Customs Procedures | How to use Returned Goods Relief (RGR) to obtain tax relief if you’re reimporting goods into the UK


The Returned Goods Relief (RGR) programme enables a physical item that was previously imported into a territory, to be reintroduced into that territory without the need to repay tax (because this was accounted for at the time of its initial import).

Aircraft are ideal examples of ‘goods’ that often move between jurisdictions and tax territories. The majority of aircraft owners are unaware that when they depart the country into which they were imported, they are considered to be exported. Similarly, they use RGR when they re-enter the territory.

Conditions for claiming the Returned Goods Relief

Following are the primary conditions for claiming relief on returned goods:

  • To be eligible for import VAT exemption, both the exporter and the importer must be the same individual.
  • The products must be reimported in their original condition, excluding any work performed to keep the goods in functioning order.
  • The items must have been in free circulation in the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland at the time of export unless they were declared for inward processing or end-use.
  • The products must not have been exported for repair or processing; however, relief may still be provided if they were shipped, but the repair or processing was not completed.
  • The goods must be reimported within three years of export; shorter limitations apply to goods that benefited from agricultural initiatives during the export process.

Normal time limits for returning products

The products must be returned not more than three years after being exported to qualify for this exemption. The three-year rule is automatically waived in the following circumstances:

Crown Servants returning to the UK following abroad assignments (the term limit for Crown Servants is presently six years) – Crown Servants include the following:

  • diplomatic personnel 
  • military personnel 
  • embassy staff
  • consular personnel

Additionally, HMRC may be able to waive the need that items be returned to the UK within three years of export in unique situations, such as the following:

  • specialised goods returned to the UK following long-term hire or loan agreements outside the UK
  • building equipment or machinery returned to the UK following use in capital projects outside the UK
  • exhibition goods returned following long-term display or storage outside the UK
  • collectors’ or heritage items initially manufactured in the UK and returned from overseas following re-acquisition by a UK dealer

How to obtain relief for returned products

You may make a claim for Returned Goods Relief in the usual manner, either orally or by walking through the green channel. If you are shipping your goods by freight, you must claim relief using the tariff’s customs procedure codes. You must demonstrate that the products meet the requirements for acceptance as returned goods during their previous export from the UK.

What evidence/documents to submit for obtaining Returned Goods Relief

HMRC will consider alternative evidence that demonstrates unequivocally that those commodities were previously exported and their duty status at the time of export (goods in free circulation, products of an inward processing operation or end-use goods).

HMRC may accept evidence in the form of one or more of the following documents:

  • a document establishing that the items were previously located in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, or the European Union 
  • a copy of the export invoice
  • a copy of the export airway bill or bill of lading 
  • a commercial certificate of shipment prepared at the time of export
  • a certificate of posting pertaining to the export of the goods
  • a copy of the import invoice if it indicates that the goods are being returned
  • a suitable statement from the manufacturer 
  • a preferential origin certificate

If the grounds for relief are met, you do not need to file a formal customs declaration to obtain relief on your own personal belongings reimported in accompanying baggage.

Goods reimported in baggage

If the grounds for relief are met, you do not need to file a formal customs declaration to obtain relief on your own personal belongings reimported in accompanying baggage.

You must declare any additional reimported products in your baggage, such as commercial samples, at the red channel or redpoint upon arrival, and UK Customs may require you to submit a formal customs declaration requesting relief.

Postal reimports of goods from outside the United Kingdom

Instruct the sender to clearly mark the package and accompanying customs statement as ‘Returned goods — relief claimed.’ The message must contain a detailed and precise description of the products, their quantity and value.

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