Standard steps of importing into the Netherlands

Importing a product from abroad involves more work than buying a domestic product. You can make a successful start to importing goods if you know enough about the importing process. This step-by-step plan will guide you.

There are 14 steps to follow. If you do, you will know how the process for importing goods into the Netherlands works. Whether you are planning to import cool gadgets from China, or robust machinery from Germany. This checklist will help you prepare.

1. Do market research

Before you start importing, find out if your plans are feasible. Who are going to be your customers? Market research can help you identify them. There are several free market research resources at hand.Use the results of your market research to draw up an import plan. The import plan helps you to weigh the opportunities and threats. In short, to find out if your business is ready to start importing.

2. Check import restrictions

Find out if there are any import restrictions or instructions for your product. You can import most products. If you import products from a non-EU country, there may be restrictions in place, for example due to international sanctions. Some products require an import licence or other document.If you import a product from an EU country, almost no restrictions apply. But do take into account the Dutch Commodities Act (Nederlandse Warenwet voor consumentenproducten). 

3. Choose your role

If you are an importer, you purchase products from a foreign supplier for your own use or sales. If you trade the goods, you build a supply and determine your own profit margin.As a commercial agent, you search for customers in your country on behalf of a foreign company. You do not purchase, you mediate between the supplier and the customer. Check out the differences between importers and commercial agents and determine which role you want to play.

4. Check the product requirements

Each product that comes onto the market must be safe.For example, machinery that is brought onto the European market often has to meet the CE machinery guideline. There are also CE guidelines for other product groups, including toys, medical devices, electrical appliances, and electronic equipment. If you import foodstuffs, your products have to meet the demands for food safety. 

As an importer, you are responsible for the waste management of the products you import into the Netherlands. This is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Additional legislation exists for several products.


As an importer, you must comply with the laws and regulations for International Corporate Social Responsibility (ICSR). ICSR focuses on preventing and reducing risks to the environment, people, animals, and society. For example, do you supply imported products to larger companies that must comply with mandatory sustainability reporting? If so, you must be able to tell under what working conditions they were made and what the impact on the environment is. More and more people, governments, and companies want sustainable and fair products. Start taking the first steps towards ICSR now. 

5. Find your supplier

Sometimes you find a supplier by chance. During a holiday abroad for example. If you are looking for foreign suppliers, there are several ways of finding them Visiting a trade show, for example, or via the Dutch embassy network. Be aware of cultural differences. You can use the free CSR Risk Check to see if there are possible social or environmental risks when importing from a country. Do you want to do business with a new supplier? First check their  reliability. And find out if the company is financially viable. Request free samples before you place an order to make sure the products meet your quality requirements. 

6. Request a quotation

Ask the supplier for a clear quotation. Negotiate the terms of the quotation, and ask for adjustments if necessary. Also check if the quotation mentions the Incoterms®. These are standard agreements about the transport of the products. If you use one of the 11 Incoterms®, you have a clear agreement with your supplier on who is responsible for arranging transport and who runs the risk of damage to the goods during transport.

7. Arrange transport

You can transport goods by road, rail, water, and air. Each mode of transport has its pros and cons. Do you want fast delivery of a parcel from abroad? Then you can opt for express delivery. Does the transport involve different means of transport and transport companies? Then you can hire the services of a forwarding agent. A forwarding agent is a transport broker, a type of mediator. They arrange the transport of your products, and sees to it that the transport documents are correct and in order. Does your import shipment come from a non-EU country? The forwarder can take care of the customs clearance.

8. Get informed on payment methods

You and the supplier agree on a payment method. If you agree on payment after delivery, you as an importer run no risk. If both parties are looking for guarantees, you can opt for payment based on documents. After the supplier has handed you the correct trade documents, for instance a transport document or a certificate of origin, you pay for the goods. That way, the supplier has more certainty that you will pay, and you are certain that they will deliver the goods. The Letter of Credit (L/C) is a document-based form of payment. Ask your bank for advice on the payment method best suited to your transaction.

9. Think about insurance

Transporters are liable for any damages due to transport up to a maximum amount per kilogram. If the damage is due to force majeure, the transporter is not liable at all. Transport insurance can be a good idea. Whether or not you need transport insurance depends on the Incoterm® you and the supplier agree on.

If you import products from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) you should consider taking out insurance against product liability. Also  if you market a product under a private label. This insurance will cover any damages if the product turns out to be faulty.  Read more about insurance when doing business internationally.

10. Check if you need to file a customs declaration

As a rule you do not have to go through customs if you import from an EU member state. But you do need customs documents if:

  • you import goods from Italy and transport them via Switzerland. This is because Switzerland is not an EU member state.
  • you import goods from an EU exception territory, such as the Canary Islands.

If you import products from a non-EU country, you declare the goods to customs for import. Usually a customs representative such as a logistics service provider or customs forwarding agent does this for you.

11. Take import taxes into account

If you import products from an EU country, you do not pay import duties. Be sure to check the VAT rules inside the EU. As the importer, you will usually receive a 0% VAT invoice from your supplier. You then need to calculate the Dutch VAT yourself and list it in your VAT return.

When you import from non-EU countries, you usually do need to pay import tax. How much you have to pay depends on the product code. Customs uses product codes, or HS codes, to categorise products. Do you import products made in and from a country with which the EU has a trade agreement? Then you usually pay pay fewer or no import duties. You will need certificates of origin from your supplier. When you import from non-EU countries, you also pay VAT on import.

12. Make a list of the required import documents

You need import documents if you import products from abroad. For imports from EU countries, you usually only need a transport document, an invoice, and a delivery note. You will need extra documents or permits for certain products.  You usually need additional documents for shipments from non-EU countries. For example:

  • customs documents
  • origin documents
  • health certificates
  • import certificates
  • import licences

These documents are often issued by government organisations. Check which documents you need for your import from a non-EU country by consulting the EU Access2Markets tool.

13. Calculate your cost price

cost price calculation makes clear how much it costs to bring a product into the Netherlands, and how much you should charge for it to make a profit. Direct costs are costs that come with the product itself, including:

  • purchase costs
  • transport costs
  • import duties

Direct costs vary per country and per product. Indirect costs are your fixed business costs, such as:

  • advertising budget
  • travel costs
  • staff wages

14. Record agreements, sign a contract

Do you have the entire import process mapped out and are ready to close a deal? Lay down the agreements you and your supplier make in a written contract. That way, both parties are clear on their rights and duties. A contract provides clarity and prevents disputes. It is usual for the supplier to draw up a contract, as the selling party. Hire a lawyer to evaluate the contract before you sign. If you are entering into a structural collaboration, as a distributor or a commercial agent, draw up a distribution agreement or a commercial agent agreement.

Do you want to discuss your import plans with an adviser? Call the KVK Advice Team: 088 585 22 22.

Importing: how do you do that?