eCommerce Blog / Importing Goods to USA

Importing Goods and Wholesale Products into United States

Most people would agree that the most difficult part of importing merchandise is the bureaucratic nightmare that goes with it. We’ve all heard the horror stories of outrageous duties being charged, goods being confiscated and so on. So, in this post, we’re going to try and clear up some of the mystery by de-jargonizing the requirements.

Remember that if you don’t want to handle customs yourself, you can use a Customs broker who will clear goods through customs on your behalf and take care of all the technicalities.

Do I need to meet any requirements before I can import goods into the US?

You don’t need a license to act as an importer but you will need a business tax number, which you’ll have to get through the IRS. This is the number you put on all customs paperwork that requires an ‘importer number’.

Note that there are some items that require a license or permit from various government agencies in order to be imported, e.g. plant, animal or dairy products, medications, trademarked and copyrighted material and so on. See the customs website for more information.

What does the US Customs procedure involve?

Customs is a two-part process: (1) filing the documents necessary to have your products deemed able to be released and (2) filing the documents that contain information for duty assessment. Both of these processes can be completed electronically via the Automated Broker Interface program of the Automated Commercial Systems.

When your documentation is presented, customs officials decide whether or not it is necessary to examine the shipment. If your goods are examined, officials will check that no legal or regulatory violations have occurred and then release your goods.

What are Customs officials looking for when they examine my shipment?

  • The value of the goods for customs purposes and to check whether duties apply.
  • Whether the goods need to be marked with country of origin or require special marking. If this is lacking, they are then marked to meet regulations.
  • 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.

Goods are cleared much faster if:

  1. Invoices are clear and contain the information that would be shown on a well-prepared packing slip.
  2. Each package is marked and numbered so it can easily be identified against the invoice.
  3. A detailed description of the merchandise in each package is on the invoice.
  4. The country of origin is clearly marked.
  5. Any special laws that apply are complied with. Merchandise such as food, drugs, cosmetics, alcohol and so on will usually fall into this category.
  6. Your supplier maintains good security, reducing the risk that narcotics smugglers are able to introduce narcotics into your shipment.

Duties, Tariffs and all the rest….

All goods imported into the United States are subject to duty or duty-free entry depending on their classification in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. The full tariff schedule is quite a hefty document about the size of a dictionary! You can purchase an annotated loose-leaf edition of the tariff schedule from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

The easiest way to find out what you may be charged is by searching for tariffs online at You’ll need to create an account before you can search, but it’s totally free to do so.

There are three types of duties that may be charged: ad valorem, specific, or compound rates. An ad valorem rate is a percentage of the value of the merchandise, such as 5% ad valorem. This is the rate most commonly applied. A specific rate is a specified amount per unit of weight or other quantity, such as 5.9 cents per dozen. A compound rate is a combination of both an ad valorem rate and a specific rate, such as 0.7 cents per kilo plus 10% ad valorem.

Rates of duty for imported merchandise can also depend on the country of origin. When referring to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, you’ll notice two different columns: General and Statutory. Most goods are covered by the General column (column 1) if they are from what is known as ‘most favored nations’, that is, countries with a trade agreement with the US. Goods from countries to which these rates have not been extended are dutiable at the full or ‘statutory’ rates (column 2).

So am I likely to have to dig deep?

Generally, importing costs from China to US are very reasonable. While the figures always look frightening in documents such as the HTS, you’ll usually find that the tax is very low unless your item is unusual or restricted in some way. Another tip is to stay away from designer replicas as these are subject to more scrutiny and may cause Trade marking and Copyright issues.

If you are particularly worried about getting started, I suggest only importing small lots until you feel more confident with the process. Customs are primarily interested in very large orders and small parcels valued under $1,000 are usually waved on through.

Do you want more free expert tips on how to import successfully and resell your items for a profit? Become a free member of SaleHoo today. 


