What are UK Export Controlled Goods? Your Import and Export Need-to-Know Guide

October 17, 2022
What are UK Export Controlled Goods? Your Import and Export Need-to-Know Guide

Are you planning to import or export goods?

If so, you need to know about controlled goods. Some commodities – tobacco, certain endangered species, and nuclear materials, to name just a few – are subject to strict regulations. You are responsible for complying with legislation and ensuring your satisfy your obligations.

Failure to do so means you leaves you open costly penalties or prosecution. It can also put lives and welfare at risk – whether in the UK or further afield. We can help you manage the risks involved in moving controlled goods.

Controlled goods are more widespread than you might think. The UK imported £340 billion of goods and exported £505 billion in 2021, (HMRC). Within that, food, animal and plant products are subject to controls. Manufactured goods like lasers, optical equipment or nuclear material within medical equipment are controlled to prevent them falling into the wrong hands. Products from endangered species like alligator skin watch straps are controlled to prevent damage to biodiversity.

Not only that, but did you know that certain technology and software is also subject to export controls?

A UK authorisation might also be required to move technology or software abroad. Furthermore, your goods, technology or software might fall under the regulatory control of other jurisdictions. It might be surprising to learn, for example, that every Apple device is subject to the US Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

These goods need to move across borders for manufacture, testing, sale or repair. But you need to know the rules. That’s why we’ve put together this blog post.

Here at clearBorder, leading international trade consultants, we provide independent and expert consultancy and training to enable seamless trade across borders – so we know a thing or two about the movement of controlled goods.

In this post, we’ll firstly look at why exactly some goods are subject to stricter controls. We’ll then move on to a walkthrough of the export and import of controlled goods, and what to do if you need some assistance wrapping your head around it all.

Why are Some Goods Subject to Tighter Control?

Whilst their intended use or distribution may be totally harmless and safe, some goods do have the potential to be turned to illicit, illegal or harmful purposes. This is the unfortunate reality that the Government seeks to manage by implementing stricter trade regulations, where they deem it necessary.

There’s also an ethical angle to be considered. Some controlled goods are not necessarily ‘dangerous’, they might be perceived by some as morally dubious. This relates to the movement of goods into and out of the UK. It might include certain artefacts of historic interest, rare plant species, or items originating in locations currently subject to UK sanctions – North Korea, for instance.

This is not to say that the movement of these goods is absolutely and always prohibited; it’s more that there are a number of additional declaration rules, by which importers and exporters must conduct their operations.

Exporting Controlled Goods

The UK government has published guidelines explaining the export of controlled goods. This system is regulated through a series of specific licenses and includes items such as:

  • Military items
  • Dual-use items; that is, objects with both a civil and a military application
  • Firearms
  • Realistic imitation firearms
  • Classified and authorised explosives
  • Torture equipment or objects that could be used to facilitate capital punishment
  • Other goods subject to trade sanctions

If you wish to export any of the items on this list, you’ll need to contact the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) and obtain a relevant license. You’ll need to get approval for an account on SPIRE, the Government system used to manage export licenses.

This guidance reflects changes which came into effect when the UK left the EU. Controlled and ‘strategic’ items may face slightly different regulations when exported to Northern Ireland, under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol. There is specific guidance on the relevant customs procedures regarding the movement of controlled goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Importing Controlled Goods

The situation regarding goods imported to the UK is a little more complicated.

Full import declaration rules apply to controlled goods. If you wish to import goods that fall under one or more of the following categories, you are obliged to follow the normal rules for making import declarations – including for goods imported from Ireland via Northern Ireland.

Excise goods

This includes all items subject to excise duty, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Biofuels, hydrocarbon oils, fuel substitutes and road fuel gases
  • Items which are subject to the Climate Change Levy
  • Tobacco product manufacturing apparatus.

Controlled drugs

This applies to all substances stated in the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971, amended), and the Misuse of Drugs Regulations (2001). A (non-exhaustive, but comprehensive) list of controlled drugs, along with their classification, is available from the Home Office.

Drug precursor chemicals

This would include precursor chemicals within categories 1, 2a, 2b, 3 and 4 of the Council Regulation (EC) No.111/2005 as enacted by The Controlled Drug Regulations (2008). More information about precursor chemical licensing is available from the Home Office.

