Import or export outside the EU? What you need to know about CDS

Wed 18 Jul 2018
Posted by: Sam Pileggi
Trade News

customs declaration keyboard button

Do you make customs declarations for goods imported from or exported outside the EU? If so then you will need to know about the new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) which is being phased in from August, to replace the current Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) System. It is anticipated that all declarations will take place on CDS from early 2019.

According to HMRC "CDS will provide a modern, digital declaration service that can grow in line with the government’s trade ambitions. It will also accommodate new legislative requirements under the Union Customs Code (UCC)."


Who is affected?
Businesses and/or their agents who make customs declarations for goods imported from and exported outside the EU. This could be directly on CHIEF or through a software provider.


Why is CDS replacing CHIEF?

CHIEF is one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated electronic services for managing customs declaration processes, but it’s nearly 25 years old and can’t be easily adapted to new requirements.

The decision to replace CHIEF with CDS was made before the EU referendum, however CDS will be scaled to handle any potential increases in the volume of declarations that may result from the UK’s exit from the EU.

How will CDS be introduced?

  • from August 2018, a group of importers will start making declarations on CDS; HMRC is currently contacting these businesses to explain what they need to do; there is no action for you to take unless you have been contacted by HMRC

  • from November 2018, all importers will be able to start using CDS once their software provider or in-house software team has developed a CDS compatible software package; if your software provider hasn’t informed you about how they’re preparing for CDS, please check they are in contact with HMRC; they can email

  • exporters will follow after this and we will provide further information to let you know what you need to do and when; if you import and export, you may need to use CHIEF and CDS in parallel for a short period of time.


CHIEF will continue to run for a period of time while businesses transition to CDS to ensure trade continues to flow as usual.


How will this affect importers and exporters?

When you start making declarations on CDS, you will need to provide some additional in order to align with the World Customs Organisation Kyoto Convention, currently being implemented in the UK through the Union Customs Code (UCC):

  • an audit trail of previous document IDs
  • additional party types, such as the buyer and seller
  • possible additional commercial references or tracking numbers
  • levelling – change between ‘Header’ and ‘Item’ for some data items

To align UK customs data with international standards, there will also be changes to:

  • location of goods identification (based on UNLOCODE)
  • the warehouse type code list
  • item tax lines, including method of payment codes
  • unit of quantity codes (ISO)
  • the way customs procedures are quoted
  • the number of items on a declaration – CDS will allow a maximum of 999 items on a customs declaration instead of the current 99 items on CHIEF

Further information will be in the imports tariff, which will be available on GOV.UK in August 2018 and in the exports tariff which will be available later in the year.

We will continue to inform members of any updates as we receive them, or for more information please visit the CDS page on GOV.UK