The Job and What's Involved

Importing is when goods are brought into the UK from outside the European Community (EC) for business purposes. Exporting is when goods from the UK are sent outside the EC for business purposes.

The UK economy is dependent on both importing and exporting in a global market. Some examples are exporters selling manufactured goods overseas at profit, and importers buying the best materials at the right price for manufacturing and processing industries in the UK. Importers and Exporters are specialists who may work for import/export agencies, large companies that export/import goods, or specialist freight forwarding firms.

There are two main areas of work in import/export departments or agencies - administration and management/sales.

Export/import clerks work mainly with administration. They liaise with transport companies (air, sea, rail or road) or specialist freight forwarders and make sure that all the necessary paperwork or online documentation connected to selling, buying and transporting goods is accurately completed. This could include:

  • Organising international transport documents, such as bills of lading, air waybills or road consignment notes.
  • Completing documents required by law for import and export, by government bodies such as Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
  • Producing commercial documents, such as invoices, insurance certificates, letters of credit and shipping instructions.

Export/import managers buy and sell products and services to and from overseas countries. Their work could include:

  • Finding the right partners with whom to trade.
  • Identifying new markets and businesses.
  • Building up good business relationships with customers and suppliers.
  • Negotiating variations in price, delivery and specifications with customers and suppliers, possibly in a foreign language.
  • Getting a licence to trade in certain goods, such as textiles or pharmaceuticals.
  • Paying for the goods - there are different ways to pay, including Letters of Credit and Bills of Exchange.
  • Checking to see if there is a risk of losing money due to movements in the exchange rate. This may involve arranging forward exchange contracts with banks.
  • Troubleshooting - sorting out any problems in the import or export chain.
  • Calculating what the goods will really cost after all expenses are paid.

Importers and exporters normally work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday but, if negotiating with suppliers or customers in different time zones, hours may be irregular.

At more senior levels, significant travel may be involved to find suppliers or customers and maintain business contacts abroad.

The starting salary is around £13,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The UK is a major trading nation and, as the global market is expanding, there will always be opportunities in this field. Opportunities are with organisations involved in importing/exporting such as:

Retail Companies importing and exporting consumer goods like cars and electronic goods.

Freight Forwarding Companies providing specialist transportation services for companies.

Large Industrial Organisations importing or exporting a wide range of plant, raw materials, components and equipment - for example, manufacturers, airlines and power generating companies may have their own import and export departments.

Specialist Companies importing and exporting flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Smaller Companies importing or exporting a limited range of goods, such as rugs, jewellery and furniture.

Other Organisations supplying services or using services supplied by overseas clients - for example, in the banking and insurance sectors.

Education and Training

There are no set minimum qualifications to begin training in import/export, but many companies ask for at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and Maths. Companies may prefer A levels/H grades or equivalent qualifications. Larger companies often ask for an HND or degree.

Although any degree subject is acceptable, a specialist degree or HND in international trade, logistics, business studies, marketing or languages may be an advantage. There is also a foundation degree in international trade. The minimum requirements for a degree course are five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades (one for foundation degree/HND), or equivalent qualifications.

Foreign languages are always a distinct advantage.

Many entrants start in a junior administration or sales position in an export or import office, or in a freight forwarding company.

Apprenticeships are available in international trade and services or traffic office.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training may be on the job, gaining experience of various departments in a company to learn the procedures and documentation involved. Importer/Exporters can work towards NVQ's/SVQ's at levels 2, 3 and 4 in International Trade and Services.

Several professional bodies - such as the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and the British International Freight Association (BIFA) - offer relevant courses.

The Institute of Exports' professional qualifications include:

Certificate in International Trade (CIT): Students study international business, the global market place, international trade management, transportation and documentation, and English for business. Applicants need to be 16 or over.

Advanced Certificate in International Trade (ACIT): Students study the business environment, finance and international trade, international marketing and international physical distribution. Applicants should be 18 or older and have four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English language, or equivalent qualifications.

Diploma in International Trade (DIT): Students study international marketing strategy, international logistics and purchasing, management of international trade and practical global trading. Applicants should be 19 or over and have successfully completed the ACIT.

BIFA offers BTEC-approved courses in Customs Export and Import Procedures and International Freight Procedures, as well as various intensive short courses, such as Export/Import for Beginners.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Importers/exporters should:

  • Be good at communicating with people from all backgrounds.
  • Have a clear speaking voice.
  • Be confident in the use of IT and financial software such as Excel.
  • Have good organisational skills.
  • Have excellent problem solving ability.
  • Have good negotiation skills.
  • Be confident with figures.
  • Be able to deal with pressure and deadlines.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Be good team workers.
  • Be able to deal tactfully with customers, suppliers and carriers.
  • Ideally have knowledge of foreign languages.

Your Long Term Prospects

With training and experience, it is possible to be promoted from administrative posts to team leader and then export manager, and from area/regional/territory sales manager to export sales manager.

Exporters/importers can specialise in dealing with particular products or countries. It may be possible to work overseas.

It may also be possible to enter consultancy work and academic jobs.

Get Further Information

British International Freight Association (BIFA),
Redfern House, Browells Lane, Feltham,
Middlesex TW13 7EP
Tel: 020 8844 2266

Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT),
11/12 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6LB
Tel: 01536 740104

Institute of Export, Export House,
Minerva Business Park, Lynch wood,
Peterborough PE2 6FT.
Tel: 01733 404400

Skills for Logistics,
14 Warren Yard, Warren Farm Office Village,
Milton Keynes MK12 5NW
Tel: 01908 313360

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