EU Customs

Import regulations into the European Union are stringent and complex. Quality control and product safety are a huge concern for products entering the EU, so you will have to make sure your products pass muster with the proper regulatory bodies. Taxes and rules of origin regulations are also complicated.

The EU has developed an online service to help guide exporters through the red tape, called Trade Helpdesk:

Information on clearing customs on the Canadian side can be found in section 2.1.

Classifying Goods

The Combined Nomenclature (CN) is the EU’s goods classification system, based on the international Harmonized System Nomenclature (HS) run by the World Customs Organization.

The EU’s Combined Nomenclature is updated every year. TARIC, the EU’s tariff database, can also be used to find codes.

Being able to correctly identify product codes is important to understand applicable duties and controls on those products.

The first six digits of an HS code are common to all markets, while the remaining four digits are unique to the EU.

Taxes and Tariffs

Customs Duties

The 28 EU member states apply the same tariff on goods from outside the EU (the Common Customs Tariff), and once the goods have cleared customs, they can circulate freely and be sold throughout the Union.

Most duties are expressed as a percentage of the import price (ad valorem), but some are subject to a duty based on a fixed amount per physical unit: such as kilograms, litres or percentage of alcohol content.

Some products are subject to variable import duties, such as cereals, which are paid on a declared customs value that includes the purchase price and shipping and insurance costs.
The TARIC database lists the duty applicable to any product.

Value-added Tax

Goods imported into the EU are subject to VAT at their point of entry.

When goods are imported to one EU country but intended for use in another, they are eligible for a VAT suspension agreement. The VAT is then charged in the destination country rather than the point of entry.

VAT is paid by the importer at the rate that applies in the importing country. VAT rates are fixed within 5 to 15 per cent.

VAT rates for each member state are posted on the European Commission website.

Excise Duties

Alcohol, tobacco and energy products are subject to excise duties.

The duty is only due once the product is released for consumption, and it’s paid to the country where the goods are consumed or used, rather than the point of entry.

The EU sets minimum excise duties, but members can set higher rates.

Tariff Rate Quotas

Under tariff rate quotas, specific quantities of goods can be imported into the EU at reduced or zero-duty rates. Once a quota is reached, a higher rate applies to additional imports.

Tariff rate quotas are applied to imports of beef, bison, pork, some cereals and dairy products.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU has brought with it new quotas for food products.

Import Licenses

Imports of some agricultural, textile and metal products require an import license issued by EU authorities. These are generally issued on request, except when tariff rates apply.

More information on import licenses for agri-goods can be found here.


All goods entering the EU need to be declared using the Single Administrative Document. This is used in all EU countries and is usually completed by the importer or their agent.

Additional documents may be required for certain goods: commercial invoices, bills of lading, certificates of origin, import licences and inspection certificates.

Food and Agriculture Safety

The European Food Safety Authority provides scientific advice on food-safety issues, independent from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, which regulates imports.

Food labels must include information about nutrition, list all potential allergens and meet specific standards of legibility. Some products also require listing product origin, and the labels for unprocessed frozen meat and fish products must indicate the date of freezing.

Food packaging must comply with the EU requirements for food contact materials.

Animals and animal products can only be imported into the EU under the following conditions:

  • They come from countries approved by the EU for those categories of products.
  • They come from approved processing establishments.
  • They are accompanied by a health certificate.
  • They have passed health controls.

Fishery products need a catch certificate to demonstrate that the product has been caught legally as well.

Imports into the EU of plants must also follow certain conditions:

  • A plant-health certificate must be provided.
  • They must pass customs and phytosanitary inspections at the point of entry.
  • They must be imported into the EU by an importer registered by an EU country.
  • They must be announced to the customs office before arrival at the point of entry.

These regulations also apply to wood used as packaging, which must either be heat treated or fumigated.

Special rules may apply to the following:

  • Use of pesticides, food supplements, colourings, antibiotics or hormones.
  • Food additives such as preservatives and flavourings.
  • Substances in contact with foodstuffs, such as plastic packaging.
  • Labelling of ingredients that may cause allergies.
  • Health claims such as ‘low-fat’ or ‘high-fibre’.

Safety Requirements for Other Products

Market-surveillance is carried out by member states, which share information about dangerous products throughout the EU—this can result in recalls, withdrawals or restrictions.

