U.S. Import Requirements


Whether you are a big corporation importing hundreds of widgets a month or a hard-core collector importing a rare piece through an internet purchase, the import requirements of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apply to anyone bringing in foreign items into the United States. While the CBP does not require an importer to have a license or permit in order to import goods from a foreign country, every item that crosses the border into the United States is subject to customs clearance and duties unless specifically exempted.

To obtain clearance from the CBP, importers and their merchandise must take necessary steps of entry, examination, appraisal, classification, and liquidation. Generally, customs duties are a percentage that is applied to the dutiable value of the imported goods. Some articles are dutiable at a specific rate of duty (i.e. per piece, per pound, per kilogram), while others at a compound rate (a combination of a percentage and specific rates).

Entry of Goods

When a shipment reaches the United States, the owner, purchaser, or designated licensed customs broker (i.e. the importer of record) must file entry documents for the goods with the port director at the goods’ port of entry. To legally enter the U.S., imported goods must arrive within the port of entry, delivery of the merchandise must be authorized by CBP, and estimated duties must be paid. The importer of record is responsible for the arrangement of examination and release of the goods.

Within 15 calendar days of the date that a shipment arrives at a U.S. port of entry, entry documents must be filed at a location specified by the port director. These documents are:

  • Entry Manifest or Application and Special Permit for Immediate Delivery or other form of merchandise release required by the port director,
  • Evidence of right to make entry,
  • Commercial invoice or a pro forma invoice when the commercial invoice cannot be produced,
  • Packing lists, if appropriate,
  • Other documents necessary to determine merchandise admissibility.

Examination of Goods

National security is a high priority for the CBP. Officer of the CBP examine several imported shipments every day to decide whether or not packages are safe to cross the border. Examinations of goods entering the United States are necessary to determine:

  • The value of the goods for customs purposes and their dutiable status,
  • Whether the goods must be marked with their country of origin or require special marking or labeling.
  • Whether the shipment contains prohibited articles,
  • Whether the goods are correctly invoiced,
  • Whether the goods are in excess of the invoiced quantities or a shortage exists,
  • Whether the shipment contains illegal narcotics.

Items produced abroad and imported into the United States usually must be marked with the English name of the country of origin. This country of origin marking must be located in a conspicuous place as legibly, indelibly and permanently as the nature of the article permits. However, there are a bevy of exceptions where the country of origin marking is not required.

Classification, Appraisement, and Liquidation

Two most important factors affecting custom duties are classification and appraisement. Classification and valuation must be provided by commercial importers when an entry is filed. The importer must also furnish classifications under the statistical suffixes of the tariff schedules. When classifying and appraising merchandise, importers must exercise reasonable care.

Although the entry filer is responsible for valuing the imported merchandise and providing this information for the CBP officer, the fixed value of the item is entered by the CBP officer after appraisement. Listed in order of precedence for use, the value of the imported goods will be determined by the:

  • Transaction value for the goods,
  • Transaction value of identical merchandise,
  • Transaction value of similar merchandise,
  • Deductive value,
  • Computed value.

Liquidation is the final step of the importing process. Liquidation is the point at which the CBP officer’s ascertainment of the rate and amount of duty becomes final. Generally, liquidation must occur within one year of the date of entry. After notice of liquidation is posted, an importer may protest the determination within 90 days.

Restricted Merchandise and Countries of Origin

Before completing a transaction with a foreign seller, ensuring that items are permitted to be imported in the United States can save future headaches with the CBP. The list of items that are prohibited and restricted from being imported into the United States is quite extensive. Some of the items on the banned list are:

  • Agricultural Commodities (milk, fruits, vegetables, tobacco, livestock, etc.)
  • Arms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Implements of War
  • Certain Consumer Products (household appliances, industrial equipment, toys, etc.)
  • Electronic Products (Radio Frequency Devices, radiation products)
  • Food, Drugs, Cosmetics, and Medical Devices)
  • Conflict Diamonds
  • Gold, Silver, Currency, Stamps
  • Pesticides, Toxic and Hazardous Substances
  • Textiles, Wool, and Fur
  • Counterfeit Products
  • Wildlife and Pets
  • Obscene, Immoral, or Seditious Matter
  • Artifacts

The Office of Foreign Assets Control also imposes a variety of sanctions, including import or export bans, on countries, companies, and individuals. If an importer plans on shipping items from one of the countries below, it is important to contact a local port of entry for complete information on regulations. Full or partial trade embargoes are currently in place for:

  • Cuba,
  • Iran,
  • North Korea,
  • Sudan,
  • Syria, and
  • Burma.

Following the regulations set by the CBP is essential for importers hoping to obtain their foreign products quickly and with minimal complications. Uncover more about importing and exporting and other International Law articles through Findlaw.