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Export & import in the Netherlands: a short guide

Updated on 19 February 2024

Many established foreign businesses in the Netherlands are focused on trade. This is no coincidence, since the Netherlands is a European Union (EU) Member State and thus, has full access to the European Single Market. That’s not the sole reason though, since the country also has many international trade agreements that facilitate swift import and export options to all corners of the world. Add the excellent infrastructure and a highly developed logistics sector, and you have a perfect base for your import & export business in the Netherlands. We will cover various topics in this guide, such as establishing a Dutch business, more information about the import and export sector and all the relevant applicable laws and regulations.

Why choose a business in trade?

Why choose the import & export business? Often the market in certain countries is limited. Not all countries benefit from good access to trade, lack solid means of transportation and/or infrastructure, or are otherwise shut out from certain markets such as the United Kingdom after Brexit. But it is fairly straightforward to jump into this market via a different country like the Netherlands, because exporting is easier than you think. During the past few decades plenty of options have become available, such as drop shipping in all countries and holding oversees stock, for example. You can start your entire company from oversees, as you can literally arrange everything from a distance nowadays.

We have outlined in this article what you should consider, when taking your first entrepreneurial steps across the border. From export restrictions to customs regulations. To ensure that your business border crossing does not turn sour, we can advise you on your export and import projects. The internationalization of society offers many different possibilities nowadays, including several national and international support programs for market entry, market processing and a new business abroad.

Import & export from abroad

In the past centuries it would have been entirely impossible to establish a trade business from afar. Nowadays, almost everything is possible via long-distance. It doesn’t really matter where you live this moment; if you have internet access you can establish a trade company in the Netherlands, because that is everything you need. Next to being able to trade withing the Netherlands, you will also have access to the entire European Single Market and plentiful possibilities to trade worldwide.

Both import and export have been substantially simplified in the EU, as all goods and services can cross any border within the EU free of charge. This doesn’t only imply that you don’t pay any customs fees, but you also save time due to the fact that your shipments don’t have to be accompanied by a large array of documents. Doing business with non-EU countries also offers many opportunities, as the Netherlands has made beneficial trade agreements all over the globe. The Netherlands holds a very strategical position in the world of trade and logistics. If you want to start a business in this sector, you can benefit from all its resources.


If you want to compete with other similar entrepreneurs, you must constantly ensure that you buy the necessary precursors in the necessary quality from reliable suppliers at the best possible prices. If you would like some assistance in that regard, we can help identify solid suppliers and check their creditworthiness and performance. We can also advise you with large procurement transactions and their corresponding tax settlements. Due to the very large amount of distributors and drop shipping agencies, it can be tricky to distinguish between sensible and shady companies. It’s advisable to find an associate to help you with such practicalities.

Market analysis

An overview of sales and the competitive situation in a target market is at the top of the toolbox of an exporter and an exporter. You will need stay informed at all times, because prices, rules and laws in this sector change constantly. Every delivery of goods or services across each border is recorded statistically worldwide. We know how for example how many kilos of cheese the Netherlands has exported, how many drills Brazil imports or where Belgium supplies its baby food. You will need to focus on various subjects and take important factors into consideration, such as:

  • Customs and import regulations
  • Other import duties
  • Packaging regulations & designation of origin
  • Accompanying documents
  • Species conservation

We will discuss all these subjects briefly below, so you have an idea what you are up against. This will also provide you with some insight regarding your possible potential within this sector and its worldwide market, plus; whether you have anything beneficial or original to add. It’s a highly competitive market that involves a lot of persistence and up-to-date knowledge in order to succeed.

Import regulations

The international trade of goods and services is subject to the import rules of the EU. Capital imports are not subject to foreign exchange restrictions; foreign equity investments in domestic companies are therefore fully possible. Please keep in mind that there are of course certain exemptions, such as soft drugs and other specific products and services. In the Netherlands, the sale and consumption of so-called 'soft drugs' is known to be tolerated. Under EU law, these fall into the category of medicinal products and narcotics and are excluded from the free movement of goods in the European Union. The import of medicinal products and narcotics into the individual Member States is only possible through competent authorities.

