HS Codes & How to Lookup a Trade Tariff Code for Your Product

Go back 19 Jan 2022
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The following is some helpful information on HS codes, checking them and how to get them:

What is an HS Code?

An HS code is used to classify your goods for export. If you would like to know what ‘HS Code’ means, it is a bit of a mouthful – the full name is the ‘Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System’, which people also sometimes call the Harmonized System (HS).

These tariff codes help importers and exporters to uniformly classify products, with the following benefits to international trade:

  • Efficiency: With a tariff classification system that is more universal you can increase efficiency, both during transit and after goods arrive at their destination before assessment for any import duties – for faster international shipping.
  • Legal protections: As an importer or exporter you have a legally binding duty to provide proper HS classifications for goods you handle. By establishing legal responsibility, improper use of these codes can lead to fines and penalties.
  • Budgets: A precise, internationally-standardised set of harmonised tariff codes makes it much easier for businesses to forecast their costs. The extra efficiency and legal standards also make it much less likely for unexpected costs to crop up.

The system has been in place since 1988 and is the brainchild of an intergovernmental body that sets the general rules, which is called the World Customs Organization (WCO). You can view codes on the WCO’s Harmonized System database, but you must register.

We offer exceptional customer support for our mail handling services, which can help alleviate the anxiety of using tariff codes and also avoid fines. 

You will see our helpful and knowledgeable team is more than capable of providing top-class assistance with HS codes when you get in touch with us.

How to Lookup or Check an HS Code Using the UK Government’s Finder

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It can all become a bit complicated when it comes to making sure you have the correct commodity description and coding in place. But for the UK-based small to medium-sized businesses that we often partner with the government website is very helpful.

You can explore the government’s Trade Tariff and Find Commodity page for more details – as well as the A-Z of Classified Goods, which also has a handy search function. Please note that there is a separate system to get tariff codes for Northern Ireland.

Using the official government tools you can do the following:

  1. Get HS codes for imports into the UK
  2. Get HS codes for exports out of the UK
  3. Find the relevant taxes or duties that apply to each type of commodity
  4. Determine whether you require a licence for importing a commodity

You can also get codes using the government’s Advance Tariff Ruling page, which also has a search function, to get codes. Applying for an Advance Tariff Ruling lets you get a legally-binding HS code, which is a nice perk if you are worried about getting it right. 

HS codes have recently become a major issue for UK businesses following the country’s departure from the European Union (EU). The long term implications of leaving the EU are of concern for many, please check out our helpful information on Brexit for details.

Alternative Ways to Lookup HS Codes

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If you want to get HS codes then you can easily use an alternative finder. Some good examples of HS code finders include the European Customs Portal. This is an independent resource and also is available in several different languages aside from English, such as French and German. There are other commercial finders available too.

How HS Codes Work

HS codes are standardised as 2 to 6 digits. The initial two digits will relate to the nature of the commodity or product in the shipment, and the next numbers will relate to various subcategories – depending on the product. These numbers are the remit of the WCO and may change – although typically after at least 5 years.

However, there is an extra complication that comes about from the more complex country-specific codes that tack on to the 6 digits.  This makes them longer, usually 8 to 10 digits. Unfortunately, these country-specific codes are subject to change at any time by the laws of the country where they originate.

Get Help With HS Codes and International Mail Handling

Getting HS codes wrong can cause shipment delays, extra tax payments, fines, other penalties and even legal ramifications – so they are vital to get right. If you ship internationally, familiarity with the harmonised tariff code system is essential.

You could spend half of your life navigating the complexities of international trade tariffs and still not understand them, so we are there to help if you have any issues when you use our mail handling service. Get in touch with us today to learn more.