A client examining a chinese export porcelain bowl

Importing from the EU and the rest of the world

Since 1 January 2021, works of art, collectors' items and antiques imported into mainland Great Britain from EU states have been subject to import VAT at 5%. This applies whether imported privately or by VAT-registered businesses and also reflects the position in respect of imports from the rest of the world.

To qualify for the 5% VAT rate on antiques you may need to establish that your item was manufactured, in its current form, more than 100 years before the date of importation, by providing satisfactory documentary evidence.

If the evidence provided is not acceptable to customs, the importer can obtain a certificate of age from a BADA member. Goods which are neither antiques, works of art nor collectors’ items are subject to the standard rate of import VAT (currently 20%).

Apart from import VAT there are no tariff duties on works of art, collectors' items and antiques when imported into the UK (or the EU), irrespective of their country of origin.

It is important to be aware that the correct commodity codes need to be used on accompanying import documentation to be assured of the lower 5% rate of import VAT, as well as tariff-free entry.  These codes can be found within Chapter 97 of the UK Global Tariff.  For further details click here.

Following the end of the 2020 Transition Period in the relationship between the UK and the EU, special arrangements have been put in place in respect of customs declarations and payment of import VAT and duties.  This is a complex area and trade importers are advised to engage someone with knowledge of customs procedures and involved in transporting the imported items, to ensure the procedures are followed correctly. Further details can be found on the UK government's website here.

Trade importers who use courier companies may wish to pay for detailed advice about the customs procedures from a specialist, such as a BADA recommended service provider.

Importing into Northern Ireland

Following the end of the UK-EU Transition Period, in general imports into Northern Ireland of antique goods coming from outside the EU will be subject to 5% import VAT.  However the precise method by which it will be collected depends on the relative status of the parties (i.e whether they are businesses or consumers and whether the purchase is from an online portal). 
Details can be found on the government website here.

Goods imported into Northern Ireland from EU member states will be treated to some extent as though they are internal transfers within the EU.  The rules are complex and more details can be found on the government website here.

Temporary admissions

It is possible for a trade importer to delay or avoid import VAT if Temporary Admission (TA) relief is granted in respect of the goods at the time of entry. To qualify for TA there are a number of options available to a trade importer.  They must either give HM Revenue & Customs security equal in value to the 5% VAT due on goods imported or have in place a Customs Comprehensive Guarantee (CCG).  Dealers in works of art and antiques with a clean track record with HMRC may be granted a guarantee waiver for the CCG.

Where security needs to be taken it can be in the form of a written guarantee from the importer’s bankers or a cash payment.

TA can be complex to operate, but may be worthwhile financially for some trade importers.  Commercial advice in this area is available, including from a BADA recommended service provider.

Endangered species

The import of specimens of endangered species into the United Kingdom from all countries, including member states of the European Union is restricted.

Typical examples of endangered species which appear in antiques include elephant ivory, rosewoods and tortoiseshell. For more information please see the Buying for Export section of this site.

Additionally we have produced an information page covering the current legal situation regarding Antique ivory.

For BADA recommended service providers specialising in packing and shipping antiques and fine art click here