Overview and Context

The same broad custom dataset is used in almost all customs documents and not just import and export declarations. The so-called entry summary declaration and exit summary declaration which we mention in other chapters are effectively subsets of the full set of customs declarations.

The E manifest which carriers for road, ship (including ferries) and aircraft must furnish includes part of the dataset. The dataset for imports is a more extensive version of the dataset for exports.

Much of the data required for customs imports and exports is also required for transit declarations. This is because transit is a customs procedure. External Transit applies to movements through the UK land bridge in respect of the Republic of Ireland imports. Internal transit may apply when goods enter the customs territory (of the EU or UK) but then proceed to an inland customs office where the import declaration is made.

The single administrative document is a common worldwide form of document developed in the 1980s under a World Customs Organisation initiative which gathers together in fields which are largely populated by numerical or alphanumerical codes, the critical information required for revenue authorities worldwide to assess customs declarations.

Both the UK and EU will continue to use electronic forms of the single administrative document. Accordingly, the relevant online fields and codes for insertion will take a common format in returns to UK Revenue, HMRC and EU authorities such as the Irish Revenue. There are respective sets of fields in the single administrative document which cover import declarations, export declarations and transit declarations.

The information required for an entry summary declaration and exit summary declaration, comprising a more limited number of fields than the principal declarations are also contained in the single administrative document. Most of the data for each overlap.

Transport logistics firms and freight forwarder may themselves enjoy formal and informal simplifications which they have qualified for and obtained from Revenue on the basis of their trusted status. Businesses who import and export, freight forwarders  transport  and logistics companies may be authorised economic operators for customs and or for safety and security.

The former status focuses on risks and issues around duty payment. Some simplifications and reduced requirements may be available in that regard. The latter status focuses more on physical security and they require particular infrastructure at a premises. It may allow reduced requirements around these risks.

The Declarant

The person who makes the import or export declaration or on whose behalf it is made is known as the declarant. This is usually the importer or exporter although not necessarily so. The declarant takes responsibility for the truth and accuracy of the declaration and occurs all the customs obligations and liabilities to duty. As with tax generally the agent who makes the declaration is not usually liable. The agent will usually rely on information supplied by the declarant and made limit liability in its business terms with the declarant in respect of errors and omissions.

A declarant or the trader may appoint a direct or indirect representative. Almost invariably a direct representative is appointed. The direct representative acts in the name of and on behalf of the importer or exporter. The importer or exporter is exclusively liable for the customs debt and obligations.

An indirect representative is an agent who acts in its own name on behalf of the importer or exporter. In this case the trader and the agent/broker are jointly liable for the customs debt and obligations. Outside of parcel carriers dealing with relatively low value consignments agents will not generally act as indirect representatives, for obvious reasons.

Documents in international trade

A commercial invoice is usually used for import or export sales   It is not a legal document or requirement but is conventional in most international trade. The format is not prescribed. The invoice is specifically designed to include most of the key information required for customs purposes. In some contexts, in some countries the commercial invoice may substitute for customs documents. Typically, the commercial invoice will include particulars of

  • seller/exporter and buyer/importer
  • tax number of the issuer
  • quantities and descriptions of the goods
  • harmonised coal/commodity code
  • gross and net weight
  • value/price
  • rate insurance charges
  • various references

Transport Documentation

For each mode of transport there is one or more standard types of transport contract which are very commonly used. There effect is defined by international conventions in most cases which have been given effect worldwide. In road transport a CMR consignment note sets out standard terms and conditions between the trader and carrier. For marine transport a bill of lading or sea waybill is commonly used which sets out both the terms of the contract of carriage and has other important functions. The bill of lading may be negotiated or assigned to the recipient who can effectively take over the transport contract. For air transport, an air waybill is usually used.

The transport documentation may be accompanied by other documentation. A packing list is necessary to identify what is in each package carton container et cetera. Proof of insurance may be required and may accompany the documents. These documents are required to be referenced in the customs declaration (Box 44) so that they can be identified and examined on an audit.

In particular cases additional paperwork may accompany the documents. A certificate of origin will often be required to avail of reduced or zero duty under free-trade agreements. A valuation declaration may be required in certain cases. An import licence may be required.

