All You Need to Know About Export Licences

2 months ago   •   4 min read

By Silverbird Content Team

UK businesses export millions of goods globally every year, and that number is growing.

In 2022, the UK will increase its export of goods to the EU and non-EU countries by 7.9% to £7.2 billion.

As any businessperson would tell you, that’s a lot of bureaucracy to sift through.

All goods imported or exported into and out of the UK are regulated by the UK’s Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU). This government body has strict requirements that exporters must meet.

Getting an export licence is just of the many bureaucratic box-ticking exercises you will have to do.

But don’t worry, we’ve compiled a handy guide to let you know what an export licence is, what it entails and how to apply for an export licence if you need one.

So, let’s dive in.


This article at a glance

An export licence is a government authorisation to export controlled goods overseas. From Standard Individual Export Licences to European Union Export Authorisations, these licenses differ based on the type of goods you’re exporting and their destination.


What is an export licence?

An export licence is an official document issued by Export Control Joint Unit for registered companies to export controlled goods. These regulations aim to restrict the transfer of sensitive goods and technology to other companies outside of the UK.

Do I need an export licence?

It depends on the following criteria:

  • The nature of your goods
  • The end destination of your goods
  • The ultimate use of the goods by the other party
  • The licensability of trade activities of the goods due to be exported

If your goods fit into any of the criteria, you will need an export licence.

Types of UK export licences

Whether you’re supplying controlled goods to other countries on a long-term basis or one-time off, you will need to get an export control licence. Here are the different types of UK export licences:

Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL)

A licence that allows the exporter to ship a specific quantity of specific items to a specified recipient. This licence is usually valid for two years.

Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL)

The licence covers multiple shipments of specific items to specific destinations. It’s generally valid for 5 years for permanent export and 3 years for export to an EU Member State of goods entered on the Military and Dealer List.

Open General Export Licence (OGEL)

The licence allows the exporters to ship specific goods to certain destinations. It’s usually used for less restricted and regulated types of goods. There’s no limit to the number of goods you can export.

European Union Export Authorisations (EU GEAs)

An equivalent to the OGEL, the EU GEAs allow exporters to ship specific dual-use items from Northern Ireland to specific non-EU destinations.  

Remember that penalties are imposed if you obtain the incorrect licence for exporting goods.  

How much does a UK export licence cost?

The cost of each export licence depends on the types of controlled goods you are exporting and the licence you are applying for.

At times, you might be applying for one or more licences for the types of goods you are exporting.

What goods require an export license?

It depends on what you export.

If you ship these goods, you must apply for an import or export licence:

  • Military goods, firearms, ammunition and related equipment
  • Medicines, drugs or medical devices
  • Chemicals
  • Radioactive substances
  • Historical artefacts
  • Animal or animal products
  • Vehicles
  • Plant products like soil, fertilisers, flowers or seeds
  • Diamonds
  • Dual use items

Dual-use items are products designed for commercial purposes but may also be used for military purposes. For example, computer software that is used for commercial business use can also be used for military purposes.

If you’re worried about the procedure, the export licence is usually processed by other teams under the licensing department. Each of these teams has a specific audit or checking function before the licence is issued.

How do I apply for an export license?

To apply for an export license, you must have an account with SPIRE, the Export Control Joint Unit’s (ECJU) online export licencing system.

Provide the following details:

  • The type of licence you are applying
  • A document that indicates ECJU or HMRC has informed you that your goods require a licence based on their end use
  • Details of any third parties or agents
  • The ultimate end destinations and end users of the goods
  • Details about the functions and the purpose of how the items will be used
  • An Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number
  • The export classification of your items
  • Supporting technical documentation to confirm the classification
  • Confirmation of the location your goods will be exported. The licence requirements will be different if you are shipping from Northern Ireland and Great Britain
  • Confirmation of the movement of your exported goods
  • Confirm the location of the third party in the UK – either in Northern Ireland or Great Britain
  • Confirm your ultimate end user in the UK – either they are in Northern Ireland or Great Britain
  • Confirm that the recipient of your goods is located in either Northern Ireland or Great Britain

How long does it take to get an export license?

Each export license has a processing time. SIEL applications take between 20 and 60 working days to process an application. OIEL applications take up to 60 working days, though more complex cases can take up to 120 working days.

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Author: Renee Yang
Illustration: Kate Faldina

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