Toxic chemicals

Chemicals that may be hazardous or pose a threat to health and safety fall under Schedule 1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention’s Schedule of Chemicals. The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy should be contacted for more detailed information.

Endangered species (CITES-listed endangered animals/plants, or derived products)

A complete index of the relevant species can be found on Species+ of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Fishery products

Any product or item related to the fisheries industry for which a catch certificate would be required. More detail on this is provided by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).


Again, DEFRA provides further information and guidance regarding this category. Please note, though, that solid ammonium nitrate fertiliser is subject to this categorisation if:

  • It contains a nitrogen content of more than 28% of its weight
  • It is part of a consignment of 500kg or more

Anti-personnel mines

Equipment with the exclusive purpose of development or training in techniques of mine detection, mine clearance or mine destruction is not subject to this categorisation.


Any explosive or explosive precursor that a signatory has assigned a hazard classification to the European Agreement Concerning International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road is subject to control. More information is available on the HSE website.


This definition would extend to include:

  • Cannons
  • Torpedoes
  • Missiles

Please note, however, that some air rifles and pistols are exempt.

Pyrotechnic articles, including fireworks

This includes anything for which an authorisation is required for the acquisition, keeping, transfer, storage or manufacture of pyrotechnics.

Military goods

Any item which has been specifically developed for use by military personnel is subject to controls. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Percussion caps
  • Detonators
  • Signal flares
  • Armoured vehicles
  • Telescopic sights
  • Some antiques.

Nuclear materials

Nuclear materials may only be imported to Great Britain under license; this includes medical radioisotopes. It also includes:

  • Uranium ore concentrates
  • Plutonium
  • Uranium 233
  • Uranium enriched in isotopes 233 or 235
  • Natural uranium and mixtures, compounds and alloys which contain any of the above
  • Irradiated nuclear cartridges.

Offensive weapons

An offensive weapon would be any item specifically designed to kill or inflict substantial damage, and which does not have a legitimate use. Select organisations may import some items in this category under special conditions. The Home Office holds a list of guns, knives, swords and other offensive weaponry.

Realistic imitation firearms

Any object that resembles a genuine firearm so closely that a person could not be reasonably expected to tell the difference. Items imported for use in historical re-enactments, films, or other productions may be granted special dispensation.

Torture equipment

If the goods are to be used exclusively for purposes of public display, such as in a museum, it may be possible to import torture equipment under a licence issued by the Import Licensing Branch of the Department for International Trade.

Ozone-depleting substances and hydrofluorocarbons

More information on specific substances can be obtained from the Environment Agency on F gas and ODS rules.

Rough diamonds

The trade of rough diamonds is regulated by the Kimberley Process (KP) Certification Scheme. Any updates to these controls are published by the Home Office under guidance for the export of rough diamonds.

Anti-dumping duty and countervailing duties

This category is broad and covers a range of goods, including products from (but not limited to) the following sectors:

  • Fertilisers
  • Biodiesels
  • Ceramics
  • Steel
  • Aluminium

Steel safeguards

Steel and steel products subject to tariff safeguards regarding their importation are controlled. Consult chapters 72 and 73 of the UK Trade Tariff for more information.

Sanction goods and weapons of mass destruction-related goods

The UK may be operating a number of international sanctions at any given time, and the government keeps a full list of sanctions currently in place. This category also includes items subject to UK sanctions, or specific goods subject to import licensing controls under UK sanctions (North Korea and Iran, for instance), as well as some products from chapters 27, 28, 44, 69, 71 and 76 of the UK Trade Tariff.

Understand Export & Import Licencing Controls

Import and export of controlled goods involves navigating an extensive range of rules and regulations. The process of moving controlled goods will ultimately depend on the nature of the goods being moved. This sounds obvious, but can result in significantly different procedures. Furthermore, these processes are usually couched in convoluted legalese, which can make the situation dramatically more time-consuming and/or obscure. If you’re overseeing a cross-border trading operation, you may not have the time – or the headspace – needed to take it all on.

And that’s where our team can help. At clearBorder, we’re the go-to destination for digital modular training and operation-critical advice for all trading businesses. We help you avoid risks and optimise efficiency. Our experts are independent and skilled, and we provide the most accessible, up-to-date knowledge for the cross-border movement of goods – controlled or otherwise.

To acquire on-hand trading expertise when you need it, or to discuss your needs, get in touch with us directly.