Importing and distributing beer from Belgium into the UK


Hi, I realize this website is export oriented and it may seem daft to ask an import related question, but the folks here seem to be more knowledgeable and more helpful than on other business websites / forums so here goes.

I have noticed a lack of offer of higher end, quality Belgian beers among UK retailers and service providers (pubs etc). There is some offer online, however the prices websites selling Belgian beers are three, four times higher than what a buyer in a European supermarket would pay, without even including the shipping costs.

Even in upmarket bars, gastropubs etc in my region (Manchester) the offer seems to be extremely poor, and the prices extremely high. The market for beer tends to be moving in the direction of more quality concerned customers. There is more attention given to craft and specialist beers.

If I can find a source for the beers at a fair price, I intend to distribute to local independent pubs (as I understand I would need to find the ones that are not tied in with contracts with a particular brewery) and perhaps to specialist wine and beer shops. I do not intend to sell to off licences as I doubt there would be much demand from their customers.

As I would not have sales exceeding £79,000 per year I would not need to be VAT registered. However, if I purchase from a Belgium supplier, would they have paid VAT in Belgium already? If I then distribute to a pub in the UK, would paying VAT be their responsibility? Would VAT be charged twice by Belgian and UK authorities on my product? What about alcohol duty? The HMRC page says that if I import alcohol from another country it is the seller’s responsibility to ensure UK alcohol duty is paid, but I doubt that producers, wholesalers in Belgium know or care that they need to pay an alcohol duty when shipping to me. How would this work?

Any advice, opinions and of course any constructive criticism is very much appreciated.



Hello Tudor,
The main principal of VAT is that in the end it is only paid once but this gets very mixed up when there are multiple transactions and when some parts of the chain of supply are not VAT registered.

If you are not VAT registered and you buy from a Belgian supplier they will be required to charge you Belgian VAT.

When you sell to a UK company as you are not VAT registered you will not be able to charge VAT but presumably you will want to raise your prices to cover the Belgian VAT you have paid.

If you VAT register your company, which you can do even though you don’t expect to make the threshold a different system kicks in. When you buy from your Belgian supplier they will not charge you Belgian VAT. Instead they will send reports to the Belgian customs authorities showing what they supplied to you. You will be required to send reports to the UK customs authorities (Intrastat and a VAT return). In basic terms on your VAT return you self report the VAT you are due to pay for the imported goods but you may be able to offset this and therefore not pay it. The offset is achieved because when you sell to your UK clients you will have to charge them VAT.

Excise duty (what you call alcohol duty) is a different tax altogether with different rules, systems and documentation. If you deal in alcoholic products you will have to deal with this not your Belgian suppliers.

You might want to consider some training – there is all sorts of information on line from Customs and other providers which you can access. There are also training courses on offer for beginner importers such as those on my web site.

I hope you find the above useful.


Thank you for your response, Susan, that is very helpful. I was already considering a training course, I will definitely have a look at your offer.



Good afternoon.

If you require any logistical advice or rates for moving your cargo please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards.

Darren Thomas / Business Development Manager
Tel: 0113 3970 461
Mob: 07979140007

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