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

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

Avoid the common malpractices of first-time importers by getting familiar with the U.S. Customs import requirements.


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has some of the strictest policies in the world, so before importing goods from the U.S., it is highly crucial that you as an importer or exporter, get familiar with CBP policies and processes, prior to starting the process. It is also important that you know any specific requirements or enforcements in regard to any specific commodity you may be importing to the country.

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While the CBP doesn’t require any importer licenses or permits, there are other agencies that do, depending on the type of commodity that is being carried. In such a case, CBP just holds an administrative authority for those who do require additional paperwork. In addition to government agencies and their licensing requirements, some local or state authorities also require specific licenses for you to be able to do business in their specific territories. F What CBP does require, however, is an IRS business number or a U.S. Social security number. Alternatively, you can request an IRS-generated number assigned to you and your entity. To obtain such a number, you must fill out a CBP Form 5106, and later present it to the Entry Branch at a CBP port of entry.

Contact CBP Prior to Entering the U.S. 

Every major CBP port of entry has specialized import specialists assigned to various commodities across the board. If you are unsure about what port of entry you want to bring in your goods or have questions about classifications or commodity-specific requirements, these agents will be able to address your questions. 

Additionally, these CBP agents will give you insights about duty rates, and how to file for an entry. Import and entry specialists work hand-in-hand with one another to make sure that the importer is given the right resources and processing expertise that is required to file importation paperwork. 

Before calling port specialists you must: 

  • Have a list of the merchandise you’re planning to import
  • Complete the description of the article and answer specific details
  • The country of origin of the merchandise and manufacturer
  • The composition of the merchandise
  • The intended use of the item
  • Pricing/payment information 

*Refer to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) which has more classification guidelines

Request Written Rate of Duty and HTSUS Classification

As a prospective importer, you are given the chance to request what CBP calls letters of ruling, which contain information setting forth, with respect to a specifically described transaction, a definitive interpretation of applicable law, or other important information about the type of transaction that you wish to complete. 

Talk to a Licensed Customs Brokers

It is no secret that the import/export process can be complicated. While many experienced importers and exporters often choose to make an entry of their own, it is advised that first-time importers and exporters always consult licensed customs brokers. Customs brokers are individuals with extensive customs, imports, and exports knowledge. They are licensed by CBP, however, they are not considered CBP employees. They are individual contractors and often work with specialized freight-forwarding firms. 

Freight Right has in-house, CBP licensed Customs Brokers who can address any of the concerns that first-time customers may have. 

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. 

CBP Can Examine your Shipment And Bill You For It

CBP has the right to examine any imported shipment into the United States. It is important to note that although these exams are not ‘voluntary,’ you as the importer must assume all of the exam costs. Both personal and commercial cargo is subject to CBP examinations upon entry to the United States.