Before undertaking any international operations with a goods vehicle over 3.5 tonnes, an Haulier needs to hold an International Operator’s Licence. Therefore, as with a standard National Operator’s Licence, they must have a qualified Transport Manager.

Additionally, hauliers must hold a Community Authorization which is issued by the Traffic Commissioner who granted the licence. These are issued automatically on a satisfactory application for an International Operator’s Licence. An original copy must be kept in the haulier’s office and certified copies are issued for each number of vehicles the haulier is authorised for, and must be carried by each vehicle during their international journey. These however are not vehicle specific like an Operator’s Licence identity disc.



The CMR note is the standard contract of carriage for goods being transported internationally by road. CMR stands for "Convention relative au contrat de transport international de marchandises par route".

The following countries are party to the CMR convention: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and the former Yugoslavia.

The CMR is a consignment note with a standard set of transport and liability conditions, which replaces individual businesses' terms and conditions. The CMR note confirms that the carrier (ie the road haulage company) has received the goods and that a contract of carriage exists between the trader and the carrier. Unlike a bill of lading, a CMR note is not a document of title nor a declaration, although some states regard it as such. A CMR note does not necessarily give its holder and/or the carrier rights of ownership or possession of the goods, although some insurance is included.


How to complete the CMR note

You can fill in the CMR note yourself, or you can have a freight forwarder or the carrier do it for you. However, you remain responsible for the accuracy of the CMR note contents.

Information which needs to be covered in the CMR note includes:

  • the date and place at which the CMR note has been completed
  • The name and address of sender, carrier(s) and consignee (the person to whom the goods are going)
  • A description of the goods and their method of packing - this should be acceptable to both consignor and consignee (however, for security reasons, you do not always want the carrier to be able to identify valuable goods)
  • the weight of the goods
  • any charges related to the goods, such as customs duties or carriage charges
  • instructions for customs and any other formalities such as dangerous goods information

This list is not comprehensive. While the carrier is liable for any loss, damage or delay to a consignment until it is delivered, the trader is responsible for any loss or damage the carrier suffers resulting from incorrect details having been provided in the CMR note.

Generally there will be four copies of a CMR note:

  1. one kept by the trader
  2. one kept by the carrier
  3. one travelling with the goods all the way to their final destination
  4. an administration copy

There are four coloured copies of the Consignment Note:

Red – Consignor

Blue – Consignee

Green – Haulier

Black – Administration


Forwarders' certificate of receipt (FCR)

Increasingly, international trade journeys are intermodal, with freight forwarders playing a crucial coordinating role. Much road freight is organised in this way.

'Forwarders' documents' have been designed for these kinds of transactions. The FCR provides proof that a forwarder has accepted your goods with irrevocable instructions to deliver them to the consignee indicated on the FCR.

Using an FCR can speed up payment. For example, if you're selling overseas and your contract with the buyer states that the goods are collected from the factory and the buyer is responsible for arranging the freight, an FCR can be issued when your buyer's forwarder collects goods.

You can then present the FCR for payment, rather than having to wait until a non-negotiable or negotiable transport document (the proof of the goods having been loaded onto the transport conveyance for the main international carriage, if any) is issued, which may be some time later.

While an FCR is non-negotiable, another similar document, the Forwarders' Certificate of Transport, is negotiable. This means that the forwarder accepts responsibility to deliver to a destination you specify - not to an unchangeable destination as with the FCR.


The TIR System

Transport International Routiers (TIR) is a convention aimed at improving the international transport of goods by simplifying customs rules. This allows vehicles to cross numerous borders without repeated customs checks. Goods are checked and sealed at the outset, and the vehicle is then waved through by customs authorities until it reaches its final destination.

VOSA examines vehicles to ensure that they meet the technical requirements for operation under TIR and will then approve them by issuing a certificate which must be renewed every two years. The main requirement is that the unit makes it impossible for people to tamper with the load without breaking the seals.

When a vehicle has been approved it must display a plate showing the letters TIR on the front and rear of the vehicle.

