Border Operating Model – high level overview

Sean Turner

Sean Turner – VAT Specialist
DD: +44 (0)207 465 1908

The UK’s document on The Border with the European Union, Importing and Exporting Goods, or Border Operating Model (BOM), was published by the Border Delivery Group on 13 July 2020.

The BOM sets out the UK’s approach to the border, after the transition period with the EU ends on 1 January 2021, after which the UK will operate a full external border, with the movement of goods between the UK and EU, subject to controls.  It does not cover Northern Ireland, details of which are set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Whilst the BOM is welcome and helpful to have so much detail, which will allow businesses to prepare, it is clearly a complex document, so there is a lot to get to grips with.  Businesses that trade in goods cross border are advised to not delay and start digesting the BOM now in order to be ready.


The controls on the movement of goods, will be phased in over three stages until 1 July 2021, in order to recognise the disruption to business caused by the coronavirus pandemic and giving businesses the ability and time to prepare.  In summary, the three stages will be:

number 1

From January 2021 – businesses importing standard goods will need to prepare for basic customs requirements, such as sufficient record keeping and consider how VAT on imported goods is accounted for and paid.  Customs declarations must be completed within six months.  Although tariffs will be due as applicable, payments can be deferred until the customs declaration has been made.

UK Safety and Security declarations will not be required on imports for the first six months.

Standard customs declarations will be required from this date for controlled goods and excise goods like alcohol and tobacco.  Physical checks will take place at the point of destination, or other approved place, for high risk live animals and plants, together with a requirement to pre-notify certain movements.

Export declarations and UK exit Safety and Security declarations will be required for all goods.  The import and export of goods under the Common Transit Convention, will need to follow full transit procedures, which will not be introduced in stages.  The Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS), which is the Government’s new border IT platform to allow trucks to declare goods ahead of reaching the border, will be introduced from January, only for transit movements.

number 2

From April 2021 – all Products of Animal Origin (POAO) and all regulated plants and plant products, will require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation.  Any physical checks will continue to be conducted at the point of destination, until July 2021.

number 3

From July 2021 – businesses moving goods will have to make a full customs declaration at the point of import and pay tariffs as applicable.  Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, whilst goods subject to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) controls, will require to be presented at Border Control Posts and there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples.  SPS checks for animals, plants and their products will take place at Border Control Posts and not at destination.  The GVMS will be in place for all imports, exports and transit movements at border locations that have chosen to introduce it.


aeroplane yellow

Some changes will affect all movement of goods, which will be the core model for importing and exporting goods.  The principles of the core model will apply to all movements of goods between the UK and EU, regardless of the mode of transport used, although there may be differences in processes by location.  The main process difference will be the requirement for pre-lodgement of customs declarations at some ports and not others, which will provide temporary storage facilities. 


Importers and exporters will have to complete UK and EU customs declarations after the end of the transition period.  Some locations will require pre-lodgement of customs declarations prior to the movement of goods, which will particularly affect ‘roll on-roll off’ (RoRo) movements.  [Timing – 1 January 2021 but can be deferred up to six months after import in certain circumstances.]


VAT will be levied on imports of goods from the EU, following the same system as currently applied to third country imports.  VAT registered importers will be able to use postponed VAT accounting, however, unless they are eligible to defer their supplementary declarations, will not be made to do so.  Non-VAT registered importers have the same options available to report and pay import VAT, as for customs duties.  The VAT treatment of goods imported in consignments not exceeding £135 in value will be different to those goods in consignments exceeding £135.  [Timing – 1 January 2021 with options to defer payment.]


Importers will need to ensure that any customs duties applicable to their goods under the new UK Global Tariff are paid.  Importers must determine the origin, classification and customs value of their goods.  Deferment options are available.  [Timing – 1 January 2021 with options to defer payment.]


In order to maintain safety and security standards, the UK Government will collect more information on goods moving into the UK from the EU.  This will ensure the UK will know who is coming in and how often and what is being brought in and why.  [Timing – 1 January 2021 for exports and 1 July 2021 for imports.] 

additional requirements

cog and clock

Other changes will affect only specific goods movements.  These include the need for special certifications, entering the country via specific locations and undergoing additional checks at the border.  Some of these requirements will occur before the core import and export processes and some after.  These will be introduced in stages, depending on the type of goods being moved:

Goods covered by International Conventions/Commitments – 1 January 2021

Goods subject to Sanitary and Phytosanitary controls – 1 January, 1 April and 1 July 2021

Goods with Additional Customs Requirements – 1 January 2021

Other Goods including Strategic Exports – 1 January 2021

COntrolled goods

The importation of a limited range of goods requires import licences as their import is controlled.  Import licensing controls can be in place against imports from specific countries or from any country.

prohibited goods

Prohibited goods refers to goods that cannot be imported.  In some cases, there may be limited circumstances, known as derogations, where prohibited goods can be imported.  Any derogations from a prohibition will be listed in the UK tariff.


There are various actions businesses should take to prepare for the staged introduction of customs controls.  The UK Government is not seeking anything in negotiations with the EU that will change the necessity of the following requirements:

  1. Apply for a UK Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number – required for all businesses moving goods into or out of the UK, including those deferring import declarations
  2. Get a customs intermediary – customs agents, Fast Parcel Operators (FPOs), Freight Forwarders (FFs) and brokers, can help businesses find the information needed to complete and submit the required declarations.  The Government customs intermediaries grant scheme is still available to assist with funding.  If an intermediary is not used, access to HMRC’s systems will be required by way of specific software
  3. Apply for a duty deferment account – this enables customs charges including customs duty, excise duty and import VAT, to be paid once a month through Direct Debit instead of being paid on individual consignments.  VAT registered importers can instead account for import VAT on their VAT return using postponed VAT accounting
  4. Prepare to pay or account for VAT on imported goods – VAT registered businesses will be able to account for import VAT on VAT returns, by using postponed VAT accounting from 1 January 2021.  Unless they are eligible to defer supplementary declarations, they will not be made to use postponed VAT accounting
  5. Ensure drivers have driving permits – hauliers need to ensure their drivers have the correct documentation, for example, an international driving permit (IDP) or an additional licence may be required to drive in some countries
  6. Additional action for customs, VAT and excise – commodity codes, supply chains, registered consignor and the Excise Movement and Control System (EMCS) should all be considered where necessary
  7. Consider commercial arrangements – individual commercial contracts and arrangements may alter the default legal responsibilities and requirements.  Contractual obligations for international commercial transactions are outlined in the Incoterms rules

There is a detailed supplementary information section and appendices at the end of the document in respect of roles and responsibilities and EU export and import requirements per country.  

The above is a brief overview of the published document, which goes into a lot of specific detail about the various procedures and processes for the different categories of goods.  Should more information and advice be required about certain aspects of the document, please contact a member of the VAT team for guidance.

Posted in Blog, Technical updates, Transport & logistics