E-commerce News and Insights
Feb 27, 2023

Shipping To Europe: HS Code Changes When Shipping to EU Countries

For many e-commerce merchants, international shipping is a core part of their business strategy. One of the first international markets that U.S. merchants tend to look at is shipping to Europe. This is for good reason since revenue projections for the e-commerce market in Europe are currently forecasted to reach $730.30 billion in 2023.

But, as international shippers can tell you, sending packages to another country can be more complicated than sending them domestically. That process might get a little more challenging in the coming weeks, specifically when shipping to countries within the European Union (EU).

Started on March 1, 2023, anyone shipping to the EU should include HS Codes and full descriptions of the contents within each package according to the EU’s Import Control System 2 (ICS2). While it has always been good practice to include these two pieces of information, the EU has moved to make HS codes a mandatory requirement. Penalties for not complying with these rules have now been enforced since July 20, 2023.

To help get you prepared for these changes, we’ll break down everything you need to know moving forward when shipping to Europe, specifically to EU countries.

What is the Harmonized System (HS)?

According to the International Trade Administration: “The Harmonized System is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products. It is used by customs authorities around the world to identify products when assessing duties and taxes and for gathering statistics.”

HS codes help those working in customs agencies quickly identify what’s inside of a parcel without having to open it. HS codes make shipping to other countries faster and more efficient.

The Harmonized System is run by the World Customs Organization (WCO). The Organization updates the HS every 5 years, so you’ll want to be sure you’re using the latest codes for your products. HS codes are made up of 6 digits, but countries are able to add more digits to classify products further.

The United States, for example, uses 10-digit codes to classify export products, the first 6 of which are the HS number. This 10-digit code is known as a Schedule B number and is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Division. The 2023 codes have been updated and can be found on the Bureau’s website.

More than 200 countries around the world use the harmonized system, so obtaining the HS codes for your products can help when shipping to countries outside the EU.

How Will Shipping to the EU Change?

The EU is preparing to launch The Import Control System 2 (ICS2). This is the second iteration of the digital customs import system used by EU countries. It is essentially an upgraded IT system that will be able to better collect data on goods coming into the EU before they arrive at EU borders.

The purpose behind the changes is to better protect the European Union’s efforts to have a single market and to protect the citizens within each country.

One important note is that HS Codes and detailed information about items will need to be given to the ICS2, even if the parcel’s final destination isn’t an EU country. For example, you could be shipping a package to the UK, but it has to pass through an EU country such as Ireland.

Last but not least, if you have more than a single item inside of a parcel, you’ll need to provide the HS code for each item as well as the net weight of each item.

Which Countries Will Implement These New HS Code Rules?

The countries that will be affected by these HS changes will be:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Republic of Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden

There are also countries outside the EU that will be implementing these changes as well. Those counties include Norway, Switzerland, and USPS shipments that are going to Army Post Offices (APO), Diplomatic Post Offices (DPO), and Fleet Post Offices (FPO) in Europe.

What Information Will I Need To Provide

Aside from the HS codes you will need to provide for each product inside the parcel you’re sending, you’ll also need a full description of what’s inside. The optimal length for describing these items is 50-100 characters or 10-15 words.

Be sure when you’re writing these descriptions that you ask yourself:

  • What is it?
  • What materials are the items made out of?
  • What are the items used for?

As an example, check out the chart below:

When shipping to Europe, you’ll need to examine these descriptions and codes more carefully.

Who Will I Need To Provide The HS Codes To, and When?

When preparing your shipment, you will first need to add HS codes to the commercial invoice and customs invoice associated with your shipment. These invoices will need to be taped or stuck onto the outside of your package along with the shipping label itself. By attaching this information to the outside of your package, you will provide the HS Codes to the carrier you are using to deliver the parcel first. They will then hand electronically pass this information off to the customs agency of the country you’re trying to ship to.

You will need to provide an HS code for every item within your parcel, and you’ll need to do this for each individual parcel that ships to a country in the EU. If you’re sending a package that includes several of the same item in a singular package, you’ll only need to provide the HS code once and specify the quantity of that item in a separate place within the customs invoice.

Even though using HS codes (also referred to as tariff codes in other countries) and full descriptions have always been good practice, The EU recommends the use of HS codes and full descriptions beginning March 1, 2023. However, starting on July 20, 2023, penalties have begun to be assessed for those who don’t comply.

What Will Happen If I Don’t Comply With The New Rules?

If you do not include an HS code for your items or fail to provide a detailed description of your products, it can lead to non-compliance penalties and/or border delays. The impact varies by country as they make the requirement mandatory.

There are resources and information provided by the USPS, UPS, and FedEx when it comes to how to ship to the EU with them. However, the process will be simpler for Shippo users.

What Does This Mean For Shippo Users?

Making international shipping a faster process has always been something that Shippo has valued. This will continue to be the case moving forward.

Currently, users can add HS and ECCN/EAR99 codes when filling out their customs and commercial invoices. Filling out these codes has been optional and will continue to be optional when shipping to countries outside the EU.

However, HS codes will be crucial when shipping to Europe, especially if you plan on shipping with FedEx or UPS. Those shipping internationally with USPS may be able to get away with just a detailed description of the products. However, providing the HS code number will be the preferred shipping method and will ensure you don’t encounter any customs issues.

This process within Shippo will become more streamlined in the near future to reduce redundancy and give a more consistent workflow process when using Shippo as a whole.

We’re working on some exciting updates for our UI this quarter and beyond! Sign up to our newsletter below to stay in the loop with all important updates.

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Hasan Nabulsi
is the Content Marketing Manager at Shippo.

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