Comments (53)

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john on 22:55 20 Dec
what are the costs involved and procedures to follow to ship from southwest china to usa?
Wholesale on 9:15 6 Jul
Thanks for sharing such info with us! USA tariff plan has changed, do you think it will affect the import export or not?
Richelle Monfort on 3:22 7 Jul
@Lisa: It would difficult to say. Usually shipping charges will depend on the packages size and weight. Plus rates will vary from one shipper to the next. Try searching Google for a shipping calculator just so you can do a sample costing @John: Again the size and weight will play a factor in the shipping cost. I think you'll find this guide fairly useful, @Wholesale: a change would generally affect the entire trading scheme may it be import or export. What specific changes are you referring to? Cheers Guys! :)
play solitaire online on 11:09 7 Sep
Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be offline... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do! I would appreciate if a staff member here at could post it. Thanks, Jules
Richelle Monfort on 23:40 7 Sep
Hi Jules, Which link are you referring to? Kindly specify so we can assist you accordingly. Cheers :)
Sam on 6:55 8 Oct
Hey Richelle, Thanks for your advice. I have four small quick questions? 1. How much weight in pound can we import as individual, not as business entity. 2. Is there any list of products with amount of duty posed on it or any duty calculator available?
Richelle Monfort on 1:15 11 Oct
Hi Sam, I can only see two questions :) But I'll try to address them to the best I can. Its hard to say or give you the weight in pounds since it varies on the type of product as well as the type of duty being imposed. The easiest way to find out what you may be charged is by searching for tariffs online at Also, please visit this link for more tips and useful links: Hope this helps.
Blanca on 0:17 27 May
I have a trucking business, how do I get access to the ports? I'm interested in moving containers in and out.
Irene Vallejo on 7:31 27 May
@Blanca: See the list here :)
crg on 14:42 27 Jul
I need to import some goods from China. How do I get a list of custom brokers that can help me with it? The port of entry will be Houston, TX.
Irene Vallejo on 23:21 27 Jul
@crg: There's a custom brokers' list at Cheers!
Eric on 8:51 13 Sep
Hi, I want to export clothing, and imitation jewelry from India. What and how much can be hand carried by air into the US?
Tak on 18:17 12 Nov
Hi, any advise on how to import bath and beauty products from Thailand, made form 100% organic herbs. Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!
Irene Vallejo on 3:50 15 Nov
Hi Tak! I think these links will help. Cheers!
bahoombie on 21:57 12 Jan
Hi, I have some goods from China and I want to try to use freight by sea. How long does it take and what do I need to do? What are the lists of customs broker in my area since I don't live near the port, i am from Arizona , the closest port would be in California, what are my options ? Thanks.
Irene Vallejo on 1:05 13 Jan
@bahoombie: Kindly refer to this post The best way to find out how much you have to pay is by visiting your country’s customs website, and for USA - Hope this helps. :)
Ron Fitzsimmons on 18:23 28 Jan
I am looking to import from China 500-5,000 mobile phone screen cleaners at a time, a few times a month. They are very lightweight. Is there anything on my end that I need to know about? I.e., do I need to contact customs, worry about tariffs, etc.? Thanks, this is a great site!
param on 19:06 28 Jan
Hi, I have some goods like textile, fabrics, steel items from India. how can i import them to USA. what is the process to be followed ? What is my first step , whom should I reach out for ? please give me more details... Thanks..
Irene Vallejo on 3:20 30 Jan
@Ron: Yes, I believe you need to get as much information as you can before actually importing such bulk orders. :) As mentioned, the easiest way to find out what you may be charged is by searching for tariffs online at and getting in touch with Customs
Irene Vallejo on 3:23 30 Jan
@Param: Same advice as above, check for the tariffs online at and get in touch with Customs at
Vallae Rama Rao. on 11:45 21 Nov
I like because it is useful to understand the tariffs online and the customs procedures.
Shipping from USA to Canada on 10:42 28 Mar
Thanks for giving useful information about export and import and also reminding us with the shipping charges...Keep sharing..
KrazyKonga on 20:49 23 Feb
I am trying to remember and find out the name of a certain "Act" when importing goods into the US. Is there a place where I can look into the different "Acts" that are involved with importing.
Rod on 17:44 14 May
Hello, I have very little knowledge, if any, about importing food products from international market. The idea is to bring dairy products like ice cream made of dry milk & also ice cream made of sugar & flavored water. Other products would be condensed milk & a substance that is similar to condensed milk. The products are coming from Chile, South America. My question is, where do I begin to investigate how to bring this products into the United States. Should I contact a food distributor to penetrate & find exposure into the market?
I have been given this opportunity by a family member to distribute through the United States but I honestly have no clue what or where to begin. Any feedback would be appreciated.
Richelle Monfort on 5:34 15 May
Hello Rod,

To import any dairy products you need to get a permit from the FDA. I think you will find the information here helpful!

