The Import Process

How To Import Into The US

Your how-to guide on getting your goods to the US

There are many aspects to consider such as cost and requirements when importing into the US.

We can help you understand the process and determine the requirements your imported goods would need to meet.

Click on a link below for commodity-specific imports.
Are you looking to import:

Parties Involved:

Import Fundamentals:

  • You can be the Importer Of Record (IOR) into the US regardless of where you reside in the world (resident or non-resident of the US).
  • Acting as the IOR allows you maximum control and visibility of your imports.
  • Duty and tax must be paid upon importation into the US for all goods valued at $800.00 or greater. If your goods are valued at less than $800.00, they can be imported into the US under the De Minimis rule without paying duty or tax. Learn more about this rule in our blog What You Need To Know About The Section 321 De Minimis Value Entry.
  • The rate of duty is determined by the tariff of the commodity being imported, the value of the goods and the origin of the goods.
  • Certain import documentation is required to be presented to the border services officer at the port of entry.
  • Your import may be subject to a customs review, inspection, or audit prior to, at the time of, or after the importation. Additional fees may be imposed by the US Government for these services.
  • You are required to keep your import records for five years following the date of import and can be audited by Customs at any point during this time.

FAQ: US Imports

What Is A US Customs Broker?
A Customs Broker helps companies and individuals import goods into the US in a variety of ways. Much like a lawyer represents a client in a court of law, a Customs Broker works with Customs and all Partner Government Agencies on your behalf, the Importer of Record. The rules that these government agencies have in place are complex and change often. An experienced Customs Broker stays on top of the rules, and assures you all the work they conduct on your behalf with the government agencies are in accordance with Customs Law.

What Does A Customs Broker Do?

The initial service offering of a Customs Broker was to file an entry declaration on behalf of their clients. Nowadays our service offerings can include:
  • Determine if you require a Customs Assigned number or if your Tax ID number can be used and is on file with Customs
  • Help you obtain an import bond by filing the application on your behalf
  • Determine your rate of duty
  • Calculate your goods valuation for Customs purposes
  • Determine your HS Tariff Classification or obtain a ruling from Customs
  • Advise on duty saving opportunities with Free Trade Agreements and preferential tariff treatments
  • Establish direct payment of duty with US Customs and Border Protection on your behalf
  • Advise of all import requirements with Partner Government Agencies (PGA)
  • Advise all carriers that PCB Customs Brokers is now acting on your behalf
  • Connect you to resources for packaging, labeling, tax, freight and more
And many, many more areas to help you import efficiently, compliantly and at the lowest cost.
Do I Need A Customs Broker To Import My Goods Into The US?

Possibly. It depends on what you are importing and the value of the goods. Let’s start with the value of the goods.

For goods with a value of $2500 USD or less, you can self declare the goods on a section 321B entry type if you are accompanying the goods across the border. This type of entry does not require a customs broker.

For goods with a value greater than $2500 USD, a customs broker is required to submit a formal entry to US Customs and Border Protection on your behalf.

Some commodities, regardless of value, require a formal entry into the US. For example, goods with anti-dumping, countervailing or permit requirements require a Customs Broker to file the formal entry with US Customs on your behalf.

Working with a Customs Broker benefits importers in the following ways:

  • Eliminates the need for the importer to arrive at the border with their goods and declare them to customs.
  • Alleviates the importer from having to declare the goods - especially beneficial for anyone who imports regularly.
  • Helps to maintain your record keeping requirements with customs
  • Ensures that any changes in the regulatory process, such as a tariff classification shift, is reflected in your import declaration(s).
  • Provides confidence that the compliance regulations are followed, as some Customs Brokers are certified to carry out the work on your behalf, this requires them to continually improve their knowledge of the process and regulations. These brokers will be licensed and may hold designations such as Certified Customs Specialist (CCS).

