahead of the competition.

Whatever the reason, there are a number of ways to source non-UK products, including using an import/export company or using an online marketplace. With a little research, you should be able to find the products you need without any trouble.

Better quality

In some instances, the product quality is better in other countries. Better quality sourcing could put you ahead of the game. For example, in New Zealand and Australia, the merino wool is second to none. If you’re promising a top-quality product, sourcing the best supplies could give you an edge. New Zealand and Australia have strict laws and regulations regarding their wool industry which results in a higher-quality product.

The supply chain is also much shorter, meaning the wool has less time to be damaged or degraded. In addition, the climate is ideal for sheep-rearing, resulting in a healthier animal and a higher-quality fleece. Sourcing your wool from New Zealand and Australia could be the key to developing a superior product.

Advantageous trade agreements

Advantageous trade agreements can be extremely helpful to businesses, as they allow for the import of goods with low tariffs, taxes and duties. This can make it more cost-effective to obtain certain items, and give businesses a competitive edge. However, some of these advantages may be lost if the UK leaves the EU.

Trade agreements are often complex and take many years to negotiate. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it would have to renegotiate its trade agreements with each individual country. This could take many years, during which time businesses would not have the same level of access to advantageous trade agreements. As a result, leaving the EU without a deal could have a significant impact on businesses that rely on advantageous trade agreements to import goods.

How do you import goods?

When you decide to import, you need to work out the most reliable and cost-effective way of getting the goods to you. Here are your basic options:

Land freight

Land freight is the process of transporting goods by road or rail. It is a popular option for businesses as it is generally more cost-effective than air or sea freight. Land freight is also relatively efficient, especially when compared to air freight. This is due to the fact that land freight often benefits from good infrastructure. For example, the UK has good infrastructure between itself and Europe, which makes it possible to transport large quantities of items quickly and easily.

Road freight is usually the most popular option as it is highly flexible. Road freight can carry large volumes and go to any destination, making it ideal for businesses that need to transport goods to multiple locations. However, businesses must be aware of fluctuations in fuel prices as these can impact the cost of road freight. Additionally, road freight can be subject to delays, which can impact the efficiency of the service. Rail freight is generally more expensive than road freight but it is also more eco-friendly.

Rail freight emits less carbon dioxide than road freight, making it a more sustainable option for businesses that are looking to reduce their environmental impact. Additionally, rail freight often suffers from less delays than road freight, meaning it can be a more reliable option for businesses that need to transport goods on a tight schedule.

Sea freight

Sea freight is a vital part of the supply chain between Asia and the UK, with a huge number of items being transported by sea on a daily basis. Sea freight is relatively cheap when compared to airfreight, and this makes it an attractive option for many businesses. Sea freight is generally charged based on the volume of the shipment, rather than the weight, which makes it a more cost-effective option for many items.

Full and half containers are available for shipments, and businesses can choose the option that best suits their needs. Sea freight is a reliable and efficient way to transport goods between Asia and the UK, and it plays a vital role in the supply chain.

Air freight

Air freight is typically the most expensive shipping option, but it is also the quickest. Airfreight rates are based on weight, so it is only really suited to small, high-value items or those needed urgently. Air freight can be shipped via passenger jet or freight plane (those dedicated to transporting imports and exports), and businesses can choose to charter the entire plane if they have a lot of goods to transport.

It’s important to keep in mind that transportation costs are factored into the amount businesses pay in import duty and VAT. That means that if businesses pay more for transport, they will also pay more in duties. Air freight is therefore a cost-effective option for businesses shipping high-value, time-sensitive items.

What to be aware of when importing

When importing goods into the country, there are a few things you need to be aware of in order to avoid any delays or complications. You will need to obtain the proper import license from the relevant authorities. This can be a time-consuming process, so it’s important to start early. Second, you will need to have your goods inspected by customs upon arrival.

This is to ensure that they meet all safety and quality standards. Finally, you will need to pay import duties and taxes. These fees can vary depending on the type and value of your goods, so it’s important to research before shipping anything overseas. By being aware of these costs and logistics, you can ensure a smooth and hassle-free import process.

