Importing Goods and Wholesale Products into United States

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5 tips for importing goods to the US for beginners

1. Research the laws, trade barriers and tariffs 

Basically, you want to make sure what you’re doing is legal before you try and do it and, potentially, run into trouble. The US might be known as a trade-friendly nation, but it still has strict laws and procedures that you must follow.

It’s up to you to become familiar with the legislation relevant to your business and products, including relevant trade barriers and tariffs. Trade barriers can include things like licenses and quotas for specific products to protect local companies and economies. Tariffs are a tax on exported or imported products, designed to safeguard the domestic industry.

If you want extra guidance with this - because it can be tricky! - you can contact the Office of International Trade. It sounds big and scary, but it’s set up to help small businesses compete in the global marketplace. If you’re wanting to import food or agricultural products, you’ll want to check with the Food and Safety Inspection Service, too.

2. Make real connections in the export country

As a small-scale importer, you’ll likely be relying somewhat on the experience of your chosen manufacturer, supplier or distributor in the export country, usually China. It’s important to build relationships with these people to ensure that they can be trusted and are meeting the standard of service required of them. It’s a good idea to arrange an in-person meeting to make sure everything is in order. It can help to give you peace of mind and it’s also good practice to make a personal connection with your business partners.

3. Consider consulting an expert 

Importing bulk goods to the US is a lot more serious than running a dropshipping business or a simple eCommerce store. You should consider hiring an expert to guide you through the process, rather than solely relying on Youtube tutorials or blog articles like this one. Navigating the laws and regulations of importing to the US can be a really challenging process. It can be a good idea to hire a Customs Broker to help make the process go as smoothly as possible.

4. Get the required licenses, bonds and permits

Depending on what you’re importing to the US, you may be required to obtain a specific license or permit. You can see the list of products that require a license or permit here.

Additionally, you will have to obtain a customs bond, which can be either single-entry or continuous. If you are planning to import goods to the US regularly, then a continuous customs bond is the better option. If you’re just doing one large shipment or you’re unsure of how often you’ll be importing, you can start with a single-entry bond and see how you go.

Again, you might want to consider tip #3 above when dealing with licenses, bonds and permits for importing to the US. The paperwork can be tricky and tiresome. Expert help might be beneficial for the first time around. 

5. Educate yourself 

Running a business - especially one that involves importing goods to the US - requires ongoing education and training. You can learn by doing, but if you want to avoid beginner mistakes you can take short online courses or read widely to ensure you have a good understanding of how to import goods to the US.

You can find online courses about importing on:

The US Customs Procedure: Step by Step

1. Get compliant (Hire a Customs Broker)

Compliance is crucial when it comes to importing goods to the US. If you don’t get everything in order prior to your shipment arriving on US soil, you could face major fines that could cripple your business before it’s even started. That’s why it’s recommended that you hire a Customs Broker to ensure you’re compliant. It might cost a bit of money up front, but it can save you headaches and money long-term. An experienced Customs Broker can provide valuable advice, handle your paperwork, and ensure you’re compliant so that everything’s smooth sailing once your goods arrive in the US.

2. Obtain required permits and licenses 

Your Customs Broker can also advise you as to which permits and licenses you need, if any. You should wait until your applications have been accepted before placing an import order.

Products that require a special license include food products, animal products, plants, prescription medication, trademarked items (branded goods), and copyrighted items (music, films etc). Visit this website to see if you require a permit or license for importing to the US.

3. Avoid a $5000 fine (Import Security filing)

Want to avoid paying $5000 to the US government? Then make sure you file the Import Security Filing, commonly known as “10+2”. It’s a requirement for goods arriving in the US by ship. If your goods are arriving by air, you don’t have to worry about this. Failure to comply with the rule could ultimately result in fines of up to $5000, increased inspections and delay of cargo.  Again, this is something a Customs Broker could handle for you, but if you’re handling everything yourself, you need to be aware of this.

4. Getting your product through US Customs 

Once you’ve got all the paperwork sorted, you should contact the service port of entry near you, or the one your goods will be arriving at. You can ask to speak with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer who specializes in the product you’re importing. They can provide you with specific product requirements and advise you of any extra things you need to do before your shipment sets sail. 

Once you have the “OK” from the CBP officer and you’re confident that you’ve filed all the necessary paperwork, you can proceed with importing your goods.