Hope this helps :)
stuart on 13:41 18 Jun
hi,ive met a fashion sales agent in the usa who wants to import my fashion line for girls,womens garments and leather sandles from indonesia. what do i need to do ? do i need an import brocker in dallas as thats the destination. what import duties must i pay. any info to progress my situation would be appreciated.
Sam on 12:04 23 Jun
Hi ,Do I need work permit/ passport /visa "as I am overstaying my visa and I don't have work permit! " to start sending cloths to customers as an online cloths shop? & are the cost of shipping worth to send t-shirts ,suit ext. to euro or other countries from Bangkok? thank you
Richelle Monfort on 22:39 24 Jun
Hello Sam,

I don't think a working permit or visa is required for you to send clothes out of Bangkok. The risk there is a possible run in with the authorities, so as an overstaying foreigner that might get you in trouble.

Good luck!
ritu rana on 14:01 14 Nov
I am planning on importing handicraft made of wood and MDF(mirror frames , wall panels, photo frames etc) from india l. What would be the duty on these items and can I pick my lot in Chicago?
Melissa Johnson on 20:36 15 Nov
Hi, Ritu --

I can't actually tell you what the duty will be. It depends on what exactly you import, I think. I'm not sure what you mean by picking your lot in Chicago. Can you elaborate?
Manoj on 2:52 26 Jan
I am plannig to import some packaged food items non-dairy, non-meat. It is kind of snacks. Is there any specific label requirements for any good products to bring this to USA? If yes, where I can find more details?

Also, if I need to bring some samples not like 20-30 pounds, do I need to go thru customs?
Mike on 21:59 6 Feb
its a great and useful site on importing into U.S..One more question..I know you answered it but i am confused with other comments that i read in other sites..Thing is, I am planning to start online portal and planning to import(sell) from India to USA..I know you said i need to open the business tax number but i am not a citizen of USA and i will be going back to India after few months..Could you please tell us(me) do i need to stay here to start my online business and sell the products fro m india...also could you please tell more on tax related info end of each year and every product i sell..
Melissa Johnson on 18:52 9 Feb
Hi, Mike --

Honestly, I am not sure. Businesses are registered at the state level so I think part of it depends on what state you're in when you start the business. If you have a base of operations in the States, it's considered a nexus and you have to deal with sales tax.

I would speak to an accountant or attorney. They can help you best, especially since I don't know the specifics of your circumstances.
Nishant on 1:48 9 Jan
Hi mike,

I am also looking to import clothes from India and sell them on Amazon. Can you please let me know what difficulties or formalities you went through.

Do I need to register for business.

Raymond Aleks on 13:13 13 Mar
Dear SaleHoo Representative;

I would like some advise in importing an herbal balm / ointment product from Thailand. This product I would say
is similiar to Tiger Balm, used for pain relief and inflamation. Any suggestions concerning FDA, etc?
Melissa Johnson on 20:07 18 Mar
Hi, Raymond!

Here are a couple of links that might help. I don't know all the details so it makes it hard to find exact information.

If nothing else, you might try googling "import [product] to US" and see what the results are and see what others have to say on the subject. Or talk to an imports expert.
Rugi on 1:39 4 Apr
I want to import plastic thermoware/hotpots casseroles from India. Is there a restriction on this.
Harold Bieber on 16:10 29 Sep
I am looking to import items from Vietnam and I was wanting to do it buy bulk and by sea, How will I find out what it will cost me to do this I am around 2 hour away from the port. I also would used a import broker to do all the paper work I hope. I would like to see it hit land be off loaded and moved inland ASAP do you think this could happen.
Melissa Johnson on 16:23 2 Oct
Hi, Harold!

Your best bet is to talk to a customs broker or a freight company directly. Without knowing what products you're bringing in and how much, where you're storing goods, etc., I simply can't give you a good idea of what to expect. Your supplier may also be able to help -- though this certainly isn't true of every supplier.

