Import restrictions and regulations
- Marcel Hoebink
- The basis
- 19 Apr 2023
- Edited 28 Nov 2022
- 7 min
- Managing and growing
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, but certain restrictions and import bans do apply. In other cases, you might only be allowed to import goods with an import permit or some other form of consent. If you are importing branded goods, familiarise yourself with the rules on parallel imports.
This article goes into import restrictions and regulations for various types of products and what 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. Important: 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.
Despite the fact that there is free movement of goods in the EU, you will still have to deal with import regulations or customs when you import or transport certain products from other member states. For more information, see the section on ‘Products subject to additional regulations’ below.
Imports from non-EU countries
You can import most products from third countries (non-EU countries) 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 specific import document (such as a health certificate), or some other form of permission 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 first. You will often need a separate permit or some other form of permission. Certain products are also subject to inspection requirements.
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.
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 (RVO, in Dutch).
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.
Importers of chemicals have to take the European REACH Regulation into account, which requires you to register the chemicals with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) when importing them from third countries.
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 (veterinary)
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 approved 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 (BIP, 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.
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 importation of fishery products (in Dutch).
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.
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).
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.
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).
Dutch Customs has a special HSEE (Health, Safety, Economy, and Environment, in Dutch) 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:
Drug precursors. Raw materials needed for the production of narcotics or psychotropic substances.
Environmentally hazardous substances such as ozone-depleting substances and fluorinated greenhouse gases or F-gases, refrigerants found in air conditioners, cooling machines, and heat pumps; metallic mercury, certain mercury compounds, and waste containing mercury; hazardous substances for electrical and electronic equipment (legislation from European RoHS Directive 'Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances').
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.