The CE mark indicates a product’s compliance with EU safety, health and environment protection standards, and is mandatory for products like electronics and medical devices.

This label doesn’t apply to food, vehicles, chemicals, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or biocides.

A product with the CE mark can be sold anywhere in the European Economic Area.

The European Commission lists the following categories of products which require a CE mark:

  • Active implantable medical devices
  • Appliances burning gaseous fuels
  • Cableway installations designed to carry persons
  • Construction products
  • Eco-design of energy related products
  • Electromagnetic compatibility
  • Equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres
  • Explosives for civil uses
  • Hot-water boilers
  • In-vitro diagnostic medical devices
  • Lifts
  • Low-voltage devices
  • Machinery
  • Measuring instruments
  • Medical devices
  • Noise emission in the environment
  • Non-automatic weighing instruments
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Pressure equipment
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Radio and telecommunications terminal equipment
  • Recreational craft
  • Toys
  • Simple pressure vessels

In some cases, multiple categories can apply to the same product. It’s important to be positive whether or not your product needs a CE mark, as it’s illegal to use a CE mark on a product that does not fall into one of the aforementioned categories.

To obtain a CE mark, there are six steps:

  1. Identify the directives and harmonized standards applicable to your product.
  2. Verify product specific requirements.
  3. Check if your product needs to be tested by a third-party.
  4. Test the product.
  5. Put together the required technical documentation. (This must be kept for 10 years)
  6. Sign the Declaration of Conformity* and affix the CE mark.

*A formal declaration that the product meets all requirements, which must be in the official language of the country of import.

It’s possible to designate an importer to carry out this task on your behalf, but it’s only mandatory to do so for medical devices.

To find a certified testing facility for your product, check out the NANDO database.


Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is the EU regulation of chemicals, run by the European Chemicals Agency.

REACH governs all chemical substances manufactured, imported or used in the EU, as well as chemicals contained in the preparation of finished products.

To ensure compliance with REACH, which is an extremely complex regulation, seek out expert advice from an importer or a legal professional.

Mandatory Labels

Any package containing substances or mixtures classified as hazardous must be clearly labelled with:

  • The name of the substance or mixture
  • The name, address and phone number of the supplier
  • The nominal quantity
  • The word “danger” or “warning” (where applicable)
  • Applicable hazard pictograms
  • Hazard statements
  • Appropriate precautionary statements
  • Supplemental information

The EU’s Classification, Labelling and Packaging regulation follows the Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, and classifies chemicals according to their hazardous properties.

Hazardous materials must be packaged so as to prevent loss of contents, be made of resistant materials and have sealable fastenings.


Biocidal products contain active substances and are used against harmful organisms like pests and bacteria. They include disinfectants, repellents, insecticides, wood and material preservatives, and anti-fouling paints.

The authorization of biocidal products for the EU market involves two steps: authorization at the EU level, and at the national level.

For Canadian exporters, this means only products treated by active substances approved by the EU will be allowed in. There are also labelling requirements for certain treated products.


Before bringing cosmetics into the EU, these products require:

  • A designated responsible person (manufacturer, importer or third party) who can ensure compliance with cosmetics regulations and put together technical documentation, including the results of safety assessments
  • Notification of the European Commission via the Cosmetic Products Notification Portal
  • Informing the national authorities of any undesirable effects attributable to the use of the products


Medicinal products must be authorized at either the member state or EU level. Authorizations for these products to enter the EU require the use of an EU-based importer.

Companies may submit a single application to the European Medicines Agency. This agency authorizes the marketing of medicines in all member states.

At the member-state level, companies have the choice between:

The decentralized procedure

Companies apply for marketing authorization simultaneously in several countries with one country acting as a reference.

The mutual-recognition procedure

Companies that have a medicine authorized in only one country can then apply for that specific authorization to be recognized in other member states.

For cosmetic labelling, containers and packaging must be marked with the following information:

  • Name and address of representative in the EU
  • Nominal content by weight or volume
  • Precautions for use
  • Product function
  • Batch number
  • List of ingredients
  • Nanomaterials
  • County of origin
  • Period when the product is safe after opening

Energy Labelling

Energy labels, which relay information about energy efficiency, are mandatory for all appliances and energy-related products sold in the commercial and industrial sectors in the EU.

The label must provide information about noise emission, consumption of water and energy, as well as a product’s energy-efficiency ranking—an A to D letter scale.

Source: TCS