Air Import into UK Costing – a rough guide

Link for Ideas - Import Handling Costing - a brief guide
Air Import into UK Costing – a rough guide. What costs to expect if importing by air from outside of the EU and how to manage expectations.

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Below I have created an Air Import into UK Costing – a rough guide. For the purpose of this exercise I will assume import via London Heathrow, however it may be slightly different at other smaller airports.

We’ll ignore any freight cost also, and look at only land side costs.

Airline Handling

When an aircraft lands at Heathrow it will taxi to stop at a stand or holding area.  At this point (if applicable) passengers will exit and baggage and cargo will unload.  The baggage of course goes to the terminal for the passengers, transport of the cargo then to a warehouse.

It’s this warehouse that will charge a fee for handling.  This is normally on a per kilogramme basis, with a minimum charge.  Multiply the chargeable weight as per the airwaybill by the charge per kg, or a minimum applied – whichever is higher.


At Heathrow currently storage begins 24 hours after the day of arrival – regardless of whether it’s a national holiday or not.  If arrived on Sunday morning at 9am then, from complete cargo receipt confirmation, storage begins at 00:00 on Tuesday morning.

What if my shipment arrives in parts?

One question that confuses importers is if there’s a short receipt of cartons.  For example, an importer has a consignment of 500 cartons.  499 cartons arrive with 1 carton left behind at the origin airport.  The warehouse in UK cannot start storage until 24 hours after ALL 500 cartons have been ‘checked in’.

This may seem like an unfair system and I know a lot of importers have received huge storage bills.  At Heathrow warehousing space is very limited – so the motivation is there to remove importer’s goods as soon as possible.

Special Handling

Special handling of goods is an arrangement between the airline and the shipping agent for handling an import.  These may be:

  • Animals or animal products requiring movement to a BIP facility on arrival.
  • Vulnerable cargo (VUN) such as high value goods, or pharmaceutical handling
  • Vault handling
  • Escort of goods from aircraft to vault
  • Restricted or dangerous cargo may also be handled differently

Who’s responsible to arrange this?

This is an important question.  Importers who need this to happen should arrange with their forwarder well before arrival.  Forwarders should confirm in writing and at the time of arrival with the importer and with the airline ground handler.

Who charges all this on arrival?

Your freight forwarder will invoice you.  On arrival the ground handler must assign or nominate the electronic consignment to a ‘badge.’  This is a freight forwarder who has the software to arrange Customs clearances, even if the shipment does not require a formal declaration.

Who are the ground handlers?

At Heathrow there are few main providers working for airlines:

  • IAG Cargo (British Airways, Iberia)
  • Dnata
  • Menzies
  • Swissport
  • Others

ETSFs – External Temporary Storage Facility

Depending on the freight forwarder, importers may have access to an ETSF.  Freight forwarders manage these as off airport bonded storage facilities.  The storage is temporary and importers may only receive a slight extension if they need their goods storage slightly longer. 

Customs Clearance

As an importer you would obtain the services of a freight forwarder to Customs clear your goods. They will charge a fee for this, normally a flat amount. In some cases if the work is very time consuming they may add a fee for this. Importers should be ready with all the information required.

This guide should cover most eventualities in import costing, as always either get an agreed rates structure or quotation. Always to try to manage your air import costing expectations and in turn you don’t under budget for them.


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