Dangerous or hazardous goods must be accompanied by special dangerous goods note. Some goods may require an export or import licence.

The commercial invoice and transport document will often give much of the information required for the customs declaration. Other key information may be required from the logistics provider including details of the relevant ship flight number estimated arrival and departure times.

Assembling and Returning Date.

The ways of handling customs are set out in other sections. It may be that the logistics provider will be in a position to make returns on the trader ’s behalf. In this event, what the trader will be required to furnish to them may be proper product classification, quantities, values, weight and other details which may be little more than what is on the commercial invoice and existing transport documents.

The trader ’s information systems need the required data in the context of making orders. This may involve modification of the trader ’s existing IT system or simply adding and associating additional information and codes with customers and products et cetera.

Making the Entries

The customs data is in a single internationally recognised format using common codes and the single administrative document. This same document can deal with export, transit, and import which was part of the logic of the set when it was originally in paper form. The information mentioned below in the various boxes is completed by predefined codes for each case. There is detailed guidance on the codes available online and on my site brexitlegal.ie.

Some of the data is mandatory and some is required only in some circumstances. It can be mandatory in these latter circumstances which might apply to the trader in some case.

Most the actual boxes on the return are completed by insertion of a range of coded entries which are published on Revenue and UK HMRC website. e.g. Revenues Automated Entry Processing Import The trader s Guide November 2018 edition. In effect the key data required for each of the relevant declarations are contained in the fields of the single administrative document and are now entered populated and returned electronically.

There is a code associated with the various possibilities for entries such as country name, product type (the tariff), particular customs process et cetera et cetera. Although the return was formerly like returning a coded document of numbers in shorthand modern customs declaration software makes it much more intuitive in that the particular options can be available in the menu for insertion in the particular boxes automatically without having to get into the coded numbering. The software systems populate the various coded entry requirements in more sensible terms that can be readily used (dragged down and inserted) so that the trader does not have to engage with the codes.

Returning to Revenue / HMRC

In practice, whether completed by the trader or by the trader ’s logistics provider the information is processed and inputted using a serious of screens and by making a final “send” return to Revenue and HMRC. The messaging back (the trader should seek to be routinely green routing and approval in each case) confirms the trader can move the goods freely on the exit and entry side from the GB to Ireland or vice versa.

In effect, the data is assessed from a risk management point of view by an automatic online customs algorithm which either requires intervention or gives a free movement signal on each side.

The below is the customs declaration data set. It is based in the Irish Revenue return, but it applies equally in the UK as it is the current EU Customs Code dataset.

The entry summary declaration is a subset of the data dealing with issues relevant to security as opposed to customs duties.

Entry and Exit Declaration

Imports will require an entry summary declaration which may be given by the carrier or which the trader may give on behalf of the carrier. If they permit the trader to do so, the trader can get the requisite information from them as to the transport and communicate the movement reference number and customs clearance to them.

The entry summary declaration is the safety and security declaration on the inbound side. It contains the elements of the customs declaration relative to the identification of the goods and security issues. It must generally be lodged at the office of first entry into the EU (UK) unless otherwise allowed by Revenue / HMRC.

Much of that same information is also required from the carrier in the E manifest. There is some scope for the data being brought in through several alternative channels from the importer, logistics provider or if applicable, a customs agent. There are alternative methods of compliance.

In effect, the entry summary declaration must be accepted before the movement can take place or the carrier risks delay. The carrier will only allow the trader to make declarations if it is satisfied that they are and will be validly made, as it otherwise risks a delay. The carrier is very unlikely and as a matter of policy, will not accept goods until there is a clear entry summary declaration.

The fact that the entry summary declaration or the import declaration is accepted does not imply that the goods will not be subject to intervention. Notice is given by Revenue or HMRC of intervention (or non-intervention) to the relevant person in charge of the vehicle, ship et cetera within certain periods before arrival.

Customs Declaration

The entry summary declaration is required in advance in all cases and may act as a declaration to temporary storage. The customs import declaration is separate to the entry summary declaration. Giving the customs import declaration can be postponed until later when the goods are then cleared through customs. The default is going to “temporary storage” which is the regime where they are subject to possession and control of Revenue and HMRC pending a further declaration to another process such as free movement, involving payment of duties and completion of the customs declaration required for that process.

