How to Import to the U.S. as a First-timer

How to import to the US as a first-timer

In this guide, you will learn about some of the most rigorous policies the U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforces on imports.


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has some of the strictest import policies in the world. It is crucial for first-time importers to get familiar with CBP policies and processes prior to starting the import process. In this case, it is imperative to research and understand any specific requirements or regulations that apply to any specific commodity you may be importing to the United States.  


Most American federal agencies maintain their own guides and licensing requirements for imported goods. These agencies are known as the Partner Government Agencies to the United States Customs and Border Protection. When it comes to international trade and imports, CBP holds the administrative authority on behalf of U.S. PGAs to penalize importers who don’t obtain required licenses, permits, or certifications for their imports.

A List of Partner Government Agencies

Department of Agriculture (USDA)

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
  • APHIS Trade
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
  • Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS)
  • Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS)


Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • Federal Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)


Department of Commerce (DOC)

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Enforcement and Compliance within the International Trade Association
  • Office of Textiles and Apparel


Department of Transportation (DOT)

  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)


Department of Justice (DOJ)

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF)
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)


Department of Interior (DOI)

  • Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)


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Contact CBP Prior to Entering the U.S. 

All Customs Agents are trained to handle various types of commodities, thus they can provide extensive guidance to importers about any specific import. CBP specialists working in Customs points of entry, work hand-in-hand to provide the right resources and processing expertise, required to successfully complete an import. Some of the areas CBP can help you with are:  

  • Picking ports of entry
  • Cargo classification
  • Import timelines
  • Duty rates
  • Guidance on how to file for an entry
  • The need for specific licensing or certification for certain goods


Information to have before contacting CBP for help:  

  • A list of the merchandise you intend to import
  • A product-description for all articles, and answer specific details about it  
  • The country of origin for your products
  • The material composition of products
  • The intended use for the item
  • Pricing or payment information

*** Refer to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) for more product classification guidelines  

Request an IRS Business Number  

CBP requires importers to have an IRS Business Number or a U.S. Social Security Number before filing for importation. Alternatively, you can full out the CBP Form 5106 to request an IRS-generated number for you or your business entity. Upon importation, you can present this form to the CBP Entry Branch at the port of entry.  

File Importer Security Filing (ISF or 10+2)

When trying to complete your imports to the United States on an ocean vessel, you are required by U.S. Customs to file an ISF form, which provides information regarding the containerized cargo. An importer is required to file an ISF form at least 24 hours before goods are loaded onto an ocean vessel.  

As the importer of record (IOR), you are responsible for the correctness of the documents, and failure to comply with the ISF requirements results in penalties, increased inspection fees, and a delay in delivery.  

File Importer Security Filing (ISF or 10+2) 

When transporting your import cargo to the United States by vessel, you are mandated by the U.S. CBP to file what is called an ISF, which includes advance cargo information to CBP officials. As the importer of record (IOR), you are responsible for the correctness of the documents, and failure to comply with the ISF requirements can ultimately result in penalties, increased inspection fees, and delay of the delivery of the cargo in question. 

Talk to a Licensed Customs Broker

While many importers choose to make their own entries to the U.S., it is encouraged that first-time importers consult licensed Customs Brokers for a smoother first import. If you need assistance with your imports to the United States, contact Freight Right’s in-house Customs Brokers, who can help you with any concerns.