What is a harmonised code?

Lesley Batchelor OBE is an expert on international trade and a passionate champion of UK exporters. She is also the Director General of the Institute of Export, the professional membership body representing and supporting the interests of everyone involved in importing, exporting and international trade.

What is a harmonised tariff code – or harmonised code?

A harmonised code is a customs tariff code and a key element of customs declarations. The harmonised tariff code identifies the type of goods that are being imported / exported. It is the basis for calculations of duties – such as customs duty and import duty – and defines whether goods are subject to import or export controls.

It also helps governments to produce statistics on international trade flows and understand the impact of trading agreements across the world.

A harmonised code is also known as a “tariff number”, “commodity code” or “HS code” (HS stands for harmonised system), and is an internationally agreed common protocol for identifying goods.

Key tips

  • European HS codes are usually 8 digits for export declarations, 10 digits for imports.
  • Some import codes can be 14 digits.
  • First 6 digits are defined by the Harmonised System, the rest are individual.
  • There can be variation in codes between countries so make sure you double check.
  • Codes can provide information on whether goods are subject to controls or preference agreements.

How do I find out my harmonised code?

Go to the online Trade Tariff and look through the product descriptions until you find the most accurate one. You can also get help with classifying goods and classification guides.

You can also ask your freight company what tariff codes they have used to clear similar products through customs.

Just a quick word of caution; even if you use a freight company or anybody else to identify the HS codes for you, you as the trader are legally liable to HM Revenue & Customs for the accuracy of any Customs codes used in any of your export or import shipments.

Contact the Tariff classification service helpline if you can’t find your goods in the Trade Tariff, which is 01702 366077.

Further reading

If you need further guidance about finding your harmonised code and what it’s useful for, read Open to Export’s articles about what to do with your first order, selling a physical product overseas, and more generally how trade works.

Topics: Customs Procedures, Documentation, and Legislation & Regulation
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