How Brexit stopped your business exporting: Transit times & border delays

David Rae

How big is the issue?

Trading with Europe used to be a frictionless process before Brexit. You could move your UK goods freely between EU countries with no border checks or stoppages.

These days trying to export to Europe brings a significantly greater amount of bureaucracy and that means delays and stoppages.

According to research published March 2021 by The Federation for Small Businesses, 70% of UK importers and exporters had their loads delayed at the EU border. A more startling statistic was that 34% had goods held indefinitely whilst attempting to enter the EU. Even when the delays are not indefinite 36% of them were for over 2 weeks.

How will border delays cost you?

Every business knows that having your products available to your customers is an essential part of maintaining your sales and buyers will be put off if there are constant gaps in delivery.

A significant number of suppliers will be measured on how well they maintain service levels, and many will have fines imposed by the customer for late delivery.

But service level fines may be some of the smaller costs associated with having your goods held. There are the increased transport costs for having the vehicle, trailer, and driver inactive for any period plus the risk of losing the actual products themselves to spoilage or, in rare cases, having them impounded and destroyed.

The increased risk of losing a product listing with a customer will be the most pressing potential cost of consistent hold ups.

Longer transit times makes ecommerce difficult

As all goods are liable for customs costs and potential inspection they must be routed through a predetermined customs company and their offices will only be at certain border crossings.

This can severely limit the routing options you have as you cannot always choose the shortest route. The longer the route the larger the transport and potential storage costs. For instance, you might have to enter Europe through the Netherlands from the UK but you want to deliver to the consignee in Spain.

If you have an ecommerce business model, then next-day delivery is often considered an essential part of how you keep your customers happy as quick delivery is part of their expectation. You must have an efficient and consistent route for transport.


How can you have fewer delays?

Accurate Paperwork

Having accurate paperwork will go a long way to preventing your goods being stopped at crossings so always have it ready in advance.

You need to have accurate descriptions, commodity codes and the correct monetary value of all goods on your commercial invoice.

Additionally declare the reason for shipping which will show to the customs authority what you intend to do with the imported products. This could include whether the consignment will be exported permanently and not brought back to the UK. You might want this if you were showing products and wanted to re-import them without paying duty twice.

Consistently achieving accurate paperwork can be challenging as you will need experienced staff. Inaccurate paperwork will be the most common reason that customs chose to stop and inspect your load.

You could consider using customs management software and there are many on the market. This would potentially be the cheapest method available although it does involve having your own staff trained in how to use it.

Alternatively, you can choose to work with a customs company that can advise you on how best to handle exports. If you have a lot of products or a range which changes often then it could be prudent to have experienced consultants to help with how to handle new items or whether any additional paperwork and checks are needed.

The easiest method is to work with a freight company that will handle the export documentation for you with their own experienced staff. An advantage of this is that they can advise on new routes or products as well as giving you the most efficient customs and VAT options depending on your goods and delivery point.

Find an Authorized Economic Operator

Choose a freight company which is an Authorized Economic Operator. This is a significant customs and international supply chain security accreditation that is recognised in the UK, across the EU and internationally.

This means that the company that you are working with will have been rigorously audited for safety, security and good practice. Your consignments will get preferential service and fewer checks at customs.

Research the import laws

Don’t make the mistake that all EU members have the same import laws. What works in one country will not work in another. 

You will need to research the import regulations of each entry point depending on which route is best suited or work with a company that can advise you.

Don’t forget that you need to know the laws of the country where you first import goods as well as the country that you are delivering to.

Give yourself efficient routing options

To get around this you have to work with partners that can give you options on which route you can take. Customs specialist companies will only have offices in certain ports so be careful that they are widespread enough to support an efficient route to your end customers.

You will also need to bear in mind that you will be trying to gain new customers so you either need a partner that is large enough to give you multiple options or you can try to source new partners for your additional routes.

The downside of new partners is that you will need to integrate your systems and practices with customs partners to work well with them day to day and the more businesses that you need to interact with the harder this will become.

Baxter Freight is an AEO accredited Freight company that can offer worldwide customs and VAT solutions. Get in touch to discuss the most optimized route for moving your goods, you might be surprised at the number of ways in which freight can be made more efficient and more robust.


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