Use the National Export System to make an export declaration

If you’re an exporter you must use the National Export System (NES) to declare your exports to countries outside the EU.

The NES is a computer-based system which allows export declarations to be made electronically, it replaces the manual process. Use of NES is mandatory for exporters, who must be authorised to use it.

NES operates within the nationwide electronic Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system which controls the movement of international cargo.

The EU’s Export Control System (ECS) electronically controls indirect exports and was incorporated into CHIEF in the UK. You do not need to submit a separate safety and security declaration, as a CHIEF export declaration contains the additional ECS fields. The declaration also covers goods under a transit procedure within the EU before export to a third (non-EU) country.

Use the NES to declare exports outside the EU if you’ve already registered.

Check if there are any current problems with this service, or times it will not be available.

About NES

If you’re an exporters you must use the NES to declare to customs your intention to export goods to third (non-EU) countries.

How to access NES

NES operates via CHIEF, the nationwide computer system that electronically controls and records the UK’s international cargo movements. All export declarations must be submitted electronically to CHIEF.

There are a number of routes into CHIEF. There are direct communication links to CHIEF through the Government Gateway.

The 3 direct links known as WEX channels are:

  • web
  • email
  • XML

Use the HMRC WEX application form, PA7 to apply for a CHIEF badge for all 3 direct routes into CHIEF.

An indirect link to CHIEF is through a Community Systems Provider (CSP), using your own software or that provided by an independent software company.

More information is available in part 2.9 of Notice 275: Customs Export Procedures.

The export simplified procedures available under NES before Union Customs Code (UCC) legislation on 1 May 2016 were:

  • Simplified Declaration Procedure (SDP)
  • Local Clearance Procedure (LCP)

LCP is not available as an export simplification after 1 May 2016. Use the simplification ‘Entry in Declarants Record’ from 1 May 2016, along with a national facilitation ‘Customs Supervised Exports (CSE)’. UK tariff volume 3 – Exports has more information about implementation of the UCC.

For authorisation to use one of these complete and return the NESapplication form C&E 48.

Once the form has been completed and returned to HMRC you’ll be given a CHIEF role and location which will allow you to use NES via CHIEF. Make sure you can provide a valid Economic Operator Registration Identification (EORI) number.

You can apply for Authorised Economic Operator status, which signifies the quality of your operations and allows customs simplifications if you:

  • trade within an international supply chain
  • are actively involved in customs operations
  • have your EORI number

If you use an agent, provide them with the necessary information to complete an accurate export declaration. Your agent should give you a customs reference number for your goods. This number is used by customs for audit purposes and may be either:

  • the Declaration Unique Consignment Reference (DUCR) or Master Unique Consignment Reference (MUCR) where a consignment consists of more than one DUCR amalgamated into a MUCR
  • the CHIEF Export Entry Reference (Entry Processing Unit, Entry Number and Date)
  • the Master Reference Number (MRN) generated by CHIEF

How to declare exports under NES

All declarations should be made electronically to CHIEF. In exceptional cases – for example for merchandise carried in baggage – customs may manually input your declaration. Declarations can be made by:

  • standard full pre-entry procedure – you or your agent complete a full pre-shipment export declaration
  • simplified export procedures using either SDP or CSE

Proof of export

When your goods arrive at a port they must be electronically ‘arrived’ on CHIEF, by the submission of an ‘arrival message’.

You must have a CHIEF ‘loader’ role to submit arrival messages to CHIEF. When the goods are cleared by customs – given permission to progress – CHIEF sends an electronic message back. This electronic message gives confirmation that the export of your goods has legal authority.

Restricted goods

There are restrictions on the movement of some goods out of the UK. If you’re exporting restricted goods you’ll probably need an export licence.


The ECS is an electronic messaging system operating throughout the EU to harmonise procedures and tighten security on goods being transported through the EU to third (non-EU) countries. This is known as indirect exports. ECS works alongside CHIEF as part of the NES.

You must complete an export declaration on CHIEF if you send goods through another EU country before their export to a third (non-EU) country. This should include ECS safety and security data.

An export accompanying document (EAD) must be printed to accompany the goods to the Office of Exit in the other member state. Where the goods are not covered by an export declaration with safety and security data, a separate exit summary declaration can be submitted at the Office of Exit. In the UK these can be submitted to CHIEF.

Under EU legislation in force before 1 May 2016, indirect exports must be accompanied by an EAD to the customs Office of Exit. The EAD contains the MRN and bar code of the consignment of goods and must be presented at the customs Office of Exit with the goods before leaving the EU.

