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Exporting and importing

Leaflet WB 02
September 2011

This country exports and imports billions of pounds' worth of goods every year. Within the EU, trade has grown, although much of our trade is still carried on beyond Europe. Jobs in the import and export trade range from those requiring few qualifications up to degree-level work.


The export and import business offers secretarial, administrative, sales and managerial jobs. Most of them are office-based, but sales staff and managers usually get the chance to travel.

To work in the import/export business you need:
  • a good head for figures

  • an analytical mind

  • good communication skills

  • to be able to work independently – and within a team

  • for some jobs, foreign language skills and/or to be prepared to travel.

Manufacturing industry

Many manufacturers import raw materials and parts, and export finished products. Such firms may have buyers based overseas, negotiating on the price, availability and quality of raw materials. A chocolate manufacturer, for example, may have a buyer in Ghana, to select cocoa beans. Consumers are increasingly demanding fair-trade goods, so this is something to be considered by importers.

There are also wholesalers, who specialise in the import of one particular raw material and sell it on to manufacturers.

An export manager leads a company's overseas sales department, which may include an overseas sales force. People in this sort of work have usually had previous experience in management or sales within the export business.


Many retail and wholesale firms are involved in the import business. Go into any shop and look at the country of origin of the goods on the shelves. You will see lamb from New Zealand, shirts from China and radios from Malaysia! They have all arrived in the shop after being imported. Large retail companies have buyers who go abroad and negotiate contracts with overseas producers for their goods. Some large, international firms actually own factories or farms overseas, where they produce the goods that they later import into this country.

Documentation and transport

Some firms are only involved in getting products from one place to another. They don't buy or sell, they just move goods around. This means dealing with all the documentation involved – customs, import licences, tariffs, VAT etc.

Freight forwardersare specialist firms that help manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers to send goods all over the world. Staff must know all about the rules, regulations and paperwork for their area of speciality. They may offer a general worldwide service or a specialist service, dealing:
  • in certain goods, such as computer equipment, clothing or perishable foodstuffs

  • in a particular means of transport, e.g. air or sea

  • with a particular country or region of the world.

Shipbrokersare agents for ship owners, importers and exporters. They arrange shipping for customers and loads for ship owners. This is vital for ship owners, who can't afford to have ships sailing the seas empty. Air brokersperform exactly the same function for airlines as shipbrokers do for sea transport. For more information, see leaflet WB 01 in this series.


A possible entry route into this kind of work is through an Intermediate or Advanced Level Apprenticeshipin international trade and logistics. These provide structured training in the workplace and lead to qualifications at levels 2 and 3 respectively.

The Institute of Exportoffers professional qualifications through part-time college courses and distance learning. These include the:
  • Certificate in International Trade – no formal qualifications required for entry
  • Advanced Certificate in International Trade (ACIT) – to start you need at least four GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English, plus one A level (or equivalent) or at least three years' relevant experience
  • Diploma in International Trade – for those with the ACIT.

The Institute of Chartered Shipbrokersalso offers professional examinations.

Once in employment, it may be possible to gain competence-based qualifications (e.g. the Level 2 Certificate in international trade and logistics operations) through assessment in the workplace.

Graduates with degrees in any discipline can enter firms at trainee management level. Degreecourses in subjects such as European business and international business etc may be useful; some of these courses include the study of a foreign language and/or offer the opportunity to work or study abroad. There are also some relevant HNDand foundation degreecourses; these take two years, full time (longer part time) and may be 'topped up' to an honours degree with further study. The Institute of Export and Anglia Ruskin University have developed a new foundation degree in professional practice in international trade. The course is part time and includes online tutorials and work-related assignments.


There are no set pay rates. Trainee importers and exporters may start at around £15,000, but with experience and qualifications, pay can increase to £25,000+. Specialists and department managers can earn considerably more.


Most freight forwarders, shipbrokers and air brokers are based in London or near major ports and airports. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers are found all over the country, but only larger firms are likely to have import and export departments. With experience, you could move into management, or work for a freight forwarder, shipbroker or air broker. There are opportunities to work overseas.

Adults: Relevant experience may mean that course entry requirements can be relaxed.

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For Further Information

Skills for Logistics– tel: 01908 313360. The Sector Skills Council for the freight logistics industries.

Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers– tel: 020 7623 1111.

The Institute of Export– tel: 01733 404400. Contact for information about their professional qualifications, including exam exemptions.

British International Freight Association (BIFA)– tel: 020 8844 2266.

For job vacancies, see employers websites, as well as general and specialist job sites such as:

Working in Transport & Logistics– published by Babcock Lifeskills, £9.50.
© Copyright 2009, All rights reserved - Nord Anglia Lifetime Development SW Ltd

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