Automatic import and export licence verification

How the automatic licence verification process works to the benefit of international traders and agents and which goods are covered.


The Automatic Licence Verification (ALV) process provides a link between the import and export licence application systems of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) declaration system.

International traders and their agents therefore do not have to send their BISimport or export licences to HMRC’s National Clearance Hub for physical checking. ALV reduces paperwork and administrative costs, improves the speed of processing and customs clearance and allows traders direct access to relevant HMRC licence information.

BIS handles licensing through two distinct sections – imports via its Import Licensing Branch and exports via the Export Control Organisation.

ALV of goods covered by a BIS import licence

Certain types of goods are subject to import restrictions and will require a licence from the BIS Import Licensing Branch (ILB) in order to be allowed in from a country outside the EU.

International traders must make an import declaration for goods imported from a country outside the EU into HMRC’s CHIEF system.

For goods being imported under a BIS licence an ALV interface exists between CHIEF and ELGAR, the system used by the ILB at BIS, which transmits daily batch files containing relevant details of licences approved on ELGAR to CHIEF.

ALV matches the ELGAR licence data against the importer’s declaration into CHIEF. If it successfully verifies that there is a valid licence for that importer that fully matches the reference number issued by BIS, the country of origin, commodity code and quantity of goods being declared; the shipment is automatically cleared for importing. This reduces the need for paperwork handling and removes the need for manual customs intervention.

As part of the automated process CHIEF reduces the balance outstanding on quantity controlled licences to reflect the quantity imported and returns daily licence usage information to the ELGAR system.

Which licensed goods are covered by ALV?

The BIS ALV process for imports covers:

  • European Commission licensed products which may be required for a specific country only – including textiles, iron and steel and all non-textile products except Chinese ceramics and footwear
  • National Restriction licensing – firearms and their component parts, ammunition, radioactive materials and anti-personnel mines

Note, to meet international security commitments embargoes may prevent the importation of any quantity of goods such as torture equipment and anti-personnel mines.

A full list of import restrictions and prohibitions is listed in volume 1, part 3 of the [UK Integrated Tariff (

Which licensed goods are not covered by ALV?

Exclusions from electronic import licensing verification include licences issued:

  • in the UK for use in another EU member state
  • in another EU member state for use in the UK
  • for addresses in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man
  • for Chinese ceramics and footwear

Note, details of goods coming into the UK from another member state – which are defined as acquisitions, not imports – are not entered to CHIEF and are therefore outside the scope of ALV.

ALV of goods covered by a BIS export licence

Certain types of goods are subject to export controls and will require a licence from the BIS Export Control Office (ECO).

Traders must make an export declaration into HMRC’s CHIEF system before exporting goods to a country outside the EU. In the case of controlled goods exported under a BIS licence from ECO, an interface exists between CHIEFand SPIRE, ECO’s export licensing system.

For export licences issued by SPIRE the ALV process uses export licence data transmitted in real time in individual licence files from BIS’ web-based SPIRE export licence application service to CHIEF. The ALV process matches specific data associated on the licence to related information held on the CHIEF system when an export declaration is made.

CHIEF automatically reduces the balance on Standard Individual Export Licences to reflect the export shipment and show the balance outstanding for future exports. The system also returns daily licence usage information to the SPIRE system.

The ALV process covers exports to a country outside the EU controlled by the following BIS licences:

  • Open Individual Export Licences
  • Standard Individual Export Licences
  • Open General Export Licences

ECO and the wide range of licences it issues and controls are covered in depth in our dedicated section: ECO.

Note that details of goods being moved from the UK to another member state – which are defined as dispatches not exports – are not covered by CHIEF and are therefore outside the scope of ALV.

Further information

Goods Checker on the BIS Checker Tools website (registration required)

OGEL Checker on the BIS Checker Tools website (registration required)

Published 3 August 2012
Last updated 13 June 2013 
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