Under new UCC legislation in force from 1 May 2016, when an indirect export is presented at the customs Office of Exit the person presenting the consignment must provide the MRN of the export declaration. You do not need to provide a paper EAD.

There’s a transition period up to the year 2020 for businesses and the UK to fully implement the requirements of the UCC legislation and its related IT systems. During this transition period you should continue to take a paper copy of the EAD to the customs Office of Exit to allow your goods to be exited from the EU.

Goods must be ‘arrived’ on CHIEF, meaning the goods must be presented to customs. You must await permission to progress from CHIEF before an indirect export shipment can be loaded onto the means of transport and leave the UK. If this step is not followed correctly, your shipment may be rejected by another member state and your goods may have to return to the UK.

You must get customs clearance (permission to progress) for all exports, both direct and indirect.

The ECS Helpdesk only deals with queries about the ECS, for example:

  • undischarged declarations
  • queries against an MRN
  • processing of EADs in the UK as Office of Exit

You can email the ECS Helpdesk at

For general export queries, you should contact NES.

Freight loaders and the NES

You must correctly enter the details of your goods into CHIEF and be present at ports or other customs-controlled locations before they can be cleared for export. This will happen at inventory-linked ports or will be carried out by customs-approved loaders registered with CHIEF.

There’s electronic confirmation for both the arrival and departure of consignments.

To receive a successful arrival message freight loaders must input both of the following:

  • either a CHIEF entry number or Unique Consignment Reference (UCR)
  • location of goods

Receipt of this message means that goods have been legally presented to customs for export. If a reference is rejected by CHIEF it’s better to create a new entry. Customs should be told of any duplication as soon as possible and the original entry must be deleted from CHIEF.

To receive a successful departure message freight loaders must input the following:

  • UCR
  • location of goods
  • means of transport
  • name of vessel or aircraft
  • date of export
  • flag code for the vessel or aircraft

The MRN generated by CHIEF or CHIEF entry number, date and time may can be used to ‘Arrive’ and ‘Depart’ goods as an alternative to the UCR.

Any error when keying in lengthy reference numbers can delay the progress of the exports.

Without all 6 pieces of departure information listed above goods may not qualify for VAT zero rating.

Locations not linked to CHIEF

Some ports and customs-controlled locations are not linked directly to CHIEF. If your goods leave the UK from one of these locations the freight loader should first present details of the goods to HMRC at the National Clearance Hub.

The goods must be accompanied by 3 completed forms:

  • C1601 – presentation of goods for export (arrival)
  • C130EX – permission to progress – custom entry/certified receipt for goods
  • C88 (status) – Single Administrative Document (SAD) (if manual input is required by customs)

HMRC will then input the same details needed when exporting from inventory-linked locations or using CHIEF-registered freight loaders. Form C88 (CAPCIE must be used for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) export declarations as additional information is needed.

If the declarations are in order the goods will be cleared by customs for shipment and the form C130EX can be stamped and returned to the loader. When the goods have been loaded for shipment C130EX can be stamped by the ship’s master and returned to customs so that the required departure message can be given.

NES and Special Procedures (SP)

An important function of the NES is to track consignments which are exported under SPSP are designed to help businesses based in the EUcompete in the global market. Importers can suspend paying duty and VAT on goods covered by SP arrangements. Duty charges will only apply to the difference in value between the goods previously exported under the Outward Processing and the goods being re-imported in their processed form, not on the full value of the goods.

Direct export of SP goods using the SP arrangements

Exports of special procedure goods can be declared to NES using Full Declaration Procedure, or simplified export procedures. These procedures may have further conditions that need to be followed.

How to use NES to make CAP refund claims

Under CAPEU-based traders in agricultural products can claim CAP refunds on exports to third (non-EU) countries. In the UK, this system of payments is jointly administered by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), but is controlled by customs. To qualify for export refunds, goods must leave the EU within 60 days of the date of acceptance into customs control. Some goods require a valid CAP export licence.

You can find a full list of Rural Payment Schemes and information about which goods require a licence.

You or your agent must make a full declaration to CHIEF each time you claim a CAP refund, even if you’re also registered for SDP. In the UK, the RPA issues all CAP export licences. The reference numbers should be quoted on your declaration along with any export refund data.

Once it has this information, CHIEF adjusts your licence balance and transfers your claim for a refund payment to the RPA. Make sure you receive a Goods Departed Message from CHIEF – until you do, you will not receive any refund payment.

