Do you need an export or import licence?


If your business is considering exporting or importing goods, you will need to check if you need a licence.

There are controls on exports of military or paramilitary goods, technology, artworks, plants and animals, medicines and chemicals. Licence requirements may depend on the potential use of the item – eg if it has a military application (usually referred to as dual-use goods) and where you are exporting to.

There are also controls on imports including firearms, plants and animals, foods, medicines, textiles and chemicals. Whether you need a licence can also depend on where the goods are coming from.

Exporting or importing controlled goods without the right licence is a criminal offence, so it’s important to check first.

You may need a licence even if you are only exporting or importing goods temporarily – eg taking a sample to an exhibition.

This guide contains basic information. For intermediate information see nibusinessinfo’s guide on licences and enforcement for international trading.

Do you need an export or import licence for technology, firearms and defence?

Restrictions on the export of technology and defence goods do not just apply to weapons or military hardware. They also apply to goods that are designed for civil use but can be used for military purposes, usually referred to as dual use goods – items such as machine tools, computers and marine equipment. There are also some restrictions on moving military goods between third countries, ie not involving the UK.

If you’re planning to export anything with a potential military use you should always seek advice on whether a licence is required.

For further information, see our section on the Export Control Organisation or email the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) Export Control Organisation at to check whether restrictions are likely to apply.

As well as applying to specific types of products, restrictions also apply to certain destinations – in particular those to which trade sanctions and arms embargoes apply. Again, you should take advice from the Export Control Organisation.

See nibusinessinfo’s guide: beginners’ guide to export controls.

Watch a video about your export control responsibilities and how you can ensure you have the correct licences on the BIS website.

The following licences are available for strategic controlled goods:

  • Open General Licence (OGL) – this allows the export of specific goods by any exporter to a range of destinations. Open Licences may be available for less restricted controlled items. You must register for these licences and adhere to all terms and conditions. If you cannot fulfil all the terms and conditions you will need to apply for a Standard Individual Export Licence, as detailed below.
  • Standard Individual Export Licence – this allows the export of a quantity of specified goods to a specified importer as set out in the licence.
  • Open Individual Export Licence – this is specific to an individual exporter and allows multiple shipments of specified goods to specified destinations. It is a concessionary form of licence available to exporters with a track record in export licence applications only.

SPIRE is the Export Control Organisation’s online database for processing licence applications. You must use it to apply for any of the licences processed by the Export Control Organisation within BIS. Use the SPIRE service on the BIS website


Importers must be registered firearms dealers and have the appropriate licence from BIS to accompany firearms and ammunition.

Find more information on the Import Licensing Branch page on the BIS website.