The Single Administrative Document for import and export

The Single Administrative Document (form C88) details your goods and their movement around the world.


The main customs form used in international trade is known as the Single Administrative Document (SAD) – also known as form C88 in the UK. Traders and agents can use the SAD to assist with declaring import, export, transit and community status declarations in manual processing situations.

The SAD was introduced to control goods arriving from outside the EU and goods being exported outside of the EU. The SAD isn’t necessary for trade within the EU single market. The SAD also covers the movement of non-EU goods within the EU.

The SAD is harmonised in line with other European versions of the form and is largely restricted to instances when computer systems aren’t working and customs resort to manual processing, or as an advice to shipping agents.

SAD box numbers refer to the electronic system field numbers respectively.

New security legislation requires advanced information for goods arriving in or leaving the EU. If you supply a SAD with your goods you’ll be able to meet many of these security requirements. You’ll need an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number to complete an Entry Summary Declaration or an Exit Summary Declaration.

The role of the SAD in international trade

The SAD, which is recognised internationally by customs, can be used by traders in the UK to fulfil customs and duty obligations to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). When you make a declaration to HMRC many of the boxes on the SAD that you fill out contain information from other commercial paperwork, such as invoices, packing lists, certificates and shipping documents.

A completed SAD must detail:

  • what the goods are
  • the movement of the goods
  • the goods’ commodity code – also called Tariff heading, Tariff code, classification code or harmonisation code
  • the Customs Procedure Code (CPC) – which determines how customs treat your entry

The SAD breaks down into 54 boxes and the full version comes in 8 parts for use at different points in the trading process.

Parts 2 and 3 are for export, parts 6, 7 and 8 are for import, and parts 1, 4 and 5 are for transit.

Traders should use Volume 3 of the Tariff to complete the required boxes.

Most traders submit their SAD online, although when systems are down it can still be submitted on paper. You can buy software from freight software suppliers that’s designed to simplify submitting electronic declarations. As changes to the SAD are often given through software updates the software you use to connect to the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system may require amending or updating – your freight software supplier should ensure SAD information is updated and compatible.

Using the SAD for imports and exports

Traders moving goods between European countries don’t need to complete a SAD. They may complete the form for trade with third countries, as well as to move non-EU goods within the EU. In certain circumstances goods may move within the EU under special EU arrangements.

If you need to use a SAD enter the commodity code matching the description of your goods in box 33 of the SAD form. You should also enter the CPC that applies to you in box 37 of the form.

These 2 entries will determine how your goods will be treated by customs officials in the country of importation.

Making an import declaration

You must declare imports of third country goods into the UK by using the information captured on the SAD and sending it electronically to the CHIEFsystem. You can complete details on the SAD and arrange for an agent to act for you.

If you or your agent has approved access the data can be inputted direct to CHIEF system.

For goods that are liable for duty a full declaration to CHIEF or a paper SADdeclaration is required.

For duty free goods you can use a copy of an approved standard commercial document, such as a commercial invoice or a partly completed SAD.

You can use the SAD to declare your imported goods to customs procedures with economic impact such as:

Special circumstances for submitting a manual SAD

If you’re carrying merchandise in your own baggage (MIB), such as goods or samples, you must complete a SAD if your goods are worth more than £873.

Enter AI statement code ‘MIB01’ at header level in the specified field of box 44. If your MIB exports are valued at less than £873, weigh less than 1,000kg, don’t need an export licence, and aren’t subject to Export Duty, you can use the MIB low-value goods procedure.

For this procedure you may lodge a partly completed SAD. You must also complete an SAD for MIB goods if you’re entering the goods into IPOPR or end-use.

You can find more detailed information about MIB in Notice 6: merchandise in baggage.

Trade imports by post

If you’re importing goods by post and claiming duty relief using schemes such as temporary admission, customs warehousing, returned goods relief and IPor End-Use Relief, you must complete a full import SAD from 1 May 2016.

SAD based declaration is necessary for all consignments with a value over £2,000 before 1 May 2016, and valued at £873 after that date.

The sender must complete a Customs CN23 for goods worth over £270. This should be attached to the posted package. When the goods arrive you’ll be sent a C87 ‘Notice of Arrival of Goods by Post’. It contains the customs reference number for the package. This informs you that your goods have arrived in the UK but can’t be delivered until you’ve completed and returned the SAD.

Read guidance on postal imports in Notice 143: a guide for international post users.

