Importing and Exporting Art

A New Post-Brexit World Symphony

Brexit has brought a symphony of change, and like Dvorak, started as an adagio, in other words, slowly. As the changes embed, we are now witnessing the crescendo of challenges that Brexit has presented to individuals and businesses alike when exporting and importing artworks between the UK and EU.

The changes relate to many areas: sales VAT, import VAT and customs duty obligations, as well as alterations to the customs processes at the UK borders. Just as queuing amongst EU passport arrivals is a distant memory for most people when travelling abroad, so too is gleefully skipping past “nothing to declare” when returning if you are carrying art.

The UK and EU entered into the Trade and Cooperation Agreement which came into effect 1st May 2021. The major considerations for importers, exporters, and international owners of artwork post-Brexit, are as follows:

Sales VAT
  • Where goods are sold in the UK to be exported from the UK by the supplier within the appropriate time limit (which is often three months, providing there is sufficient export date evidence), the sale should be a zero-rated supply for UK sales VAT purposes. Otherwise, UK sales VAT would apply in the normal way at up to 20%. However, as before, there are reduced or even zero rates applied to certain supplies.
  • In the past international in-the-know customers would have previously relied on VAT-saving schemes such as the Retail Export Scheme, now exporting from the UK will be vastly different. Where a buyer is a visitor to the UK and buying art for personal use, zero-rating will no longer apply on the sale, and VAT will be charged (and usually not reclaimable) at up to 20%, even if they export the artworks from the UK swiftly after purchase.

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

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

  • If the evidence provided is not acceptable to customs, Lyon & Turnbull can assist in providing a certificate of age. 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 benefit from 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. 

  • Where duties are payable, the importer is usually liable to pay them. As a result, where goods cross the border, there are considerations for the importer:

    • The receiving jurisdiction(s) may impose import duties on certain goods based on their value, subject to exceptions and any applicable reliefs in that jurisdiction.

    • There will be new customs, safety, and regulatory checks, which will likely to cause disruption when moving certain goods across the border.

    • Reliefs for UK import duties have mostly remained, such as Temporary Importation Relief and Inward Processing Relief. To apply these reliefs, it will be more important than ever to ensure the conditions are satisfied, the relief claimed, and monetary guarantees provided, in advance.

  • The UK has introduced a system of "Postponed VAT Accounting". Businesses can record the VAT on their VAT Return rather than paying it immediately upon entry of the goods into the UK

  • UK sellers exporting art to the EU will likely need to register for VAT in the applicable Member State of sale.

  • Non-UK sellers importing art into the UK will likely need to register for UK VAT and will not be able to rely on previous registrations under EU Margin Schemes.

What's the score?

Businesses must obtain an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number that starts with GB in order to commercially import and export goods from England, Wales, and Scotland. The procedure in Northern Ireland may differ.

Exporters may require licences to export certain goods, depending on their type, classification, age, and value. For example, there are several restrictions on exporting certain artworks from the UK.

It will be important to use a carrier that is well versed in delivering art and completing customs duties under these new rules. Some may also be able to function as a business' "VAT Fiscal Representative" and "Indirect Customs Representative", as required in some Member States. Lyon & Turnbull will be happy to assist in recommending a carrier to suit your needs.


Information correct as of October 2022.


Laura Henderson


Laura Henderson is Associate Director, Head of Operations and Legal at Lyon & Turnbull.



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