The customs (import) declaration must be made in advance of shipping (or arrival) for the goods to move freely through customs. If this is not done, the goods will default into temporary storage in customs on arrival.

In practice the trader can do the exit summary declaration and export declaration as a single return in Ireland. The entry summary declaration is being waived in the UK for a temporary period in the event of a hard Brexit. This combined with the temporary simplified procedure means the trader could import into the UK under a very simplified procedure is for up to 2 years after Brexit.

The entry summary declaration and the import declaration must be done separately in Ireland. However, the data on import and export summary declaration is on the import and export customs declarations as well as on the shipping/transport manifest. All contain subsets of the below data and it is possible simply to carry over the data from one to the other when doing the customs return, if they are connected to both Revenue and HMRC and there is an established importer and exporter.. Equally, if the trader ’s carrier/logistics provider makes the returns they can do the same.


Exports will arise in the Republic of Ireland side in respect of direct sales and movements of goods to the United Kingdom. The basic obligation on the export side is to make an exit summary declaration (a safety and security declaration) and a customs declaration to Revenue in the case of export and the Republic of Ireland and to HMRC in the case of exports from the United Kingdom. They must be lodged with  the customs office of exit. They can be combined as a single declaration.

As with the entry summary declaration, the making of the exit summary declaration rests primarily with the carrier but they may be delegated to the exporter who may make a single customs declaration including it.

In effect, goods will not be allowed onto a means of transport unless the exit summary declaration has been accepted by Revenue and /or HMRC. The dataset involved is a subset of the full export declaration set. In effect, a full export customs declaration combines both.

As with the import declaration, it could in principle be the case that the exit summary declaration is given but that the export customs declaration is not given, in which case the goods would remain at the border in customs premises until the export customs declaration is given. In practice, the exits and export declarations are usually combined and done in advance.

Import and Export Declaration Overlap

The data required overlap for import and export declarations. The data is reported through the automated entry processing procedure (AEP) via custom software in accordance with the single administrative document procedure on the Irish side.

On the UK side data is transmitted to the equivalent UK system via custom software or port systems for which there is no direct equivalent in Ireland, to the UK system now CHIEF during change to the customs declaration system (CDS)

On every movement from Ireland to the UK, there are each of the above returns to Irish Revenue and HMRC. Conceivably in the future, there may be some UK to Ireland simplification.

UK Simplifications

The UK temporary simplified procedures which were announced in 2019 for the no deal risk dates in 2019, but have been withdrawn, may if reintroduced, make it unnecessary to do full import declarations for sales into the UK for a period of up to a year and a half or more after a hard Brexit.

The basic obligation on the import side is to make both a safety and security declaration and a customs declaration to HMRC. HMRC on imports into the United Kingdom proposed to waive the safety and security declaration for a period of six months at least and probably more 18 months and more, as a years’ notice was to be given to end it.

HMRC can give waivers as they will be outside the EU. Irish Revenue cannot give an equivalent waiver on the export side as they are bound by EU laws. They are likely to exercise a very light touch for a period.


The following data is the basis of both import and export customs declarations as well as transit declarations. The parts of the data relevant to safety and security are used to make the entry summary declaration to the state of import and the exit summary declaration in the state of export. These latter declarations relate principally to safety and security issues and risk assessment.

The same data is also used for the manifest. This is a list of items on board the ship with full details about them. They must be completed both inwards and outwards on a shipping movement between a non-EU state and an EU state (including UK and Ireland post-Brexit). They gather in the relevant part of the data for all of the goods being moved.

The below list of items used to appear together in a single page so-called single administrative document with up to 56 entries which were populated by codes. Formerly there were 8 carbonated sheets which might be used in imports and exports and various types of movement. Using carbon copies of manual entries is no longer necessary given the fact that they can be replicated by the software.

The information required on the export declaration in the state of export in each case is a subset of the data required on the import declaration. Therefore, the trader could do the import declaration for UK imports first and copy over the same data for the Irish export declaration.

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