Good luck!
Joe Salinas on 1:22 29 Feb

Have a question on exporting products from Indonesia example, unions, oranges, green pepper ext.. does the port of Brownsville do the import of products?
Melissa Johnson on 21:40 1 Mar
Hi, Joe -- Yes, you can import items through Brownsville. However, I am not able to locate specifics of what is or is not allowed. You'd be best talking to either the port or your shipping company, or a customs broker, about it!
Caroline Ernest on 16:57 11 Mar
I appreciate the information received. Thanks much looking forward to continued relationship.
Redo on 22:34 8 Jun

I want to Import product form China. How to know that product is not patented. Also If no patent on product can I bring in any available packaging or I have to have my own brand?
Melissa Johnson on 15:35 9 Jun
Hi there!

I honestly don't know how patents work outside of the US. IP law tends to be complicated. It sounds like you might be interested in white label products?

A good place to ask is our forum, where a lot of other sellers hang out: Our staff are on the forum as well!
Vijay patel on 5:55 17 Feb
Thanks I am looking for which type of good I import from India to for sell in USA
MKa on 14:09 23 Feb
I have a question regarding the declaration of price of item. Price of item varies by country. If I am shipping from India what price of item I will declare at the time of shipment. Indian price or USA price.
Justin Golschneider on 14:36 28 Feb
Hi there! The value is the total price paid by the buyer in the U.S., so you would declare the amount that you paid to the seller in India. It's a pretty complicated process, though, and it's often best to have a professional do it. If you want to do it yourself, I recommend downloading and reading the PDF that U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers on this page:
Sam on 15:23 2 Mar
Hi, very useful article, thank you. Can you point me towards any information or resources for importing to the US from West Africa?
Justin Golschneider on 13:31 3 Mar
Hi Sam! If you're based in the U.S., then the most important thing to think about is U.S. regulations. I recommend downloading and reading the PDF that U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers on this page:

You may also find some useful materials on the Economic Community of West African States website:

I hope that helps!
Sarima on 20:59 21 Mar
Great info! I'm actually trying to bring some house slippers from Spain to sell online. I want to test the waters fist though and I would first buy small quantities. Probably less than $1,000 wholesale price. So would I still have to pay duties, taxes etc?
Thank you
Justin Golschneider on 12:55 23 Mar
Hi Sarima! I recommend creating an account at and running a search to see if and what you will likely be charged. You should be able to get the info you need pretty quickly.
Ronsie on 18:37 18 Apr
Hi, I want to import leather shoes from India to US. what are the legal procedures and paperwork that i will have to go through. Also will I have to register a trademark name , if i want to sell the shoes under my company name? I Reside in FL, so are there any special rules and regulations for labeling and registration. I want to buy shoes in wholesale and sell them under my company name, what is the procedure for that?

Justin Golschneider on 11:55 19 Apr
Hi Ronsie! If you're based in the U.S., then I recommend downloading and reading the PDF that U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers on this page:

That provides the details on importing.

Trademark names are used to protect product names, phrases, slogans, etc. If you want to create your own shoe brand like Ronsie Oxfords, then registering a trademark would be important for protecting your unique shoes.

However, if you're just reselling Nikes at Ronsie's Shoe Store or something like that, then you shouldn't need to register any trademarks. As long as you have a taxpayer identification number for your business, you'll be all set.

For instructions on registering your business in Florida, see this state of Florida website:
Justin Golschneider on 11:59 19 Apr
I should also add that you will need to register a DBA (Doing Business As) if you sell under a name different from your business's legally registered name. For example, if your business is legally named Ronsie's, LLC, and you want to sell shoes under the name Ronsie's Shoe Store, then you would need to register Ronsie's Shoe Store as a DBA.
Claudia on 14:11 22 Apr
Hello, I am planning a trip to Thailand and would like to go sourcing to bring some products back into USA. I recently went to China and ordered some products that are on the way, but I went there with a group of people that were just purchasing...not on vacation. This time, I will be on vacation but want to check out a market or two if possible. Any recommendations? I will be going sometime between Jun 15 - July 31, 2017. Thanks!
Chandrashekhar Ranadive on 20:25 8 May
We want Export variety of Home used Items of pure Aluminium like Lemon Squeezer, Chakali Making etc. These are made on PDC Machine & Power Coated. These are already sold in Indian Market in large Quantities regularly.
Nathalie on 16:19 25 Jun
I want to import clothing from France. Could you give me some pointers? Thanks
Justin Golschneider on 10:53 26 Jun
Hi Nathalie! Importing from France should be no different from importing from anywhere else in the EU. :-) You shouldn't have any trouble if you follow the steps laid out in this article.
Vijaya Thangamuthu on 19:30 23 Jul
Hi.. I'm planning to import t-shirts from India and sell it in US. I'm not sure if I need to get any import license to import t-shirts into US. I'm aware that I need to register a company, ( I'm based out of California) but was not sure if any special import license is required. Thanks
Justin Golschneider on 14:41 24 Jul
Hi Vijay! To the best of my knowledge, you will not need any special license. You may want to write in to our support team to confirm. Note that Customs and Border Patrol are very serious about catching counterfeit clothes and the people who sell them, so I recommend sticking with vetted suppliers from our directory.
Vijaya Thangamuthu on 23:58 25 Jul
Thanks for the information Justin. Just curious about the counterfeit part?? Do you have more information on Counterfeit items, like what all things I should avoid when importing textile into US and things like that!!
Justin Golschneider on 10:50 27 Jul
We have an article on the topic here:

And this one on avoiding scam suppliers:

If you follow those tips and use our suppliers, you shouldn't run into any trouble. :-)
Trang Do on 3:06 17 Aug
Hello, I have very little knowledge, if any, about importing furniture from Vietnam. The idea is to bring furniture, tables or legs made by wood and they are handmade. My question is, where do I begin to investigate how to bring this products into the United States. Any feedback would be appreciated.
Justin Golschneider on 13:23 17 Aug
Hi Trang Do! You can download the official documentation as a PDF on this page (on the right):

If you can't make heads or tails of the rules, I recommend speaking to a customs broker—they can take care of all the red tape for you.
Trang Do on 1:54 31 Aug 2017
Thank you so much.
Justin Golschneider on 12:25 1 Sep 2017
You're very welcome :-) Our support staff is also happy to help out if you get stuck—you can reach them here:
Radu on 1:48 27 Sep 2017
Hi Richelle,

Thank you for the information shared with us.
Could you please tell me what is correct for cosmetic products labels imported from EU: made in EU or made in a specific country of EU?

Thank you,
Justin Golschneider on 19:10 27 Sep 2017
Hi Radu! You need to mention the specific country. From the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at the following link:

"Every article of foreign origin entering the United States must be legibly marked with the English name of the country of origin unless an exception from marking is provided for in the law."

" 'E.C.' or 'E.U.' for European Community or European Union, respectively, are not acceptable abbreviations since they do not indicate the individual country of origin of the good."
darbani widjaja on 1:51 4 Oct 2017
I have been searching for answer in FDA website and have not found it yet. I am hoping you can help me out. is it right that manufactures or food processing facility in foreign country has to register or be approved by FDA so that their products can be imported into US? If that is true, some thousands of imported products in US market are like home made food products that I don't think their processing facilities will meet FDA standard. However, those products are in the market with just a nutrition fact label.
I intend to import instant coffee or so called 3 in 1 white coffee(instant coffee with cream in it). Beside nutrition facts on the packaging, do I need FDA approval ? Does FDA need to certify the food facilities in origin country? Thanks in advance for any help
Connor Martin on 0:18 21 Oct 2017
Within the next 1-2 months I will be manufacturing and importing about a 20ft shipping container worth of halloween type costumes. I have never imported anything, let alone a full shipping container's worth of product. I would love some help in where, besides this article (which is very helpful), I could look for information to my situation. I know I may have gotten in over my head and I'll have to hire a customs agency to take care of it for this first time through. But I would still like to understand their process more than just what they'll tell me they did. Would really appreciate some help and great article to start with!
Richelle Monfort on 6:32 30 Oct 2017
Hello Connor,

These might help give you a better idea of the steps:

Hope this helps you with your first import!
SNSsanali on 17:44 24 Oct 2017
Hello, I am in the process of importing real jewelry (Gold, White Gold, Silver) to the states from India. Can anyone list any steps for me or an article that can help? Also I can't seem to find what the duty on jewelry would be. Some are saying 5% and some 50%. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Richelle Monfort on 6:30 30 Oct 2017
Hello SNSsanali,

According to - Import duty & taxes for Finished jewelry. The import duty rate for importing Finished jewelry into United States is 5.5% , when classified under Jewellery & Watches → Jewellery of precious metals → Gold Jewellery. other - without jadeite / rubies with HS commodity code 7113.19.5090. Hope this helps!


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