Find out how to complete customs documents for your postal imports in Notice 144: trade imports by post – how to complete customs documents.

Making an export declaration

For goods moving to countries outside the EU you must use SAD based information to create an export declaration. You must complete it electronically through the HMRC CHIEF based National Export System (NES). You can find out about electronic declarations to customs in the guide UK’s import and export processing system CHIEF.

Clearance through the NES is faster and more efficient than the previous manual SAD procedure and there are clear advantages when capturing proof of export and making a VAT zero rating claim to HMRC.

Special circumstances for export SADs

For Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) goods the standard NES export procedures apply. When systems are down the completed SAD C88 (CAP) CIE form must be used as additional information is required for CAP export declarations.

SADs can be used for European Free Trade Association countries: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – and countries that have signed the Common Transit Convention: Turkey, North Macedonia and Serbia.

SADs can also be used for the EU’s special fiscal territories:

  • Finland’s Aland Islands
  • Spain’s Canary Islands
  • the UK’s Channel Islands
  • the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe
  • French Guiana, Martinique and Reunion
  • Mount Athos in Greece

However, there’s a special procedure for trading goods directly between the Channel Islands and the UK. You can find out more about the special conditions which apply to trade between the UK and the Channel Islands. Traders who wish to use NES for dispatches to the Channel Islands can do so. You can find out about NES in the guide to export declarations and the National Export System.

Passengers carrying MIB such as commercial goods and samples must list the goods on a SAD and declare them in the UK if they want to reclaim VAT. For MIB declarations traders must enter AI statement code ‘MIB01’ at header level in the specified field of box 44 on the SAD.

For exports by post international customs declarations are only generally required on goods valued above a certain amount, although there are exceptions. The value threshold is:

  • £2,000, before 1 May 2016
  • £873, on or after 1 May 2016

There’s a low-value procedure for goods that:

  • have a total value of less than £873
  • weigh less than 1,000kg
  • aren’t liable for duty

You can find out about the low-value goods procedure in Notice 275: Customs export procedures.

The above list refers to the low value goods procedure only. You should consult Volume 1, Part 10 of the Tariff or the paper copy of the Tariff for additional information.

A declaration can either be made electronically through NES as a CHIEF low-value declaration, a partly completed copy 2 of the SAD, or an approved commercial document.

Email declarations

When systems are down traders are able to submit SAD declarations by fax or by email to the National Clearance Hub (NCH). The email addresses are: and

Traders shouldn’t mix fax and email declarations with the same reference numbers.

SAD duty and transit codes

When completing the SAD there are 2 key boxes which determine the customs duties that you’re liable to:

  • the commodity code (also referred to as the Tariff classification, combined nomenclature number, EU TARIC (TARif Intégré Communautaire) number or harmonised system number)
  • the CPC

For more information on these codes see the guide on classification of goods.

The commodity code (box 33) is an 8 digit number (for most exports), or a 10 digit number (for most imports) that classifies goods to a coded reference. Codes can be found in the Trade Tariff online tool.

If you’re unable to classify your goods you can contact the HMRC Tariff Classification Email Advice Service who can provide non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes advice if you email: and include the information detailed in Customs Information Paper 27 (2015) with your enquiry or they can issue a Binding Tariff Information legally binding decision for you, confirming the correct code to use.

The CPC (box 37) identifies CPCs. Procedure codes are made up of 2 pairs of numbers and a 3 digit coded reference. The first pair of numbers covers the procedure being applied for and the second set covers any previous customs procedure. The last 3 digits clarify the actual procedure being applied for.

CPCs cover routine imports and exports, goods being imported or exported on a temporary basis and also goods brought in for processing which are later re-exported. There are other codes which cover goods placed into a Customs warehouse and goods imported for specific purposes. All the CPCs can be found in Volume 3 of the Tariff, appendices E, E1 and E2.

Community status and free circulation

The status declaration (box 1) is required when goods transit the EU. Goods that wholly originate in the EU have ‘community status’. This also includes imported goods which have had their customs charges paid. Community status goods can be moved around the EU with no further customs charges. Goods arriving in or leaving the EU which have their customs charges suspended will be deemed as ‘not being in free circulation’.

Community or common transit is a customs procedure that allows goods on which duty has yet to be paid to move from one country in the EU to another. It’s also used to move goods to or via European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries and other countries that have signed the Common Transit Convention:

  • Status T1 covers the movement of non-community goods and CAP goods subject to a refund
  • Status T2 covers the movement of community goods to or via an EFTA or Common Transit country, as well as to or from San Marino and Andorra
  • Status T2F is used for community goods moving to, from, or between the EU’s special territories, such as the Channel Islands and the Canary Islands

Where proof of Union status is required retrospectively, a declaration can be made on copy 4 of the SAD (C88). This is referred to as a ‘T2L’ declaration.

These documents are available by contacting the HMRC VAT helpline.

Using agents for SAD submissions

There are 2 main types of customs agent who’ll act for you – direct or indirect agents. When acting directly for you, an agent isn’t liable for any debts of Customs Duty or VAT once a declaration is accepted. But when they act indirectly for a customer, in their own name, they’re jointly liable for all charges. Agents will process customs declarations and can pay your customs duties for you if they’re authorised to do so.

If an agent makes a declaration either electronically or on a SAD on your behalf then you must ensure they have all the information they need. This will include a copy of your invoice, classification of your goods and support information, such as import or export licences. You should also check the CPC of your goods where you may have to pay duty or where you’re operating on a simplified or preferential basis.

Electronic declarations

Customs electronic systems are designed to make declaration processing easier. There are a number of solutions which have been created to allow traders to enter data from their own computers directly to the HMRC CHIEFsystem.

A service provider, such as a bureau service or broker, can normally act on your behalf in the capacity of a direct representative. Even if you nominate a third party to prepare and submit your customs declarations you still remain responsible for ensuring the accuracy and completeness of all the data. Where necessary HMRC can audit your declarations over the past 4 years.

When deciding whether to use an agent bear in mind that agents are likely to be experienced in completing the SAD and transposing this information to the various electronic systems.

Any mistake you make on your SAD can be costly and may result in you paying the incorrect amount of duty. Duties overpaid to HMRC can be refunded but under payments can also be brought to account.

Agents may use their experience to lower your transport costs by processing your goods as part of a larger consignment.

If you choose to use an agent, you must give them complete information about your consignments. Agents will be able to give HMRC more information about your goods than if you declared them yourself.

You may also want to use a freight forwarder – many of whom provide direct or indirect agent services.

Transport and description of goods boxes on the SAD

In box 1, indicate whether or not the goods are already in free circulation in the EU and whether or not they have arrived. Use the code EU for European Free Trade Association countries, CO for the EU’s special territories and IM for other goods.

Identify the consignor in box 2. For exports, if a UK identity is not supplied the consignor’s name and address must be provided.

Identify the recipient in box 8.

In box 14, give details of your type of representation with contact details.

Box 3 can be left blank if the declaration is only for a single item. Otherwise number the continuation sheets that you’re using.

In box 4, enter the number of loading lists.

Specify the total number of items in box 5 if you’re making a declaration through CHIEF and in box 6 the number of packages being declared.

In box 7 choose whether you wish to enter your own reference number.

In box 18, identify the means of transport on which the goods are loaded.

In box 21 enter a name and a nationality for the means of transport at the point of crossing the EU border.

Use the one digit code for the mode of transport that you use at the border in box 25 or at your own inland facilities in box 26.

In box 30 give the location of the goods by country code, by location code and by shed/identity code. Codes can be found in the Tariff Volume 3.

In box 31 describe the goods and any packaging so they can be identified. If using a freight container you should give its identification number.

In box 32 enter the declared number of goods in sequential order and assign them a commodity code in box 33 from the online Trade Tariff tool. The length of these will vary depending on whether goods are already in free circulation.

If a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) export refund is being given, country of origin must be given in box 34 otherwise it can be left blank.

In box 38, give the weight in kgs of your goods without any packaging.

Only give the gross mass of your goods and packaging in box 35.

Valuation of consignment boxes on the SAD

You can find out about valuing goods for import in Notice 252: valuation of imported goods for customs purposes, VAT and trade statistics.

If goods imported from countries outside the EU aren’t liable to Customs Duty then you may still need to produce a valuation declaration for VAT purposes. You can find out about import VAT in Notice 702: imports.

In box 43 you should specify the method of valuation that you’ve used.

In box 44 you must produce a coded valuation for goods.

For customs valuation purposes for currencies other than sterling enter the currency and total amount invoiced into box 22.

Any foreign currency relating to the customs value must be converted to sterling in box 23, taking the rate quoted by HMRC as a basis.

When more than one unit of quantity is shown against the commodity code enter the quantity in box 41 up to 3 decimal points if duty is being paid. Otherwise round it up to the nearest whole number.

The item price must be entered in box 42.

To calculate the value for customs, indicate in box 45 the terms on which the invoice has been raised, so any adjustments can be made.

The statistical value of the goods should then be entered in pounds sterling in box 46.

Taxes and preferences boxes on the SAD

In box 47 there are 5 separate columns to be completed for each duty or tax on goods that are being declared:

  • type (code to identify what tax or duty is being declared)
  • base (the value or quantity to calculate tax or duty)
  • rate (information relating to the rate applied)
  • amount (how much is due)
  • method of payment (more than one method can be used)

For goods that are subject to CAP variable charges or anti-dumping duties an additional 4 digits apply to the commodity code (box 33), which you must take care entering as they represent a declaration which HMRC will use to assess the duty you pay.

In box 15 the country of dispatch need only be completed for controlled goods that require a full licensing declaration at the frontier.

In entering the country of origin in box 34 decide on where the last substantial processing took place.

Where goods are entering free circulation from outside the EU you must complete box 36.

A 3 digit code determines whether any relief on duty applies. A claim for relief against a tariff quota should be made in box 39. In manual fallback situations write ‘Tariff Quota’ in red ink on each page of your declaration.

You must complete box 39 when claiming a quota. For CAP licence quotas, the licence and any other documentation required to support your application must be declared in box 44.

Enter the CPCs for your goods in box 37. You must use 7 digit codes. The code you choose represents a binding legal commitment. Goods with different codes can be included on the same declaration but if they’re operating under a different regime, such as customs warehousing, then they’ll be treated as a separate declaration.

Enter any additional information about the consignment, such as certificate or authorisation codes, in box 44.

Enter codes for deferment of payment at importation in box 48 and for the identification of warehouses in box 49.

SAD completion checklist

Once you’ve completed the SAD make sure that you’ve completed all the necessary boxes. All details should be legible and, in manual SADdeclarations, you must initial corrections. Always check these key points:

  • when you describe your goods, make sure that the commodity codes are consistent and correct
  • for VAT, check you’ve applied the correct – for example standard, reduced, or zero rate
  • for reduced rates of duty, boxes 15, 34, 39 (if applicable), 44 and 47 must slot together for the purposes of a successful claim
  • check all the goods and their full value on each invoice are included on the declaration – always use the current HMRC rate of exchange and valuation method
  • enter the code for method of payment and complete all the tax lines – scan the text for misplaced decimal points and for figures the wrong way round
  • attach supporting documents in the right order – when submitted electronically, keep a copy of your submissions for audit purposes

Where to go for help and how to resolve disputes

For support with the SAD, traders can call the imports and export: general enquiries helpline.

The HMRC Tariff Classification Email Advice Service will help you with classifying your goods, issuing codes, and can issue you with a Binding Tariff Information decision if required. They’ll provide non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes advice if you email: and include the information detailed in Customs Information Paper 27 (2015) with your enquiry.

Your agent or freight forwarder should be able to help you with your initial queries about completing the SAD.

You can also buy a copy of HMRC’s Harmonised Single Administrative Document Tariff (version 1.0) on The Stationery Office (TSO) website.

To order, please quote ISBN 978 0 11 703826 4.

You can also use the online Trade Tariff tool.

Penalties and seizures

Civil penalties apply to errors made by traders on electronic declarations.

Although most are innocent mistakes you may receive a formal letter of warning or fine. Further errors may also incur a larger fine. Separate fines and warnings apply to Excise Duty. HMRC can also seize your goods. In some circumstances you can ask for them back.

You may also complain about your treatment and appeal against any action taken. See customs seizures and penalties.


You have the right to a formal departmental review at HMRC.

You may also have the right to ask for a hearing at a Tax and Duties Tribunal. These are based in London, Manchester and Edinburgh.

If you’re still not satisfied, you can contact the Adjudicator’s Office.

Further information

HM Revenue and Customs Tariff Classification Email Advice Service

Provision of non-legally binding tariff classification commodity codes advice is available by emailing the Tariff Classification Service.

Common and Union transit information can be found on the Europa website.

Information on how to Appeal to the tax tribunal.

Published 2 August 2012
Last updated 6 April 2017 
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