TIR is not compulsory for international haulage but operating without it is more expensive and more difficult.

All traders moving goods across the European Union (EU) under TIR must submit an electronic customs declaration using the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS).

TIR doesn't apply to journeys within the EU because there are no customs checks for EU-only journeys.



Cabotage is an exemption for international hauliers to operator in another country without the requirement to have an Operator’s Licence for the Country.

It is the collection and delivery of goods within a country other than the one where the haulier is licensed. A haulier may operate in any of the 25 EU member states but on a temporary basis. Essentially, a haulier can undertake three national journeys in seven days without restrictions so long as they are preceded by an inbound international journey.

The definition of ‘cabotage’ is set out in Regulation (EC) No. 1072/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council, (“Regulation 1072/2009”).

Article 8 sets out the general principles which apply to cabotage in these terms:-

1. Any haulier for hire or reward who is a holder of a Community licence and whose driver, if he is a national of a third country, holds a driver attestation, shall be entitled, under the conditions laid down in this chapter, to carry out cabotage operations.

2. Once the goods carried in the course of an incoming international carriage have been delivered, hauliers referred to in paragraph 1 shall be permitted to carry out, with the same vehicle, or, in the case of a coupled combination, the motor vehicle of that same vehicle, up to three cabotage operations following the international carriage from another Member State or from a third country to the host Member State. The last unloading in the course of a cabotage operation before leaving the host member State shall take place within 7 days from the last unloading in the host Member State in the course of the incoming international carriage.

Within the time limit referred to in the first subparagraph, hauliers may carry out some or all of the cabotage operations permitted under that subparagraph in any member State under the conditions that they are limited to one cabotage operation per Member State within 3 days of the unladen entry into the territory of that member State

3. National road haulage services carried out in the host Member State by a non-resident haulier shall only be deemed to conform with this Regulation if the haulier can produce clear evidence of the incoming international carriage and of each consecutive cabotage operation carried out.

Evidence referred to in the first subparagraph shall comprise the following details of each operation:”

(a) the name, address and signature of the sender;

(b) the name, address and signature of the haulier;

(c) the name and address of the consignee as well as his signature and the date of delivery once the goods have been delivered;

(d) the place and date of taking over of the goods and the place designated for delivery;

(e) the description in common use of the nature of the goods and the method of packing, and in the case of dangerous goods their generally recognised description, as well as the number of packages and their special marks and number;

(f) the gross mass of the goods or their quantity otherwise expressed;

(g) the number plates of the motor vehicle and trailer”.


Combined Transport

Combined Transport is another limited exemption from operating in another EU country without having an Operator’s Licence for that Country.

It is defined as “the transport of goods between Member States where the lorry, trailer, semi-trailer, with or without tractor unit, swap body or container of 20 feet or more uses the road on the initial or final leg of the journey and, on the other leg, rail or inland waterway or maritime services where this section exceeds 100 km as the crow flies and make the initial or final road transport leg of the journey;

Between the point where the goods are loaded and the nearest suitable loading station for the initial leg, and between the nearest suitable rail unloading station and the point where the goods are loaded for the final leg; or

Within a radius not exceeding 150 km as the crow flies from the inland waterway port or seaport of loading or unloading.”

The Department for Transport issued the following note on Cabotage and Combined Transport in May 2010.


Combined Transport Directive


Key points for hauliers considering operating under EU Combined Transport rules.

If you operate Heavy Goods Vehicles in Great Britain and Northern Ireland you are required to hold a Great Britain or Northern Ireland operator’s licence. There are a number of exceptions to this, however in relation to international hauliers there are two primary exceptions.

1. If you undertake permitted cabotage within the rules after an international freight journey

2. If you transport goods under the defined rules and restrictions of the Combined Transport Directive (as set out below).

Combined Transport is described by EC Directive 106/92.

  • As outlined above, the Combined Transport Directive can, under certain restrictions, allow a non GB & NI road haulier to undertake certain types of haulage within GB & NI outside of the more usual Cabotage restrictions. The same Directive also applies to GB & NI hauliers who wish undertake Combined Transport haulage in other EU member states.
  • The Combined Transport rules are very specific and very restrictive, and conformity to all aspects is required if a claim to be operating under these rules is to be substantiated.