Customs regulations

The Netherlands is a Member State of the EU. This means that the provisions of intra-Community trade in goods or products from other EU Member States have been in force since the country became a member. Transactions between companies that are entitled to deduct VAT and have a UID number are made with a VAT rate of 0%, since the acquisition is subject to the import VAT of the receiving State. In other words; you don’t pay any VAT at all within the entire EU. Sometimes you might need to pay special tax though, such as excise duty.

Other import duties

If you want to import special like as alcoholic beverages, you need to take into consideration that certain goods are subject to import tax such as excise duty. These need to be paid by the company that imports these goods, or a fiscal representative of this company. The payment of these taxes (“accijns”) also needs to be reported to the Dutch Tax authorities on a periodical basis.

Packaging regulations & designation of origin

The packaging and labelling requirements for food and beverages, as well as for other products, such as washing powder, children's toys, wallpaper, paper, mattress fillings, preservatives, dyes and other additives are generally contained in the Dutch Trade Law and the related special regulations. There are also some EU-wide rules on packaging and product labelling.  In the Netherlands, the ‘Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit’ authority monitors compliance with legal regulations and standards in various areas. Its control area includes food, consumer products, energy certificates, as well as plant and animal welfare and non-smoker protection.

Accompanying documents

If you trade within the borders of the EU, then the amount of necessary shipping documentation will be limited to standard items such as a packing slip and accompanying invoice. For special goods or materials you might need safety documentation and other necessary material for safe and legal transportation. If you want to start an import and export company in specialty goods, we strongly advise you to inform yourself about specific regulations covering these items. This to make sure you comply to all the laws and regulations.

Species conservation

The Netherlands is part of CITES (the name for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), also known as the Washington Convention. Imports or exports of endangered species and plant species listed in the Convention to and from the European Union, are subject to strict customs controls. Many species or products from these animals require identification and/or import documents. Not only live animals and plants are categorized, but also preparations and products from these animals, such as their eggs, jewelry and souvenirs made of ivory, leather bags (crocodile), claws, teeth, skins, turtle shells, snake skins and related items of natural origin. Given the sometimes difficult classification for laymen as to whether a species or a product is subject to documents, it is certainly best – to protect endangered species and avoid seizures and possibly large fines on importation – to refrain from buying such souvenirs.

Otherwise, precise information on the necessary accompanying documents (CITES papers) should be obtained before departure. If a seller or buyer states that the offered flora or fauna is either not subject to the rules laid out in the Convention on the Protection of Species, or that the accompanying documents submitted by the dealers are sufficient, should never be relied upon, even in good faith. Tax and customs law issues require precise clarification.

Financing export activities

You need to take into consideration that a trade business takes a lot of time and effort to sustain. Unless you are able to hire qualified personnel who will handle daily business activities, we suggest you map out potential risks involved. Especially when doing business across the border, upfront costs and risks should not be underestimated. National banks, export funds, control banks, AWS and private export insurers have many answers to questions about financing, hedging of export transactions and direct investment.

Start-up aid for exporters & export subsidies

If you are just at the beginning of starting a company, our experts can take a close look at your idea and check if you might have access to any subsidies or tax benefits. We can also check whether you are sufficiently prepared for your project, help in assessing chances of success and define target groups and test markets with you. The goal is to transform your business idea into a strategy with minimum risks involved. We have an overview of all support measures and can help you make sure that you can benefit from all possible options.

Intercompany Solutions can assist you in setting up a trade company

If you are contemplating a starting a business in the Dutch import and export sector, we can assist you during various steps in the process, such as:

  • Export processing and export documents
  • Professional import/export advice
  • Advise you on customs procedures
  • Informing you about export regulations and export control
  • Help you determine the origin of your export product
  • Financial and fiscal advice and services

We can also help you with other general issues, such as company registration, acquiring a VAT number and opening a bank account. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your questions, or if you would like to receive a personalized quote.

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