The United Kingdom imported US$689.6 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2019. That metric reflects a 9.4% increase since 2015 and a 3% uptick from 2018 to 2019.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2019, the British pound depreciated by -19.7% against the US dollar since 2015 and dropped by -4.5% from 2018 to 2019. UK’s weaker local currency makes its imports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively more expensive when converted starting from the British pound.
UK’s imports represent 3.5% of total global imports which totaled an estimated $19.665 trillion one year earlier during 2018.
From a continental perspective, about three-fifths (59%) of United Kingdom’s total imports by value in 2019 were purchased from fellow European countries (compared to 49.1% from European Union members). Asian trade partners supplied 22.2% of import purchases by the United Kingdom while 12.9% originated from North America. Smaller percentages came from Africa (2.5%), Oceania (1.7%) led by Australia and New Zealand then Latin America (1.1%) including the Caribbean but excluding Mexico.
Given the United Kingdom’s population of 66.9 million people, its total $689.6 billion in 2019 imports translates to roughly $10,300 in yearly product demand from every person living in the United Kingdom.
United Kingdom’s Top 10 Imports
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in the United Kingdom’s import purchases during 2019 at the two-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into the United Kingdom.
- Gems, precious metals: US$88.3 billion (12.8% of total imports)
- Machinery including computers: $84.7 billion (12.3%)
- Vehicles : $73.5 billion (10.7%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: $63.9 billion (9.3%)
- Mineral fuels including oil: $56.2 billion (8.1%)
- Pharmaceuticals: $28 billion (4.1%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $19.1 billion (2.8%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: $18.8 billion (2.7%)
- Furniture, bedding, lighting, signs, prefab buildings: $11.9 billion (1.7%)
- Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $11.7 billion (1.7%)
The United Kingdom’s top 10 imports accounted for roughly two-thirds (66.1%) of the overall value of its product purchases from all countries.
The gems and precious metals category posted the fastest increase from 2018 to 2019, up by 120% particularly for gold and platinum. In second place for expanding import purchases was the optical, technical and medical apparatus category thanks to its 2.3% increase. Britain’s total bill for imported furniture, bedding, lighting, signs and prefabricated buildings rose 1.1%.
Leading the decliners was the mineral fuels including oil category via its -16% decline year over year. That category was weighed down by thinning UK purchases of imported petroleum gases as well as both crude and refined petroleum oils.
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of UK’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article or under the adjacent product folder tabs.
UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of precious metals and gems during 2019.
- Gold (unwrought): US$69.9 billion (up 173.7% from 2018)
- Platinum (unwrought): $6.4 billion (up 66.4%)
- Jewelry: $4.6 billion (up 43.1%)
- Precious metal waste, scrap: $2.6 billion (up 21.2%)
- Silver (unwrought): $2 billion (down -0.6%)
- Diamonds (unmounted/unset): $1.8 billion (down -34%)
- Imitation jewelry: $330 million (down -9.1%)
- Precious/semi-precious stones (unstrung): $174.2 million (up 31.4%)
- Natural pearl/precious stone items: $48.3 million (up 9.3%)
- Other precious metal items: $32.1 million (down -12.2%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of gold (up 173.7%), platinum (up 66.4%) then jewelry (up 43.1%) grew at the fastest pace from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported precious metals and gems among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2019, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.
- Turbo-jets: US$20.6 billion (up 1% from 2018)
- Computers, optical readers: $14.7 billion (up 0.1%)
- Piston engine parts: $4 billion (down -10%)
- Taps, valves, similar appliances: $3.2 billion (down -3.4%)
- Printing machinery: $2.8 billion (down -9.1%)
- Liquid pumps and elevators: $2.3 billion (down -4.1%)
- Computer parts, accessories: $2.2 billion (down -9.3%)
- Machinery parts: $2.2 billion (down -4.5%)
- Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $2.1 billion (down -4.1%)
- Air or vacuum pumps: $2.1 billion (down -9.7%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of turbo-jets (up 1%) and computers including optical readers (up 0.1%) grew from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2019, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.
- Cars: US$42.3 billion (down -3.8% from 2018)
- Automobile parts/accessories: $15.6 billion (down -9.5%)
- Trucks: $8.8 billion (up 15.6%)
- Tractors: $1.6 billion (up 3.9%)
- Trailers: $842.5 million (down -11.1%)
- Automobile bodies: $760.9 million (up 20.5%)
- Motorcycles: $668 million (down -19.1%)
- Motorcycle parts/accessories: $503.5 million (down -8.7%)
- Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $473.9 million (down -0.8%)
- Public-transport vehicles: $352.1 million (down -14.1%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of automobile bodies (up 20.5%), trucks (up 15.6%) then tractors (up 3.9%) grew from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among UK businesses and consumers.
In 2019, UK importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electrical goods including consumer electronics.
- Phone system devices including smartphones: US$19.7 billion (down -3.3% from 2018)
- TV receivers/monitors/projectors: $4.4 billion (down -10.4%)
- Insulated wire/cable: $4.2 billion (down -10.5%)
- Integrated circuits/microassemblies: $3.8 billion (up 78.4%)
- Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $2.7 billion (down -6.6%)
- Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $2.3 billion (down -3.2%)
- Electrical converters/power units: $2.2 billion (up 1.2%)
- Unrecorded sound media: $1.9 billion (down -19.6%)
- Electric storage batteries: $1.9 billion (up 13%)
- Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels: $1.8 billion (down -4.8%)
Among these import subcategories, British purchases of integrated circuits or microassemblies (up 78.4%), electric storage batteries (up 13%) then electrical converters and power units (up 1.2%) grew from 2018 to 2019.
