Import restrictions and regulations

If you come across a product in a foreign country that you want to import, make sure to research whether you are allowed to import it first. In most cases, this will not be a problem. Sometimes, there are restrictions. You may need an import licence or other type of consent. There may be an import ban, due to sanctions. Are you importing branded goods? Make sure you know the rules on parallel imports.

This article goes into import restrictions and regulations for various types of products. And the permits or documents you will need in order to import them. 

Imports from EU countries 

The Netherlands is a member state of the EU. The EU is a single market without internal borders, so goods can move freely from one EU member state to another. This means that you will not have to declare goods that you import from another EU country to customs, nor will you have to pay import duties. But there are additional rules for some products. For example, if you import excise duty goods or transport waste between member states. And you are not allowed to import and trade counterfeit goods. 

Products that have been approved in another EU country can also be sold in the Netherlands. In some cases, member states can decide to ban or withdraw a specific product or substance from the market for the sake of protecting people, animals, plants, and the environment, for instance. If you want to sell products in the Netherlands, make sure that you are familiar with the Commodities Act, which deals with consumer products and safety. Under the Commodities Act, for example, the mandatory food information on pre-packaged food and beverages must be provided in Dutch. 

Imports from non-EU countries 

You always need to submit an import declaration at Customs when you import goods from third countries (non-EU countries). You can import most products without a permit. Counterfeit goods can never be imported, and international sanctions can also lead to import bans. On top of that, you are not allowed to place products on the market that do not comply with European health and safety requirements

For some products, you face additional regulations, such as import requirements. For example, you may need an import permit, import certificate, a health certificate, or another document to import the product. 

Products subject to additional regulations 

Looking to import the products below from an EU or third country? Make sure to check whether you have to deal with additional regulations. You will often need a separate permit or some other form of permission. Certain products are also subject to inspection requirements. The EU Access2Markets tool also provides information on the import requirements for your product.

Excise and consumption tax goods 

If you want to import beer or wine, spirits, tobacco products, or mineral oils from EU or non-EU countries, you will have to pay excise duty and will sometimes need permits from Dutch Customs. If you import fruit and vegetable juices, lemonade, or mineral water, you will have to pay consumption tax. For more information about paying excise duty and consumption tax visit the website of Dutch Customs. 

Waste 

If you are going to import waste from outside the EU or move it between EU member states, you must comply with the European Waste Shipment Regulation (EWSR). There are various procedures under the EWSR, which depend on the countries and type of waste involved. 

Endangered animal and plant species 

Looking to import, move, or trade protected plants or animals (or products thereof)? In some cases, you will need a CITES permit or CITES certificate. CITES is short for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna, an agreement signed by 183 countries with the goal of protecting endangered plant and animal species. To trade products that fall under CITES, you often need an EU certificate (Article 10 certificate). 

Organic products 

If you import organic products (in Dutch) or ingredients into the Netherlands, you have to meet certification requirements. To import these products from third countries, you will also need a Certificate of Inspection or e-COI to show that the products have been certified by a recognised body. 

Chemicals 

Importers of chemicals have to take the European REACH Regulation into account. REACH requires you to register details about the chemicals you import from third countries with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). 

Cultural goods 

If you have plans to import cultural goods such as art, archaeological objects, or antiques, check whether they are allowed to leave the country of origin. In some cases, you will need permission from the local authorities, especially for objects that are more than 50 years old. 

Animals and animal products from outside the EU 

The EU has stringent health and safety requirements, which is why animal products intended for consumption may only be imported from approved third countries. Authorities in these countries check that exporters meet EU requirements. On the website of the European Commission you can find a list of certified companies from approved non-EU countries. Only these companies are allowed to export animal products to the EU. You can find lists of approved firms in Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, and San Marino on the website of the European Commission. Listings of approved companies in Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) can be found on the website of the UK government

You will also have to deal with extra rules if you import live animals

In addition, animals and animal products from third countries may only enter the EU through a designated Border Inspection Post (a GCP, in Dutch). In the Netherlands, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) will often inspect animals and animal products in order to prevent animal diseases and unsafe products from entering the EU. To import products, you need a veterinary health certificate from a competent veterinary authority from the third country. The import rules also apply to fishery products.

