Guide to importing | Royal Bank of Scotland

Guide to

Whether you’re new to importing or you’d like to import more, discover a wealth of opportunity


Just as there are myriad opportunities in trading overseas, there are also many issues and challenges that you need to be sensitive to, from local customs, to the legal regulations businesses need to abide by. Whether you're importing or exporting or engaged in both - we can help your business maximise its international trading potential.

Through our working relationship with UK Trade & Investment and other partners, we support both new import businesses as well as those already trading internationally. Our International trade guide gives you an overview of conducting business overseas, whether you’re starting out or growing your export activity. It covers the main things to think about along with links to more detailed information where you require it. You can find more information about the specifics of trading and advice surrounding different rules, regulations and customs from UK Trade & Investment and the British Chambers of Commerce.

Top tips for importers


Icon expand New to importing?

If you want to cut costs, improve quality and become more competitive as a business, it's always worth thinking about importing goods, machinery or raw materials from overseas. One of the first things you need to do is to find a reliable trading partner - and at the right price. However there are more considerations when looking to source goods from overseas. Our top tips below should give you some fundamental areas to consider:

1. Visit trade shows and international business fairs.
Get networking if you want to meet potential new suppliers face to face.

2. Consider your payment risks.
If your supplier wants payment or a percentage of payment before shipment of the goods, ask them for an import letter of credit which can help to reduce your payment risk.

3. How reliable is your supplier? Ensure that your supplier is able to supply your goods consistently, on a regular basis and to the required quality.

4. Take the time to build relationships. Look to build a strong, healthy relationship with your supplier's key staff and management. Visiting your suppliers is often an essential part of assessing their suitability and building your relationship with them.

5. Ensure that your supplier has ethical working practices. Price is important, but it isn't everything. Your reputation could suffer if you buy from suppliers who operate unethically.

6. Fully understand the entire costs before placing any overseas orders. Look into the following:
    -Transportation costs
    -Port/warehouse costs
    -Import duties
    -Inspection charges
    -Agent's fees

7. Ensure any goods imported comply with all government regulations of the destination country. Failure to do so can delay the custom's clearing process and incur significant taxes.

8. Make sure your contract is crystal clear and legally binding. It's important to make sure the contract between the buyer and supplier sets out who is responsible for transport and insurance at every stage. A clear agreement, using internationally accepted trading terms to set out exactly what delivery terms you have agreed, also helps to reduce the risk of confusion. These are known as Incoterms®.

9. Do your market research. Market research is an important way of reducing your risks. The more you find out about a country and its politics, economy, culture and business environment, the less likely you are to get caught out by unexpected problems.

10. Which currency will give you the most preferable rates? Will you be paying with sterling or another currency? Is there a foreign exchange risk that can be reduced by using a foreign currency account or foreign exchange?

11. A wealth of government support makes importing simple The government has a strong commitment to supporting UK importing businesses. Heavy government investment has gone into improving the services available – particularly via bodies like the UKTI.

Explore international trade support and opportunities

At first buying and selling internationally can seem a daunting process. Working with the right partners can help you branch out to overseas markets with confidence. Visit these UK-based organisations for the right support when you're exploring trade opportunities in new international markets.

Resources - useful links - bite-size knowledge

Institute of Export

Knowledge in bite-size chunks is a series of education modules from the Institute of Export. Each module covers a different area of international trade.

Sign up for one of their in-house courses and benefit from 20% off – just use the discount code rbs20.

View courses at the Institute of Export


If you’ve still got questions about international trade, GuruOnline may have the answers.

Popular topics – such as importing, exporting, currency, language and legal issues – are covered in a series of short video explanations.

View the videos at GuruOnline

Get in touch


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