How to Import into the United States

Those importing goods into the United States could face many regulations, restrictions, and requirements by various government agencies. For instance, certain goods may require government agency permits and licenses or are subject to quota restrictions. Some are eligible for reduced tariff rates or can take advantage of Free Trade Agreements. New importers may want to partner with a licensed customs broker to help them navigate the intricacies of international trade. The following is a brief overview of what is required to import goods into the United States.

To import into the United States, the following documents are required:
1. Customs or commercial invoice
2. Bill of lading
3. Other government agency documents
4. Commodity specific requirements/documents

Typically, the value of the shipment dictates the need for a customs broker. Cargo valued under $2,500 can be allowed into the U.S. under an informal entry. Goods that are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other government agency require a formal entry. If a formal entry is required, it is wise to partner with a licensed customs broker and file documentation before the shipment leaves the port of origin. The exporter or shipper usually prepares the documents before the goods are delivered to the carrier at the port. Ultimately, it is the importer’s responsibility to ensure that the documentation is accurate and complete. The importer is also responsible for all duties, taxes, and fees.

Certain goods, such as firearms, are restricted by government agencies and cannot be imported into the United States without a permit, license, or other documentation. U.S. Customs and Border Protection do not require a permit or license to import goods that are not regulated by government agencies. The CBP does require an importer number (an IRS business registration number or business number) or a social security number for entry forms. Also, all goods imported into the United States must be properly marked with the country of origin. If goods are shipped in a container and that container reaches the end customer, the container needs to be marked with the country of origin as well.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reserves the right to examine any shipment being imported into the United States at the importer’s expense.The importer must make the shipment available to inspection. The CBP does not distinguish between personal effects and commercial shipments.

Most goods are subject to duty rates, which are fees paid to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, for which the importer is responsible. The duty rate is based on the classification of the goods being imported. The classifying goods can be very complex, requiring product information and research. Licensed customs brokers can help prevent improper classification which limits exposure to penalties, increased duty fees, and delays. The customs broker can pay duty on behalf of the importer and then bill them with the clearance fees on one invoice.

Import quotas are another factor to consider as they dictate the amount or volume of certain commodities that can be imported during a certain period of time. For instance, only a certain amount of textiles can be imported for a specified time period. There are certain goods that qualify for tariff rate quotas – where goods can be imported at a discounted tariff rate. Once that quota is reached, the commodity can still be imported, just at a higher tariff rate. Depending on where the goods are being imported from, they may qualify for Free Trade Agreements, where there is no duty at all.

Licensed customs brokers will help ensure proper documentation is filed on-time, goods are correctly classified, and pay duty on the importer’s behalf. They can also engage with government agencies on the importer’s behalf to secure the correct permits or licenses required to import goods into the United States. Customs brokers will help importers to navigate the intricacies of international trade and advise them of the most efficient and profitable way to import goods into the U.S. It is best to plan ahead of the shipment and ensure that all documentation is accurate and filed in a timely manner to avoid liquidated damages penalties.

Please visit U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for more information: