What Is an EORI Number and Why Do I Need One?

December 6, 2023
10 min read


Dipping your toes in the world of international trade is no walk in the park. Let’s face it: navigating the labyrinth of international trade can often seem like deciphering an alien language filled with an array of terms, acronyms, and procedures. 

Among these, the term 'EORI number' frequently pops up. But what on Earth does EORI mean? Why is it so crucial in the context of global commerce? 

This comprehensive guide aims to shed light on the concept of EORI numbers, their importance, and the reasons why your business might need one.

Key Points

  • EORI numbers are compulsory for companies wishing to ship goods to a foreign country (including the EU). They streamline the process of customs clearance, allowing customs offices around the world to track and record all kinds of shipments.
  • In the UK, EORI numbers can be obtained online through the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website.
  • The EORI system enhances efficiency in international trade, facilitating smoother interactions between businesses and customs authorities.
  • Understanding how EORI numbers work can help businesses and individuals navigate the complexities of customs procedures. However, it is a recommended practice for businesses to partner with a renowned fulfilment company that speeds up and optimises order fulfilment, such as Bezos.

Breaking Down EORI Numbers

Let’s start with the basics: EORI is an acronym that stands for Economic Operators Registration and Identification. It's a system that was established by the EU to identify businesses that are involved in customs activities. 

And now, the history bit: the EORI system was introduced on July 1, 2009, as a replacement for the Trader's Unique Reference Number system. The change was made to comply with the modernised customs code and security amendments introduced by the EU. Although the UK is no longer part of the EU, its companies still need to use EORI numbers.

Additionally, the EORI system was designed to be more efficient and to facilitate smoother interactions between businesses and customs authorities. Prior to its introduction, businesses and customs authorities often faced challenges in identifying and tracking shipments, leading to delays and complications in the customs clearance process. 

Hence, the EORI system was introduced to address these issues and streamline the shipping process.

Okay, but How Do EORI Numbers Work?

In a few words, the EORI system assigns a unique identification number to each economic operator involved in international trade. This number is used in all communications with customs authorities, making it easier for these authorities to identify shipments. 

This uniform identification system across all EU member states simplifies the process of customs clearance, as customs authorities can easily access all the necessary information about a trader by referring to their EORI number.

The EORI number also enables customs authorities to track the movement of goods. By linking each shipment to a specific EORI number, they can monitor the flow of goods across borders and ensure compliance with customs regulations

Companies often include their EORI numbers in their bills of lading.

And Why Do We Need EORI Numbers?

Having an EORI number is a legal requirement for businesses involved in international trade with countries outside the EU. Here's a table summarising the key reasons why EORI numbers are necessary:

Customs ClearanceEORI numbers are used in customs declarations and clearance, enabling efficient processing of goods at the border. Without an EORI number, shipments can be delayed or even rejected.
Trade ComplianceThe number ensures that businesses are compliant with trade regulations, helping authorities to monitor and manage trade activities. This includes checking for illegal trade, fraud, and other violations of international trade laws.
Identification of Economic OperatorsIt serves as a unique identifier for businesses engaged in international trade, making it easier for customs authorities to track and document the movement of goods.
Data ExchangeEORI numbers are vital for electronic data exchange between different customs authorities, traders, and other government bodies. This enables the quick exchange of information and facilitates more streamlined processes.
Facilitation of Tax and Duty CollectionBy identifying businesses involved in the trade, EORI numbers assist in the proper collection of taxes and duties, ensuring that the correct amounts are levied based on the value of the goods and the specific trade agreements in place.

Who Needs an EORI Number?

If you're a business or an individual involved in international trade within the EU, you need an EORI number. This includes businesses and sole traders that export or import physical goods to or from the EU for commercial purposes. 

Traders from outside the EU who ship to an EU country don't need their own EORI number, but they do need to provide their recipient or importer's EORI number on the commercial invoice.

As per the UK Government website, companies that want to trade goods with non-EU countries need an EORI number.

Even if you're not a registered business, you still need an EORI number if you're considered to be trading with businesses or individuals in countries outside of the EU. However, infrequent traders or those simply selling a few personal possessions every once in a while are not required to have an EORI number.

How Is an EORI Number Formatted?

EORI numbers come in four formats. If you're VAT-registered, a standard EORI number will be in the format GB + VAT registration number (or VRN). If you're not VAT-registered, it will be GB + a unique number designated by HMRC. 

There is an alternative number for exporting or importing physical goods to or from Northern Ireland, which remains part of the EU for customs purposes. EORI numbers for use with Northern Irish shipments start with XI.

For example, an EORI number in the UK would look like this: GB 1234 5612 3456. On the other hand, a Spanish EORI number would be something like this: ES 1234 5612 3456.

How to Apply for an EORI Number

The UK Government website makes applying for an EORI number very easy.

If you need an EORI number, don’t worry – obtaining one is a relatively straightforward process. All you need to do is head to the HMRC website and fill in the relevant application form. After you've submitted your application, HMRC will process it and issue your EORI number in just a few days.

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How do you apply for an EORI number?

You can apply for an EORI number online through your country’s customs website. In the UK, EORI numbers are issued by HMRC. The application process is free, and it usually takes around three days for this number to be issued. It's advisable to apply a few weeks before shipping to avoid any potential customs delays.

Where do you need to include the EORI number?

If you're trading with a European company, you need to include their EORI number on the commercial invoice. Also, if you're shipping out of an EU country, you'll need to provide your own EORI number on the commercial invoice.

Who needs an EORI number?

Any business or individual involved in importing or exporting goods outside the UK needs an EORI number. This includes businesses that trade within the EU post-Brexit. However, if you’re an individual importing or exporting goods for non-commercial purposes, you don’t need an EORI number.

Do I need an EORI number if I use a freight forwarder or customs agent?

Yes, even if you use a freight forwarder or customs agent, your business still needs its own EORI number.

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