These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among UK businesses and consumers.
Searchable List of UK’s Most Valuable Import Products
At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, United Kingdom’s top import products are cars, crude oil, gold, refined petroleum oils and turbo-jets followed by mobile phones then automotive parts or accessories.
The following searchable table displays 100 of the UK’s most in-demand imported goods during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
|Rank||UK Import Product||2019 Value (US$)||Change|
|5||Phone system devices including smartphones||$19,695,633,000||-3.3%|
|6||Processed petroleum oils||$19,626,919,000||-11.2%|
|8||Computers, optical readers||$14,704,072,000||+0.1%|
|9||Medication mixes in dosage||$14,583,413,000||-12.5%|
|12||Blood fractions (including antisera)||$7,770,996,000||-15.6%|
|21||Medication mixes not in dosage||$4,071,594,000||+26.4%|
|22||Piston engine parts||$3,998,126,000||-10%|
|23||Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)||$3,890,467,000||-0.9%|
|25||Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)||$3,631,126,000||-1.1%|
|26||Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)||$3,525,827,000||-7.2%|
|27||Taps, valves, similar appliances||$3,171,972,000||-3.4%|
|28||Cases, handbags, wallets||$3,062,173,000||-5.9%|
|29||Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)||$2,844,391,000||-10.7%|
|30||Heterocyclics, nucleic acids||$2,784,994,000||+5.1%|
|33||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$2,743,536,000||-0.4%|
|34||Rubber tires (new)||$2,720,520,000||-7.6%|
|35||Lower-voltage switches, fuses||$2,713,966,000||-6.6%|
|36||Miscellaneous iron and steel structures||$2,675,275,000||+11.2%|
|37||Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys||$2,656,486,000||-5.9%|
|38||Precious metal waste, scrap||$2,554,319,000||+21.2%|
|40||Miscellaneous plastic items||$2,478,597,000||-4.9%|
|41||Miscellaneous meat (preserved/prepared)||$2,418,802,000||-7%|
|42||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$2,353,702,000||-9.2%|
|43||T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)||$2,346,145,000||-12.8%|
|44||Electric water heaters, hair dryers||$2,328,380,000||-3.2%|
|45||Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations||$2,281,957,000||-8.2%|
|46||Liquid pumps and elevators||$2,260,255,000||-4.1%|
|47||Electrical converters/power units||$2,217,401,000||+1.2%|
|48||Computer parts, accessories||$2,203,645,000||-9.3%|
|51||Centrifuges, filters and purifiers||$2,138,056,000||-4.1%|
|52||Air or vacuum pumps||$2,136,017,000||-9.7%|
|53||Hand-drawn paintings, drawings||$2,042,537,000||-1%|
|55||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$2,007,802,000||-5.8%|
|56||Miscellaneous iron or steel items||$1,972,312,000||-37.1%|
|58||Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)||$1,905,503,000||-10.4%|
|59||Unrecorded sound media||$1,880,189,000||-19.6%|
|61||Electric storage batteries||$1,872,375,000||+13%|
|62||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,864,260,000||-16.6%|
|63||Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs||$1,841,230,000||-5.5%|
|65||Other food preparations||$1,821,807,000||-10.9%|
|66||Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels||$1,805,492,000||-4.8%|
|67||Transmission shafts, gears, clutches||$1,745,058,000||-8.4%|
|68||Fuel wood, wood chips, sawdust||$1,710,324,000||+11.6%|
|70||Aluminum plates, sheets, strips||$1,625,207,000||-17.3%|
|73||Women's clothing (knit or crochet)||$1,588,319,000||-13.5%|
|75||Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)||$1,516,190,000||-3.9%|
|76||Electric motors, generators||$1,462,806,000||+12.3%|
|78||Physical/chemical analysis tools||$1,449,328,000||-0.1%|
|79||Table games, bowling equipment||$1,445,152,000||-12.4%|
|80||Printed books, brochures||$1,435,110,000||-3.7%|
|82||Base metal mountings, fittings||$1,411,822,000||-4.6%|
|83||Miscellaneous animal feed preparations||$1,380,290,000||-0.9%|
|86||Miscellaneous engines, motors||$1,358,031,000||+7.3%|
|89||Other organic cleaning preparations||$1,316,146,000||+0.2%|
|90||Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers||$1,305,814,000||-7%|
|91||Chemical industry products/residuals||$1,300,772,000||-9.4%|
|94||Other diagnostic/lab reagents||$1,239,791,000||+1.4%|
|95||TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras||$1,237,596,000||-6.4%|
|96||Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)||$1,229,756,000||-14.6%|
|98||Fish fillets, pieces||$1,208,467,000||+11.7%|
|99||Miscellaneous fresh/chilled vegetables||$1,183,035,000||-9.1%|
These 100 imported goods were worth a subtotal of US$463 billion or roughly two-thirds (67.1%) by value for all foreign products sold to United Kingdom during 2019.
See also United Kingdom’s Top 10 Exports, United Kingdom’s Top Trading Partners, UK’s Major Trade Balances with America, United Kingdom’s Top 10 Major Export Companies and United Kingdom’s Exported Services
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Country Profiles. Accessed on February 18, 2020
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 18, 2020
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on February 18, 2020