Importing and Exporting


Are you interested in importing or exporting goods to or from the United States? If you are new to the world of importing and exporting, there is a lot of new information for you to learn. Customs rules and regulations can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but there is a lot of helpful information available to help you navigate the requirements.

When you import goods to the United States, there are certain rules and regulations that you need to follow. Usually you must declare goods entering the country to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to make sure you are complying with the country’s regulations.

In addition, when you import items to the U.S., you often have to buy some type of permit or license.  While the CBP does not make people importing goods purchase a license or permit, other U.S. agencies sometimes require permits and/or licenses, depending on the commodity that you are importing. In order to conduct business in a particular region of the U.S., you may also have to purchase a special license from a particular state or local government. In addition, some commodities, for example, have import quotas to limit the volume entering the U.S over a set amount of time.  For more information on commodities that are subject to quote, see this page on commodities.

The documentation required by the CBP does require some important information.  Before importing goods to the U.S., you’ll want to make sure that you have an importer number or an IRS business registration number. If you are not in business, or if your company is not registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may be able to use your social security number.  You can also ask for an importer number when you submit your customs paperwork, specifically Form 5106. You should have this form ready at the CBP port of entry for the Entry Branch.

For those planning to do regular importing to the U.S., the CBP has published a helpful document covering a wide range of topics about importing to the U.S. For example, check out this helpful 200+ page document for importing information with topics that include:

  • Entry process
  • Packaging goods
  • Special marking requirements
  • Prohibitions and restrictions
  • Rules pertaining to motor vehicles and boats
  • Import quotas
  • Invoices
  • North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Before you start importing goods to the United States, you can contact the port of entry where your items will arrive. U.S. Ports of Entry, (and this includes sea, land or air) have CBP offices for your convenience. There are about 329 U.S. ports of entry.  It is helpful to note that ports of entry are also responsible for inspections related to agriculture in order to protect against diseases that could damage crops, animals, and the environment in general.

When you contact the port of entry, make sure you are able to provide detailed information about the items you are importing to the U.S. Questions you might be asked include the following:

  1. Place where the items are from or made
  2. Merchandise composition
  3. Planned use for the items
  4. Pricing/value so that the shipment value can be calculated

If you are confused about the classification of your merchandise, you may want to check out the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) which includes tariff guidelines to classify your items.

If you are exporting goods from the United States, you can also get some helpful information from the CBP. Depending on the items that you are interested in exporting, you may be required to purchase an export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or the Department of State.  It is also possible that you may need a Shipper’s Export Declaration or SED.  There are specific rules and regulations about exporting cars or other motor vehicles,

If you are new to importing or exporting, you may want to get help from a licensed customs broker.  Customs brokers are individuals or corporations that are licensed and regulated by the CBP to help those importing or exporting meet Federal import and export requirements.  There are more than 10,000 licensed Customs brokers in the U.S.  Licensed customs brokers have passed the Customs Broker License Examination.

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