Strategy, Legal & Operations

EORI number: How to apply and trade with the EU after Brexit

Learn about EORI numbers, which your business will need if you're importing and exporting goods within the EU.

Not sure what an EORI number or what means for your business post-Brexit?

Brexit occurred at the end of January 2020 and a UK-European Union (EU) trade deal was reached before the transition period ended on 31 December 2020.

Since 1 January 2021, all UK businesses located in Great Britain (that is England, Scotland or Wales) that import or export goods to or from the EU need an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number that starts with GB.

This will be used on the customs declarations and supporting documentation that businesses need to create.

Additionally, you need an EORI that starts with XI to move goods between Northern Ireland and non-EU countries, make a declaration in Northern Ireland or get a customs decision in Northern Ireland. Because of this, some businesses might need multiple EORI numbers.

This article covers questions you may have about acquiring EORI numbers, and then using them from 1 January 2021 onwards:

What is an EORI number?

What kind of EORI number will I need after Brexit?

How do I get an EORI number?

Does my business need an EORI number after Brexit?

Does my services business need an EORI number after Brexit?

What is the EORI application process and what details do I need?

How long does it take to get an EORI number after applying?

Can I find an EORI number by company name?

Is an EORI number required for postponed VAT accounting?

Conclusion on EORI numbers

An EORI number is used to identify businesses that want to import or export physical goods to another country. Since 1 January 2021, this includes EU countries.

The EORI number is used for completing customs formalities and is the way that customs authorities identify who is importing or exporting goods.

Many businesses in the UK didn’t need an EORI number before Brexit or the end of the transition period because, as a member of the EU, the UK was part of a free trade area. EORI numbers were only needed if exporting to or from non-EU countries (known as Third Countries).

An EORI required now is a 12-digit number that begins with the two letter code used to identify the country that issued the number – GB123456789000, for example. As such, it’s very similar to a VAT number, although longer.

To send goods to and from Northern Ireland, a second EORI number beginning with XI might be required.

The EORI number needs to be quoted in documentation such as customs declarations and clearances and is also used for the purpose of identifying traders who wish to apply postponed VAT accounting. It’s used by computerised customs systems as an identifier.

If businesses plan to use customs agents, freight forwarders or couriers to complete customs declarations on their behalf, the agents will need to know the EORI number to complete the paperwork.

If there’s no EORI number provided with the import or export, goods may be held up for customs clearance and there may be associated storage fees.

Notably, HMRC made a mistake back in 2019 when initially communicating the requirement for EORI numbers to businesses. It stated that businesses require an eight-digit number, when actually they require a 12-digit number.

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In general, there are three kinds of EORI number that you might need, depending on the kind of trade you do with the EU and also if you move goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

  • Business in Great Britain: To trade goods with EU countries, you need an EORI number that starts with GB. However, if your business only moves goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – and nowhere else – it will not usually require an EORI number.
  • Businesses moving goods to or from Northern Ireland: If you move goods to or from Northern Ireland, you need a second EORI number that starts with XI. This includes moving goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and moving goods between Northern Ireland and non-EU countries.
  • Businesses making declarations or getting customs decisions in EU countries: If your business makes declarations or gets customs decisions in an EU country, you need to get an EORI from the customs authority in the EU country where you submit your first declaration, or request your first decision.

In 2019, the UK government began sending out GB-series EORI numbers to businesses that it believed required them. These are likely to have been sent to your business’ registered address, as provided with your VAT registration.

If you haven’t received your EORI number, you can apply online – and you should do so now.

Similarly, in December 2020, the UK government was automatically issuing XI-series EORI numbers to businesses it believed required them. You wouldn’t have received an XI EORI number unless you already had a GB number.

In any case, the easiest way to ensure you get an XI EORI number is to register for a GB EORI number and then apply for the free Trader Support Service (even if you do not plan to use this service to help with any other aspects of trade).

If you’re unsure if you have an EORI number, or have lost the details, then contact the government.

If your business imports or exports goods with any EU country, or moves goods to or from Northern Ireland, it will need an EORI number.

It doesn’t matter about the size of the business undertaking this trading. Sole traders, partnerships and bigger companies will all need one.

There are some notable exceptions.

If your business is based in Northern Ireland and trades only with the Republic of Ireland then it won’t need an EORI number. However, it might be wise to apply for one just in case you find yourself trading with other countries.

If you already have an EORI number, you won’t need a new one. However, if your business has a EORI number that doesn’t start with GB – one issued in another EU country such as Ireland, for example –you’ll need to apply for one that does begin with GB.

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The requirement only applies to moving goods across EU/UK borders, or between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

If your business imports or exports services, and doesn’t move physical goods across borders, it won’t need an EORI.

If you haven’t received a letter stating your EORI number, or you’re starting a new business that requires one, you should look at applying for one.

To be able to apply, you’ll need a Government Gateway ID for your organisation (or for yourself if you’re a sole trader). If you haven’t got one, you can create one when you apply.

It’s also likely that as a trader your business is VAT-registered. And if your business is registering for VAT because you now meet the threshold, that process should be completed first because you’ll need the VAT details.

To apply for an EORI, you need:

  • Your Government Gateway ID and password, plus any mobile device you might have configured to complete two-factor authentication (that is, being sent an authorisation login code via mobile phone SMS or using an authentication app).
  • To provide the VAT number and effective date of registration if your business is registered for UK VAT. These details can be found on the VAT registration certificate (or you could check with your accountant if you have one).
  • To provide your National Insurance number if you’re a sole trader.
  • The Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) for your business, or yourself if a sole trader/other one-person trader. This can be found in your tax returns.
  • The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code for your business – you can find these in the Companies House register entry for your business.

HMRC says you should receive one immediately, although it adds that “it could take three days” if additional checks need to be made.

However, it’s not difficult to imagine that this time estimate could slip as more and more businesses realise their need for an EORI and the application processes become congested. Therefore, it’s wise to apply for one as soon as possible.

HMRC also lets you check your application to see how it’s doing.

There’s no central way to see the name of an organisation linked to an EORI number but some countries do provide systems that show this information.

The UK doesn’t currently offer this feature. We’ll update this blog if it becomes available.

At an EU level, it’s only possible to validate if an EORI number is valid, which means it’s in the right format and has been issued to an organisation.

Effectively, yes you do, even though VAT is a separate system compared to customs tariffs, for which EORI numbers are required.

However, to apply the new postponed VAT accounting system, a customs declaration must be completed when goods are received into the UK.

The customs declaration requires the EORI number.

Additionally, you need your EORI number to access the monthly postponed VAT report that shows what you currently owe.

There’s no way to apply postponed VAT accounting for imports without completing a customs declaration.

If you import or export from the UK, you need an EORI number.

You should check your company documentation to see if you have EORI number that begins with GB.

Remember that the EORI number letter from HMRC might have been sent to your registered office, so it could have been missed, in which case you should contact the government’s EORI team to enquire.

If you trade with Northern Ireland, you also need an EORI number starting with XI. You should apply even if you’re not sure if you’ll need this as there’s no cost – but not having the right EORI number could result in customs delays.

It makes sense to apply for an EORI number now, rather than later, if you believe you don’t have one and will need one.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in October 2019 and has been updated for relevance.

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