It is important to remember that importing into the US is a privilege that can be revoked based on the importer’s level of compliance. Working with a knowledgeable party that can help you avoid monetary penalty, delay and revocation of importing privileges will help your trade endeavors in the long run.

Ready to create an account with us? Get started here.
How Much Does A Customs Broker Charge?

Each Customs Broker has its own set of service rates.

If you were to import with us, our rates depend on the specifics of your import.

The price you will pay is determined by the:

  • Value of your shipment
  • Complexity of the import
  • Level of expertise required
Are There Any Import Restrictions In Place That Would Prevent Me From Importing My Goods?

Yes, there are some. Every commodity imported into the US is regulated by US Customs and Border Protection and possibly a Partner Government Agency (PGA) that specializes in that commodity type. For example, if you want to import seafood, CBP and the FDA would review your import declaration to determine their ‘release decision.’ Specific details about your seafood are required to be included in your import declaration. These elements are used to make the release decision as to whether the seafood will be allowed in the country or not.

Very few commodities are outright banned from entering the US. Some examples of banned goods are those sanctioned from Iraq. Other common examples are drugs such as marijuana, even though they may be legal in some states, they are still illegal federally.

It is very important to ensure that you understand what data is required for your specific commodity, what documents and interfaces that data needs to be reported in and the timeframes for reporting in order to provide Customs and PGA the data they need to make a release decision.

How Do I Calculate Duty?

Here is how you calculate duty rate payable to Customs:

Value of goods (USD)
x   Duty rate associated with tariff classification (commodity specific)
-   Any preferential tariff treatments
=  Duty payable to Customs

To determine your rate of duty, you will need to analyze three things:

  • Of the six methods of valuation available, which one you will use to determine your value of goods
  • What tariff classification is to be used for your commodity and the associated duty rate
  • If any free trade agreements or preferential tariff treatments can be used to eliminate or reduce this duty rate

If you need help with any of these three topics an experienced Trade Advisor can help you.

How Do I Value My Goods For Customs Purposes?
How Do I Determine My Tariff Classification?

You determine your tariff classification by seeking help or referencing the tariff book yourself. Since an HS Tariff Classification code is required on your import declaration to identify the goods being imported, it is important that you know the tariff code for each of your commodities.

Tariff classification is seemingly easy but in reality can be quite difficult depending on the commodity. Many new importers think it is as easy as looking up their commodity and using the corresponding duty rate. However, without using the explanatory notes from each chapter, importers could assign an incorrect tariff, and therefore use an incorrect rate of duty to potentially and unintentionally be underpaying or overpaying duty. If this goes uncaught, it could result in hefty monetary penalties.

Using the expertise of a Trade Advisor To Determine Your Tariff or Taking A Course on how to assign one is beneficial for you to stay compliant with Customs.
What Shipment Documentation Do I Need To Send To Customs?

When importing goods into the US, there are specific forms that are required by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when presenting the entry information. These forms are intended to provide all necessary information to various Partner Government Agencies (PGAs). The forms are as follows:

US Customs Invoice (USCI)
Every shipment needs to be accompanied by an invoice that has specific data about the goods. This invoice is provided to the customs broker, so they can pull the information off of it in order to make the declaration to Customs, and your carrier, to make an eManifest and to present to a Customs office at the first port of entry.

Need a blank customs invoice that you can fill out online? Click here.

At minimum, goods not regulated by a Partner Government Agency need to include the information listed in this guide.

For goods regulated by any of the Partner Government Agencies, the information listed in the guide linked above is required along with additional data elements specifically for the PGA.

Free Trade Agreement Certificate of Origin (FTA Certificate)
Goods meeting the eligibility rules of the USMCA and documented on the Certification of Origin, receive a reduced (free) rate of duty. This certification can be completed for each shipment or once each calendar year. For further information on this topic, contact our Client Services Team or our learning center for upcoming and on-demand sessions.

What Entry Type Can I Use To Clear My Goods?