To be considered as Combined Transport:

  • Goods have to be carried in a single lorry, trailer, semi-trailer (with or without tractor unit), swap body or container of 20 feet length or more from origin to final destination,
  • Re-handling of goods outside the original trailer or container is not considered as Combined Transport under the Directive
  • The lorry, trailer, semi-trailer (with or without tractor unit), swap body or container of 20 feet length or more must be moved by a rail, inland waterway or maritime service of at least 100 kms,
  • The lorry, trailer, semi-trailer, swap body or container must be moved by road for the initial or final leg of a journey, and the road journeys must not exceed 150 kms (as the crow flies from the ports or rail terminals),
  • The operator must be able to supply proof of Combined Transport in the form of a transport document which specifies the rail loading and unloading stations relating to a rail leg, or the loading and unloading ports relating to an inland waterway or maritime journey,
  • These details shall be recorded before the transport operation is carried out and shall be confirmed by means of a stamp affixed to the transport document by the rail or port authorities in the railway stations or inland waterway or sea ports concerned, when that part of the journey carried out by rail or inland waterway or by sea has been completed,
  • The operator must also be able to supply proof of where the lorry, trailer, semi-trailer, swap body or container was loaded with its cargo, and where it has been (or will be) unloaded,
  • The Directive only applies to hauliers established in a Member State and to the carriage of goods between Member States,
  • Note – all lorries, trailers, semi-trailers, swap bodies or containers loaded or unloaded outside the European Union are outside the remit of the Directive. (So containers loaded in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia and the Pacific Islands are excluded and are not covered by the combined transport directive)


Can an operator working on Combined Transport undertake Cabotage?

The new cabotage rules clearly separate the two activities. They make it clear that these are distinct activities, and as a result we consider the two activities to be mutually exclusive (i.e. both activities can not be carried out) during a single visit to any member state (including the GB & NI). Hauliers on combined transport operations involving the collection and distribution of containers or trailers in a host member state cannot undertake any other domestic haulage work, specifically cabotage. This clarification should make it easier for both hauliers and enforcement authorities to understand and apply the rules for each of these separate activities.

What if the transport document indicating the port of arrival for an inbound movement has not been had a stamp affixed by the rail or port authorities in the railway stations or inland waterway or sea ports concerned?

It is an essential part of the Directive that a stamp is affixed. This is so that the distance calculation at origin and destination can be determined accurately. We consider that without all the required documentation, including the appropriate stamp, a transport journey cannot be treated as Combined Transport under the terms of the Directive.


Licences for international road transport

If you are using couriers or hauliers, you don't need to apply for any licences to transport your goods by road. However, you should make sure that anyone transporting goods for you is properly licensed.

Anyone operating a goods vehicle must have an operator's licence - sometimes referred to as an 'O Licence'. These are required for any vehicle with a gross plated weight of more than 3.5 tonnes. Drivers who transport dangerous goods need to hold an ADR training certificate, unless they are transporting small loads.

Three kinds of operator's licence are available, and you should make sure that hauliers you use have the appropriate licence for your needs. The three categories are:

  • restricted - the licence holder can carry their own goods within the UK

  • standard national - the holder can carry both their own goods and goods for others within the UK

  • standard international - the holder can carry their own goods and goods for others both in the UK and on international journeys

For international trade, you need to ensure that your operator has a standard international licence. If you are using your own vehicles to begin a journey in the UK, special licensing arrangements allow you to drive larger vehicles without having to hold a higher large-goods vehicle driving licence entitlement. When driving larger vehicles, the maximum weight of the vehicle plus its load determines the driving licence the driver needs.

Bear in mind that there's a wide range of other regulations and requirements that road hauliers must comply with. These include rules on the numbers of hours that drivers are permitted to work. For example, all goods vehicles must be fitted with a tachograph to monitor drivers' working hours.

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