What are HS codes and how do you find the right one?

Are you an importer or an exporter looking for information on import duties or other taxes such as import VAT? Or do you want to know whether you need an import or export licence for your shipment? Harmonised system (HS) product codes can help. These codes are used by customs services around the world to classify products.

How do you find out the HS code for a product? There are several sources you can consult. Terms such as commodity codes, GN codes and TARIC codes are often used as alternatives to HS codes. Yet there are differences. This article explains what HS codes are, what they are for, and how to look up the HS code for a product. 

New in 2023

Already familiar with the HS codes for your products? Please note that, as of 1 January 2023, the HS codes for various products have changed, affecting two hundred commodity codes. Check the conversion table from Dutch Customs to see whether the commodity codes and the associated import duties for your products have changed. Changes have been made to the HS codes for peaches and nectarines, certain varieties of rice, a number of chemicals, some types of machinery, raw aluminium, static transducers and metal magnets, to name but a few. 

What are HS codes?

An HS code is used by customs services around the world to classify products. Each product has its own HS code. The HS code is also known as a GS (Geharmoniseerd Systeem) code in the Netherlands. The HS code for a product consists of six digits. Almost all countries in the world use the same HS codes for products. In all these countries, the HS code for leather handbags, for example, is the same: 4202 21. The complete list of HS codes can be found on the website of the World Customs Organization. 

Countries can choose to append other sub-codes to the HS code of a product by a few digits. The EU has eight-digit codes – HS codes supplemented by two digits –for goods to be exported outside the EU. For the import of goods into the EU, you usually need 10-digit codes: HS codes supplemented by four digits. These import and export codes are also known as commodity codes. So commodity codes are based on HS codes. 

Commodity codes

You include commodity codes in your import or export declaration so that customs can tell which products your shipments contain. 

From the commodity code, customs will know how much import duty and other import taxes, such as import VAT, it must levy on the import of a given product. Moreover, a commodity code indicates whether non-financial requirements apply to the import or export of a given product. Examples include requirements for import or export licences and health certificates. 

CN codes: export commodity codes

When you are exporting your product to a country outside the EU, you will need an eight-digit commodity code for the customs-export declaration. An eight-digit commodity code is also known as a GN code. GN stands for Combined Nomenclature. Suppose you want to export leather handbags to Canada. The CN code for these handbags is: 4202 21 00 – the HS code supplemented by two digits. 

Taric codes: import commodity codes

If you are importing goods from the United States, China or another country outside the EU, you will need a 10-digit commodity code for your import declaration. In the EU, this 10-digit code is known as a TARIC code. For certain goods, several measures apply, in which case the TARIC code can be extended to a maximum of 18 digits. For imports, it is important to customs whether the leather handbags are handmade or machine-made. The TARIC code for the import of handmade leather handbags is: 4202 21 00 10. For machine-made handbags, it is: 4202 21 00 90. 

Looking up HS and commodity codes

Where can you find the HS code or the commodity code for your product? There are a number of sources you can consult. These codes are determined by general classification rules (in Dutch), in a mandatory sequence. This means you always start with classification rule 1. If it is not possible to classify a product with a commodity code in accordance with classification rule 1, see whether it is possible with rule 2, and so on. 

The HS code list, which contains six-digit product codes, can be found on the website of the World Customs Organisation. The commodity codes can be found in the following databases: 

User fees 

The overview of all commodity codes can be found Dutch Customs site Tariff. On the site, click on the ‘nomenclature’ tab, followed by ‘browse by nomenclature'. The Search goods nomenclature page opens. Scroll down the page, and click to open the folders you want. 

Example 

Here is an example based on the leather handbags from this article, the HS code for which is 4202 21: 

  • Click the icon for the folder ‘SECTION VIII -Raw hides and skins, leather, furskins and articles thereof; saddlery and harness; travel goods, handbags and similar containers; articles of animal gut (other than silkworm gut) (chapter 41 - 43)’. A list of subfolders opens. 

  • Click the icon for the folder ‘CHAPTER 42 - ARTICLES OF LEATHER; SADDLERY AND HARNESS; TRAVEL GOODS, HANDBAGS AND SIMILAR CONTAINERS; ARTICLES OF ANIMAL GUT (OTHER THAN SILKWORM GUT)’. 

  • Click the icon for folder ‘4202’. 

  • Click the icon for the folder ‘Handbags, whether or not with shoulder strap, including those without handle’. 
    Click the icon for the folder ‘With outer surface of leather or of composition leather’. 

  • You see two folders: 4202 21 00 10, ‘hand-made’, and 4202 21 00 90, ‘other’. 
    ‘Other’ means not handmade, i.e. machine-made. 

The HS code for handbags made of leather is: 4202 21. 
The CN code for EU exports of handmade or machine-made leather bags is: 4202 21 00. 
The TARIC code for imports into the EU of handmade leather bags is: 4202 21 00 10. 

The commodity code (TARIC code) for imports into the EU of otherwise (machine-made) leather bags is: 4202 21 00 90. 

In the online Tariff Manual from Dutch Customs, you can find import duties payable on imports into the EU for each commodity code. Here, you can also check whether the items you want to import or export are subject to any non-financial requirements, such as for a licence or other document. 

Read the manual (in Dutch), or the article How much import duty do I have to pay. This explains in more detail how to look up commodity codes and import duties in the Tariff Manual. 

Intrastat codes from Statistics Netherlands 

The eight-digit commodity codes for exports (CN codes) also appear in the Statistics Netherlands list of commodity codes. The EU tracks trade among member states on the basis of CN codes. In this context, these are also known as Intrastat codes. So for leather handbags, the Intrastat code is: 4202 21 00. You cannot use the list of codes from Statistics Netherlands to find import commodity codes (TARIC codes) in the EU. Please consult the online Tariff Manual from Dutch Customs for this. 

Not finding the right commodity code?

Determining the correct HS or commodity code for your product can be tricky. In fact, many products cannot actually be found in the Tariff Manual from Dutch Customs. A laptop and a tablet are examples. These fall under the description ‘portable automatic data-processing machines weighing not more than 10 kg, comprising at least a central processing unit, a keyboard and a display screen’. The HS code for them is 8471 30. The corresponding export commodity code (CN code) is 8471 30 00. The import commodity code (the TARIC code) is 8471 30 00 00. 
If your product is not mentioned by name in the Tariff Manual from Dutch Customs, use the tools below to classify the product and assign it a commodity code: 

  • You can use the Combined Nomenclature 2023 search engine from Eurostat, the European statistics office, to search for product descriptions that you cannot find by name in the Tariff Manual from Dutch Customs. For example, if you put in ‘laptop’ as a search term, you will find the HS code for that item. 

  • If you are an importer, chances are that your foreign suppliers use HS codes and commodity codes to export their products. Note: For suppliers from a country outside the EU, go by the first six digits – the HS component – of the commodity codes they provide for their products. The seventh and later digits may differ from those used by the EU. Use the codes provided by your suppliers only as an indication when you are looking for the correct commodity codes for the import of your products. It may be that your suppliers are using the wrong commodity codes without realising it. As an importer, you are responsible for ensuring that the commodity codes you use for the products you import are correct. Look up the correct commodity codes in the online Tariff Manual from Dutch Customs. 

  • Use the EU descriptions of certain product groups, such as textiles, shoes, vegetables, fruits and nuts, plastics. and computers, determine the right commodity code more easily. 

  • In the European Binding Tariff Information database, you will find rulings by the customs authorities of EU member states on the classification of goods (binding tariff information). 

Questions about your product classification?

KVK does not give individual advice on the classification of products according to HS or commodity codes. Need help finding the code for your product? Call Dutch Customs (0800 01 43 or, if you are calling from abroad, +31 45 574 30 31) or Statistics Netherlands (+31 45 570 79 20). Alternatively, check with another specialist, such as a customs advisory agency or a customs broker. 

Customs brokers prepare customs declarations such as the import and export declarations for you. You can find them through FENEX (in Dutch), the freight forwarders’ trade association, and on the website of the business owners’ association evofenedex (in Dutch). Of course, they will go by the written or verbal description of your product. You cannot derive any rights from their advice. 

How to make sure you use the right commodity code

Misclassifying your product and assigning it the wrong commodity code could mean you end up paying too much or too little import duty. Want to be sure that you are using the right commodity code? Request what is known as an EU Binding Tariff Information (BTI) from Dutch Customs. This is a binding ruling that is issued in writing. It is valid for three years from the date of issue across the EU. 

Once you have the correct commodity code, you will know for sure what import duties and any other import taxes you have to pay as an importer. You will also be clear on what specific documents you need for the import or export of your product. 

Please note that Dutch Customs may look into whether a commodity code is correct. The use of an incorrect import commodity code can result in the imposition of post-clearance import duty for up to three years. And it works the other way round as well: if you have paid too much in import duties because you have been using the wrong commodity code, you can apply for a refund (in Dutch) of the amount you have overpaid for up to 3 years.