An entry is a term used for the declaration process required for goods that an Importer of Record is requesting to import into the US. There is a specific entry type for each import circumstance.

Entry For Consumption
Consumption entries are for goods entering the country that are not intended to leave again, but rather be consumed entirely. A good example of this is food.

A consumption entry follows a two-part process:

  • Filing the documents necessary to determine whether merchandise may be released from CBP custody, and
  • Filing the documents that contain information for duty assessment and statistical purposes.

Both of these processes can be accomplished electronically.

Examples of consumption entry types are:

  • Low Value (Section 321) for goods valued at $800 USD or less
  • Personal goods unaccompanied by the owner (3299)
  • Formal Entry
  • Informal Entry for goods under $2500 USD (this entry type does not require a Customs Broker)
  • Self declared informal entry

Entry For Warehouse
As an importer of record, if you wish to postpone the release of goods, you may place them in a CBP bonded warehouse under a warehouse entry. The goods may remain in the bonded warehouse up to five years from the date of importation. At any time during that period, warehoused goods may be re-exported without paying duty, or they may be withdrawn from the warehouse for consumption upon paying duty at the duty rate in effect on the date of withdrawal. If the goods are destroyed under CBP supervision, no duty is payable.

While the goods are in the bonded warehouse, they may, under CBP supervision, be manipulated by cleaning, sorting, repacking, or otherwise changing their condition by processes that do not amount to manufacturing. After manipulation, and within the warehousing period, the goods may be exported without the payment of duty, or they may be withdrawn for consumption upon payment of duty at the rate applicable to the goods in their manipulated condition at the time of withdrawal. Perishable goods, explosive substances, or prohibited importations may not be placed in a bonded warehouse. Certain restricted articles, though not allowed release from custody, may be warehoused.

Temporary Importation Under Bond (TIB)
Goods of the types, when not imported for sale or for sale on approval, may be admitted into the US under bond without the payment of duty for exportation within one year from the date of importation. Generally, the amount of the bond is double the estimated duties. The one year period for exportation may, upon application to the port director, be extended for one or more further periods which when added to the initial one year shall not exceed a total of three years. There is an exception in the case of articles covered in item 14: the period of the bond may not exceed six months and may not be extended.

Merchandise entered under TIB must be exported or destroyed before expiration of the bond period or any extension to avoid assessment of liquidated damages in the amount of the bond. All goods entered under TIB are subject to quota compliance.

What Is Customs Compliance?

Due to recent world events, international trade has been subject to a host of threats and hazards such as natural disasters, accidents, or even malicious attacks. The growing risks and complexities of global trade have caused governments around the world to place stronger emphasis on cross-border security.

While new regulations and a focus on security has helped create a safer trade environment, it has also resulted in tighter processing times, increased audits, compliance activity, and greater costs to importing goods.

In recent years, US Customs and Border Protection has shifted much of their emphasis from import inspections to post-audit verifications. The responsibilities put upon Importers of Record has steadily increased as all members of the supply chain endure higher scrutiny from customs officials. Now more than ever it is imperative that the Importer of Record maintain a high level of sophistication, demonstrate due diligence, ensure their responsibilities are understood, implement internal sets of controls and procedures for best practices as well as understand the consequences of non-compliance.

The consequences of failing to comply with customs regulations include:

  • Delays of incoming shipments
  • Increased scrutiny and frequency of examinations on future shipments
  • Inadvertent overpayment of duties and government fees
  • Monetary penalties issued by Customs Agencies
  • Blemishes on a company’s corporate record with Customs Agencies
  • Total revocation of import privileges

The current regulatory environment demands active participation by every member of the international trade community. The laws governing cross-border trade continue to become increasingly complex, and this requires ongoing, continuous improvement in voluntary compliance through awareness and education.

Trade is tricky.
The Trading Post is not.

Sign up to receive easy-to-understand updates, events, and guides on international trade.