Declaring reusable packaging for Great Britain imports and exports

Reusable packaging requires an import or export declaration, but if you are claiming Returned Goods Relief or Temporary Admission you can make this declaration by conduct or orally.

To be able to make an oral declaration or a declaration by conduct, the packaging must be reusable.

In this context reusable packaging are goods that meet all of the following. They must:

  • be useable for transportation of other goods
  • have a relief from import duty at the time of import
  • not be intended for sale
  • be filled on at least one leg of their import or export journey

Packaging like bubble wrap and cardboard boxes are not included as reusable packaging.

To qualify for a relief from import duty the reusable packaging must have been in UK free circulation from 1 January 2021. For reusable packaging from the EU, it must have been transported to the EU before 1 January 2021 and returned before 31 December 2021.

The reusable packaging must be treated as going into free circulation or declared for Temporary Admission. It cannot go into any other customs special procedure.

If you do not use declaration by conduct or an oral declaration you can make a declaration for your reusable packaging using a different process.

Who can make the declaration

The importer and exporter do not need to own the packaging or the goods contained in them but to claim Returned Goods Relief the importer and exporter should be the same person.

Declaring reusable packaging

Reusable packaging requires a declaration.

When you arrive at a point of exit or entry for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), you can make a ‘declaration by conduct’ for reusable packaging by:

  • walking through a customs control point (this can be a green channel signed ‘nothing to declare’) with the goods, if you’re an individual on foot
  • driving (or being driven) past a customs control point with the goods inside your vehicle, if you’re importing or exporting goods in a vehicle
  • continuing your onward journey, if there are no customs control points

You can make an oral declaration for reusable packaging by telling a Border Force officer about it. If you have the authority to import or export reusable packaging for someone else, you also need to identify that person.

A declaration by conduct can be made on someone else’s behalf. For example, a haulier can make a declaration by conduct if they’ve been given authority to do so by an importer.

Not all locations can allow oral or by conduct declarations so you should check ahead with the location the reusable packaging is moving through if you want to declare it in this way.

If reusable packaging is to be declared by conduct and the goods are stopped by Border Force then the driver either carrying the goods, or coming to pick the goods up, must advise a declaration by conduct is being made for the packaging.

Once an oral or by conduct declaration has been made no further information needs to be sent to HMRC.


On import, the packaging can be declared for free circulation by conduct or orally to a Border Force officer. The goods can also be declared for Temporary Admission. These goods are intended to be re-exported.

You will not need to pay Customs Duty or import VAT on them. But to make sure that no VAT is due, the importer and the exporter of the packaging must be the same.

Safety and security declarations will not be required until 1 July 2022 on imports into Great Britain from:

  • the EU
  • Andorra
  • Monaco
  • Norway
  • Liechtenstein
  • Switzerland
  • Ceuta and Melilla
  • Heligoland
  • San Marino
  • the Vatican City State
  • the municipalities of Livigno Campione d’Italia
  • the Italian national waters of Lake Lugano, which are between the bank and the political frontier of the area between Ponte Tersa and Porto Ceresio


If you are declaring exports of reusable packaging by conduct you will not need to make them available for examination. This is unless Border Force stop you and want to make an inspection.

A safety and security declaration will be required for exports of packaging from Great Britain from 1 January 2021. However, for the period 1 January 2021 to 30 September 2021 this requirement is waived for reusable packaging carried in Roll on Roll off (RoRo) vehicles that would otherwise need to make an exit summary declaration. The requirement for safety and security declarations on these movements will only start to apply from 1 October 2021.

Published 23 December 2020
Last updated 26 October 2021 
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