Use form T5 for export refunds on CAP goods leaving via another EU country. The T5 is used to control goods subject to taxes, restrictions or refunds on export from the EU. You may also need to state on the T5 the rate of refund. Under the UCC, the T5 document becomes an electronic message.

NES technical information

There are 5 ways to access CHIEF to make your export declaration.

Web connection to CHIEF

Use this method to connect to CHIEF via the Government Gateway.

You’ll need:

  • CHIEF role – a user identity, defined as the combination of a particular job done for a particular organisation
  • an email address
  • a Government Gateway user ID and password – if you do not have a user ID you can create one when you sign in

Once you’re registered for NES and have your CHIEF role you can sign in and use the online NES.

As a web channel user you can also use the NES facility (registration required) to test new CHIEF functionality.

You can apply for a web channel test ‘role’ by contacting the CHIEFOperations Team at Once you’ve made your declaration you’ll be told if it’s been accepted or not.

This option also lets you request email updates about the system or other matters of interest. It’s ideal for low-volume traders who are happy to input details of each individual consignment.

Email CHIEF declarations

You can make your declaration by sending an email with the relevant information. If you choose this method you’ll need:

  • CHIEF role
  • CHIEF-compatible software package (EDIFACT)
  • an SMTP (standard) email connection

Email cannot be used for CAP declarations.

You can get a free trial version of EDIFACT on the Stylus Studio website.

XML connection to CHIEF

Use this option if you’re claiming export refunds under CAP, or need to be sure that you have a secure route into CHIEF (for example one that’s firewalled).

You’ll need:

  • CHIEF role
  • CHIEF-compatible software package (EDIFACT), including an XML wrapper
  • an HTTPS internet connection (this is a more secure connection than HTTP)
  • an email address

Community Systems Providers (CSPs)

CSPs run the major inventory-controlled ports around the UK. Freight agents buy annual badges to their systems and charge exporters a fee for entering goods for export on their behalf. Customs do not charge for use of CSPsystems and any charges are set by the freight forwarders direct.

Custom Input Entries

HMRC will, in exceptional circumstances be able to input Customs Input Entry (CIE) declarations into CHIEF.

The CIE facility at the National Clearance Hub is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Fax your entry to HMRC, who will enter the goods on your behalf.

This method may take longer to obtain clearance for your goods. You need to allow up to 12 working hours for this to be completed.

Use form C88 (CAPCIE for CAP entries.

You must be familiar with and have access to an up-to-date version of the customs UK Tariff. Volume 3 – ‘Exports’ has guidance on making export entries.

NES fallback measures

If you experience technical problems when using the NES and connectivity on one or more routes is not available for at least half a working day, fallback entry procedures will be brought in for users of those routes. These procedures will be announced in a number of ways:

  • CHIEF noticeboard
  • HMRC Helpdesk
  • NES Helpdesk

Once HMRC has made the fallback decision you’ll need to give 3 important documents to customs. These can all be downloaded or faxed from the NESHelpdesk on request. You should hold master copies of these 3 forms in case of a systems failure:

You must complete each declaration and write ‘Fallback’ in red ink on each C88/ESS. If you’re authorised for the simplified export procedures you’ll be allowed to submit partially completed SADs as Pre-Shipment Advice. Form C1402 (F) should contain an undertaking that you’ll make your declaration electronically once CHIEF is working again.

Complete a C130EX, as permission to progress can only be given once this is received. Permission to progress manually issued by HMRC will not guarantee that export loaders will be able to process and ship the consignments, for example, if their own inventory linked systems are still working. This is a commercial matter outside of HMRC’s control.

The exporter or declarant is responsible for all of the following during fallback periods:

  • lodging documents with customs
  • presenting evidence of permission to progress to loaders
  • submitting the export declaration electronically without delay once services resume

Priority goods

Consignments which by their nature need urgent despatch, such as perishable foods, will receive priority attention.

CAP fallback

The only form of CAP fallback is by CIE. This must be submitted on form C88 (CAP)CIE with ‘Fallback’ written in red at the top. You also need to submit a C130EX and C1402 (F).

The forms must be presented at the National Clearance Hub. Copies of the forms are held by the NES Helpdesk and can be faxed over on request.

Get more information

You can contact HMRC for help or advice.

Customs civil penalties information in Notice 301.

CAP export information in Notice 800.

Export refund rates.

CSP contact details.

The export best practice guide.

Published 2 August 2012
Last updated 18 February 2019 
Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *