Transhipment licences

Transhipment licences allow controlled goods to pass through the UK on the way to other destinations: find out when you need one and how to use it.


Most military and dual-use goods can pass through the UK en route to another pre-determined overseas destination without the need for a UK licence provided the exporter has complied with certain conditions. However, sometimes, you will need a transhipment licence where either the goods or the destination country – or both – represent a sufficient degree of risk.

If you are involved in arranging the transit and transhipment of goods through the UK, this guide will help you to understand the different types of transhipment licences, when you will need one and how you should use it.

Open General Transhipment Licences (OGTLs)

OGTLs are similar to Open General Export Licences, which are available in the public domain, subject to specific terms and conditions.

There are 4 different types of OGTL.

Open General Transhipment Licence

This licence allows, subject to conditions, any goods to be imported for transhipment and subsequently exported within 30 days of entering the UK. Items that are not covered are clearly listed on the licence.

Open General Transhipment Licence

Open General Transhipment Licence (Dual-Use Goods: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR))

This licence allows, subject to conditions, Dual-Use Goods to be imported into the UK and subsequently exported to any part of the HKSAR.

Open General Transhipment Licence (Dual-Use Goods: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)

HKSAR has special import licensing requirements, and requires importers in Hong Kong to submit an End-User Undertaking for all imports of dual-use items. For more information, see the guide on end-user and stockist undertakings for SIELs and consignee undertakings for OIELs.

Open General Transhipment Licence (Postal Packets)

This licence allows, subject to conditions, postal packets to be imported to and subsequently exported from the UK.

Open General Transhipment Licence (Postal Packets)

Open General Transhipment Licence (Sporting Guns)

This licence allows, subject to conditions, rifles, pistols and related ammunition, and telescopic sights to be imported, and subsequently exported, via the UK, provided they are for sporting or recreational use.

Open General Transhipment Licence (Sporting Guns)

Standard Individual Transhipment Licences (SITLs)

If your goods or destination are not covered by the OGTL, you might be able to apply for a SITL using SPIRE, the ECO’s online licensing system.

SITL is specific to a named transit/transhipment provider, and covers a set quantity of specific goods between a specific source and destination country with a specified consignor, consignee and end-user. SITLs are normally valid for 2 years.

You should be aware that there are no concessionary licences in the form of Open Individual Transhipment Licences. Therefore, if you fail to meet the conditions of an OGTL, a SITL will be the only available licence for you.

How to use an OGTL

You do not need to physically present your licence document to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for every shipment exported using OGTLs. However, you must state the exact licence name – or the SPIRE reference – in full on any supporting documentation you give to HMRC.

To keep updated about amendments about export licences, subscribe to the ECO’s notices to exporters.

There is a time limit of 1 month from the date of import for exporting goods under an OGTL. Find out more in the section in this guide on further information on transhipment licences.

Applying for an OGTL

Unlike other Open General Licences, it is not necessary to register on the SPIRE export licensing database before using an OGTL. However, you do need to apply for a Standard Individual Transhipment Licence via SPIRE. This can be done regardless of location from anywhere in the world.

You should also bear in mind that you cannot use the OGEL Checker websiteto determine use of transhipment licences.

Restrictions, exceptions and enforcement

The distinction between transit and transhipment is irrelevant from an export licensing point of view, although is a distinction in respect of customs activities. In the case of export licences, ‘transhipment’ refers to:

  • transhipment within the same port or airport, including goods that remain on board or on a through Bill Of Lading or Air Waybill
  • removal under transit procedures for export at another port or airport
  • goods brought into the UK under an international transit procedure
  • goods being transhipped via a Free Zone

Goods which are being transited or transhipped via the UK are subject to the same 3-tier category of goods as the Trade Controls. For more information, see the guide on transit and transhipment. This guide also provides more background on excluded destinations, weapons of mass destruction provisions and other considerations.

Time limits for exporting goods under an OGTL

Goods must be exported under an OGTL within 1 month of the date of import. If this permitted period is exceeded, the goods movement is no longer classed as a transhipment.

Items not covered by an OGTL

There are some specific exports not covered by an OGTL. They are:

  • exports connected with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or missiles
  • anti-personnel land mines or specially designed components
  • torture-related goods
  • equipment, technology or software falling under the rating codes ML18, ML21 or ML22 (on the UK Military List) specially related to the above goods
  • exports subject to ‘end-use’ controls
  • any goods being exported to Iran or North Korea
  • any military goods being exported to a country subject to a current arms embargo

Compliance and enforcement of transhipment licences

The ECO is responsible for export control legislation, for the processing of licence applications, and compliance and awareness activity.

Enforcement and prosecutions are carried out by HMRC in conjunction with Crown Prosecution Service. Read more about transhipment licensing enforcement on the HMRC website.

The main legislation enabling HMRC to enforce controls on goods subject to export prohibitions and restrictions is contained under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 which provides that if goods are exported, shipped as stores or brought to any place in the UK for the purpose of being exported or shipped as stores and the exportation is, or would be, contrary to any prohibition or restriction for the time being in force, the goods shall be liable to forfeiture.

An offence will have been committed if the goods have been presented for export or transhipment and either there is no valid licence for the goods or there is a valid licence and one of the conditions of the licence has not been complied with.

For more information about the compliance activities of the ECO, see the guide on compliance and enforcement of export controls.

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