As of 1 January 2021, businesses based in Great Britain have needed an EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification) number beginning with ‘GB’ to trade with the EU.
Before you start the application process, there are a few things you should know about the different types of EORI numbers and what they can be used for.
What is an EORI number?
An EORI number is a unique identification number used by businesses when importing and exporting goods to different countries.
EORI numbers are up to 15 digits long, with two letters at the beginning that indicate the country of origin.
Different countries have their own EORI numbers, but there are three key types UK traders need to know about:
- Businesses moving goods to or from Great Britain need an EORI number that starts with ‘GB.’
- Businesses moving goods to or from Northern Ireland need an EORI number that starts with ‘XI’.
- Businesses that make declarations or get customs decisions in EU countries need an EORI number from the EU country where the declaration is submitted or the customs decision is requested.
- You can also use an XI EORI number in place of an EU-country EORI number, providing you have a permanent business establishment in Northern Ireland.
For businesses solely trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EORI number isn’t required. If you have an existing EORI number from an EU country, you won’t need an XI EORI number to trade with EU countries.
Purpose and benefits of an EORI number
An EORI number is essential for completing certain customs, import, and export procedures. If your business is based in Great Britain, you must have a GB EORI number to legally trade with EU countries. It means goods can be tracked and identified more easily by customs authorities, which can help with getting goods cleared more quickly at borders.
You also need an EORI number for making a customs declaration, applying for a customs decision, or assigning someone to deal with customs for you.
EORI number example
If you’re importing goods into an EU country, you need to submit a customs declaration to the customs office that includes your EORI number – so that the goods and your business can be identified.
Another example of where you might use an EORI number is if you wish to put goods in a temporary storage facility. Here, you would submit a temporary storage declaration which includes your EORI number, and present the goods at customs to be stored for up to 90 days.
EORI numbers all follow a similar structure. Two letters (assigned to the country), followed by a unique code of 15 digits (maximum).
For example, an EORI number (UK) will look something like this:
*VAT-registered businesses typically have longer EORI numbers that include their VAT number. They’re formatted as follows: country code + VAT number + 000.
Do I need an EORI number?
You need an EORI number if you;
- Move goods between Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales) or the Isle of Man, and any other country (including EU countries),
- Move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,
- Move goods between Great Britain and the Channel Islands,
- Move goods between Northern Ireland and non-EU countries,
Without the correct EORI number (see: What is an EORI number?), you cannot legally trade with those countries. You don’t need an EORI number if the goods you’re moving are for personal use, or not controlled.
It might be that your business already has an EORI number. To find out if this is the case, you can contact the HMRC imports and exports team online, via phone, or post. If your business is VAT-registered, you can try checking GB EORI numbers here. Many VAT-registered businesses have EORI numbers that follow a similar format: GB + their VAT number + 000.
How to apply for an EORI number from HMRC
To apply for an EORI number beginning with GB, you’ll need:
- Your UTR (Unique Taxpayer Reference) number
- Your business start date
- Your Government Gateway user ID and password
- Limited companies: your SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code (you can find this in the Companies House register). Sole traders will be able to choose a SIC code that fits their business type in the application process.
- Your National Insurance number - Businesses outside of the UK don’t need a UTR, SIC code, or National Insurance number
Your EORI number application can be completed in a few easy steps.
- Head to the HMRC EORI application page.
- Provide an email address for HMRC to contact you at, and verify your email address by clicking the link sent to you.
- Complete the application (it should take you around 10 minutes).
- Confirm the information and submit your application.
- You’ll either receive an EORI number immediately, or if HMRC needs to make any checks on your application, it can take up to five working days.
Common mistakes to avoid when applying for an EORI number
So long as your application is complete, getting a GB EORI number shouldn’t take long.
But you’ll want to avoid the following mistakes to make sure your application goes through:
- Providing incorrect information: A mistyped UTR number or incorrect SIC code could delay your application. Make sure your application is accurate and your information is up to date.
- Getting a GB and XI EORI number: Your business might need an EORI number for Great Britain, and another for Northern Ireland. But bear in mind: you can’t apply for an XI EORI number until you have a GB one. So make sure you sort a GB EORI number ahead of needing one for Northern Ireland.
- Failing to check EORI numbers: You only need one EORI number for the country you trade with. Check to see if your business already has the right EORI number from a previous transaction, by using either the GB EORI checker, or the EU EORI checker.
- Not considering the type of EORI number: Businesses in Great Britain that wish to trade goods with the EU need a GB EORI number. Businesses moving goods to or from Northern Ireland need an EORI number beginning with XI. If you plan to make declarations or get customs decisions in an EU country, you need an EORI number from the country where you’re submitting declarations.
- Leaving your application too late: It can take up to five days for HMRC to review your application. If you make a mistake that could mean additional time spent fixing it. Apply for an EORI number well in advance of any planned imports or exports.
- Not updating details: If your business information changes after receiving your EORI number, update the relevant customs authorities as soon as possible. There are no penalties for not having an EORI number on goods – but without one, the importer won’t be able to pick the goods up.
Check the validity of your EORI number
EORI numbers and cross-border trade
An EORI number unlocks international trade for UK businesses. And it’s a legal requirement for importing or exporting goods in or out of the UK.
By understanding what an EORI number is, why it matters, and how to apply for EORI numbers, you can make sure your business complies with customs regulations and keeps trade moving.
If your business imports and exports overseas, check out our postponed VAT accounting guide, and learn how the scheme could help you with business cash flow
Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.
Start using Xero for free
Access all Xero features for 30 days, then decide which plan best suits your business.
- Safe and secure
- Cancel any time
- 24/7 online support