Animals and animal products from the EU

If you import animals such as cattle from an EU country, you need an EU health certificate from the local authorities. On top of that, the NVWA may conduct spot checks at the port of entry. Cattle shipments to slaughterhouses are always checked by the NVWA. Visit the website of the NVWA and search for 'import including intra-traffic' for additional information for various animal species. You may also need permission to import animal by-products (in Dutch) or products derived from animal by-products. 

If you import animal products intended for consumption from another EU country, these products may only come from approved companies. Similar rules apply to the import of fishery products

Medicines 

You need a manufacturer's permit to import medicines from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA). To import medicines from EEA countries, you need a wholesale permit. Both licences are issued by Farmatec

Plants, vegetables, fruits, or plant material 

You often need a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin to import plants, vegetables, fruit, or plant material. Consignments with these products are always inspected by the NVWA. Certain products are subject to an import ban (in Dutch). Rules also apply to the importation of (packaging) wood or wood products from third countries. Furthermore, fruit and vegetables (in Dutch) from third countries must meet quality requirements. 

If you plan to import goods from an EU country, you need a plant passport for a small number of plants, wood species, and plant products. 

Radioactive substances 

To import certain radioactive materials from third countries and transport certain radioactive materials between EU countries, you have to apply for a permit or notify the authorities. You can do both with the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority (ANVS). 

Strategic goods and services 

For imports of strategic goods and strategic services you will often have to request a permit or notify the authorities. Strategic goods include military goods and dual-use goods, which are goods, software, and technology that have both civilian and military applications. For questions and to apply for a permit, contact the Central Office for Imports and Exports (CDIU)

Narcotics 

You are only allowed to import narcotics that fall under the Opium Act into the Netherlands if you have an import permit (in Dutch). These permits are issued by Farmatec. 

Fireworks 

If you import fireworks into the Netherlands, you are required to notify the Inspectorate for the Environment and Transport (ILT) in advance. ILT checks that fireworks meet product safety requirements all year long, auditing importers and retailers and performing border checks, port checks, and road checks. 

Weapons and ammunition 

To import weapons and ammunition and parts of weapons and ammunition into the Netherlands, you usually need a certificate of consent, which is issued by the Central Office for Imports and Exports (CDIU). 

VGEM manual 

Dutch Customs has a special VGEM (Dutch for Health, Safety, Economy, and Environment) handbook with information on the products listed above (excluding excise and consumption tax goods). The manual also contains information about the following products and topics: 

CBAM, duty on CO2 emissions

From 1 October 2023, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism or CBAM is in place. This means that importers have to pay a CO2 emission duty on certain imports from third countries. The duty is based on the CO2 emitted while producing these goods. At this time, the products on which CBAM is levied are cement, electricity, fertilisers, and hydrogen; and cast iron, iron, steel, sluminium, and several products made with these materials. You can find the full list in Appendix I of the CBAM regulation. Appendix III lists the third countries to which the CBAM does not apply. For example, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. The CBAM does not apply to shipments with a value below 150 euros. 

Importers are required to notify the European Commission how much CO2 was emitted to make their products on a quarterly basis, starting 1 October 2023. Read more about the CBAM on the website of Dutch Customs and the European Commission. You can also find a guidance document there.

Parallel imports 

Importing branded products outside official distribution channels is called parallel importation. Instead of purchasing the branded products from the official foreign manufacturer or official importer, you purchase them from a foreign middleman. Looking to import branded goods from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) via parallel import? This is allowed only if you have permission from the trademark owner. The trademark owner - usually the official manufacturer - has the right to put a product on the EEA market first. 

Once a product has been placed on the market for the first time within the EEA by the trademark owner or a third party (with the trademark owner’s permission) it can be freely traded within the EEA as the trademark owner’s right will be exhausted. From that moment on, you may buy the branded product in another EEA member state. Important: Parallel imports of medicines from EEA countries are only allowed if you have a parallel trade permit

The rules on protection and exhaustion also apply to patent rights and other intellectual property rights