Here’s what you need to plan for.

Product standards

All products that are imported into the UK must meet certain quality standards in order to be legally sold. This includes ensuring that electrical components are compatible with UK standards and function properly. Product samples can be submitted for testing at accredited UK centres in order to minimise the risk of poor quality.

In addition, it is important to order samples in advance to check for compliance with UK standards. By following these steps, you can ensure that any products you import meet the necessary quality guidelines.


Any business owner knows that having reliable suppliers is essential to the success of the company. After all, if the supplier is not providing quality products or materials, it will reflect poorly on the business. For that reason, it’s important to visit potential suppliers in person if possible.

This way, you can get a better sense of their management style and operations. It’s also a good idea to find out more about their ethical practices. After all, you don’t want to be associated with a company that engages in child labour or uses harmful chemicals. By doing your due diligence, you can ensure that your business only works with reputable and reliable suppliers.

Supply chain

If you’re importing products from overseas, it’s important to have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in the supply chain. There are a number of different players involved in getting your products from point A to point B, and things can sometimes get complicated. That’s why it’s essential to have a contract in place that sets out everyone’s roles and responsibilities. This will help to avoid any misunderstandings or confusion down the road.

It’s also important to leave some breathing space in your timeline for any delays that might occur. As your products are travelling a long distance, there’s always a chance that something could go wrong. By building in some flexibility into your timeframe, you can account for any potential delays and ensure that your customers are still getting their orders on time.

Risk of the country

When considering whether to import from a particular country, it is important to conduct thorough market research first. There are a number of risks associated with importing from certain countries, including language barriers, different ways of doing business, export controls, and political and economic problems.

By conducting market research, you can gain a better understanding of the potential risks involved and make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed with the import. In some cases, it may be possible to mitigate the risks by working with a reputable partner in the country of origin. However, it is important to weigh all of the potential risks and benefits before making any decisions.

Exchange rates

Exchange rates can have a big impact on your business, and it’s important to keep an eye on them. If you’re importing goods from overseas, then changes in the exchange rate can affect your profit margins. Exchange rates can also fluctuate quite a lot, so it’s important to do some forecasting research.

This will help you stay ahead of the game and make sure you’re not caught out by sudden changes. If necessary, you may even need to alter where you import from. Exchange rates are an important consideration for any business that imports goods from overseas, so make sure you keep on top of them.

Customs and licences

Customs and licensing can be a complex and costly process, but it is important to make sure that you are familiar with the regulations before importing anything into the UK. Customs will check all goods that come into the country to make sure they are legally allowed to be there, and you may need to pay duty on what you have imported.

You may also need a licence for certain goods, including those used for the military, plants & animals, chemicals, medicines and some technologies. It is important to check all of this before you budget for your purchase, as the costs can add up quickly. By being familiar with the customs and licensing process, you can ensure that your import is legal and avoid any unexpected costs.


VAT is a tax that is applied to most goods that are imported from outside the EU. The VAT rate is 20% and it is calculated on the full value of the product, which includes the price of the product, postage, packaging, insurance and any duty you’ve paid. You can usually build the cost of VAT into the price you charge for items.

If the UK stays inside the EU VAT area then current arrangements will continue to apply – if it does not then things will change. VAT is a important revenue stream for the government and so any changes to the VAT regime post-Brexit will be closely monitored. Businesses will need to adapt to any changes in order to remain compliant and avoid any penalties.


Insurance is an important consideration for any business, but it is especially important for businesses that involve importing goods. Cargo insurance helps to protect against the cost of damage or loss of goods, and in some cases it may even be necessary in order to sign contracts with certain suppliers.

There are a number of different types of insurance that can be taken out by importers, including policies that cover political risks, faults with products and currency conversion losses. Although importing does carry some risk, it can also be a highly successful endeavor for businesses that do their research and seek expert advice.

Lee Jones profile picture
Business Finance specialist at Invoice funding

Seasoned professional with a strong passion for the world of business finance. With over twenty years of dedicated experience in the field, my journey into the world of business finance began with a relentless curiosity for understanding the intricate workings of financial systems.

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