5. Submit documents on arrival

Once your goods arrive at your port of entry in the US, you or your Customs Broker have to file another bunch of documents within five days. These documents include:

  • Bill of lading
  • Packing lists
  • Commercial invoice
  • Certificate of origin
  • Customs bond
  • Inward cargo manifest or immediate delivery form 

Once these documents have been filed and accepted, you can file the final two required documents. They are:

  • The entry summary (US Customs Form 7501)
  • Relevant invoices used to value the shipment 

Once all documents have been accepted, you should consider your goods successfully imported to the US. You can finally take possession of them.

How do I import goods to Amazon FBA?

The import process is the same as above. You’re still responsible for handling all of the documents and ensuring everything is in order before your goods reach the US.

Amazon has its own requirements for goods being shipped to its fulfillment centers, which you can see here.

The main thing to note is that Amazon cannot be used as an Importer of Record (IOR) for your goods. The IOR is either you and your business or your designated Customs Broker. 

Amazon can be the “deliver to” party or ultimate consignee for your imported goods, however you or your Customs Broker must contact Amazon at sellerimports@amazon.com in advance of shipping any inventory to obtain the EIN or Tax ID number required for customs clearance.

The main thing you need to consider when importing goods to Amazon FBA is whether you have them sent directly to Amazon, or you (or a middleman) take possession of the goods first and then forward them to Amazon.

The two import strategies for Amazon FBA 

Here are your two options:

Firstly, have your supplier ship your goods straight to the Amazon FBA warehouses.

Secondly, have your supplier ship your goods to yourself (or another middle-man), before rerouting it to the warehouses.

Let’s talk about the first option: shipping direct.

By shipping direct, you save on transit time, and on paying a middleman.

But here’s the thing:

You won’t get to inspect your products before they get handed over to your customers.

Unless you’ve been working with the same supplier for, like, a decade, and you’re super confident that they can deliver, I’d say that this is a pretty big issue.

There are some things you can do to get around this, such as requesting that your supplier text you photos before sending out all shipments, and using a third-party inspection company.

But at the end of the day, you’ll never be 100% sure that all of your customers are getting the right products, in the right size, and in the right colour.

Plus, there’s the possibility that your supplier will conveniently decide to stop doing business with you, and sell to Amazon directly instead.

Think about it:

You’re essentially giving your supplier a step-by-step guide on how to get started on Amazon FBA.

If it’s just ten or twenty items that you’re selling per month, nah, it won’t be enough to tempt your supplier.

But if you’re selling thousands of units or more?

You can bet your ass the gears in your supplier’s head will start turning. And when it comes down to it, there’s nothing that’s stopping them from cutting you out, and going directly to Amazon.

Okay, now for your other option.

Your supplier ships your products to a middleman, who in turn ships it to the Amazon FBA warehouses.

If you’re a small outfit and you don’t have large turnarounds, you might be able to eliminate the middleman, and take care of the rerouting yourself.

But if you’re a relatively established business with hundreds (or more!) orders coming in each month, it makes sense to hire a middleman, so that you can focus on the more strategic stuff.

Go ahead and Google “freight forwarder amazon fba” - there are tons of companies to choose from.

Two great things about using a middleman is that…

Firstly, you can run a quality check on your products when they arrive.

Secondly, your middleman is likely to be an expert in packing products for Amazon FBA, which means that there’s an extremely low chance of your shipment being rejected by Amazon.

But there’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world…

...and when working with a middleman, you can expect to pay receiving fees, pick and pack fees, and labelling fees, all of which might add up to quite a bit.

The specific fees vary from company to company, but here’s an example of what you might expect to pay:

 

About the author
Simon Slade
CEO of SaleHoo Group Limited

Simon Slade is CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo, a platform for eCommerce entrepreneurs that offers 8,000+ dropship and wholesale suppliers, 1.6 million high-quality, branded products at low prices, an industry-leading market research tool and 24-hour support.

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64 Comments
  • 8th of August
    More a question than a comment. Do you have any tips about importing to the Caribbean and more specifically, into Trinidad?
  • 8th of August
    Not currently but thanks for the suggestion :) We'll consider adding some info about this to our resource area.
  • Lisa 3rd of August
    Good article! What do you think the average cost would be for importing from Thailand to the US? Thanks, Lisa
  • john 20th of December
    what are the costs involved and procedures to follow to ship from southwest china to usa?
  • Wholesale 6th of July
    Thanks for sharing such info with us! USA tariff plan has changed, do you think it will affect the import export or not? www.wholesalepages.co.uk
  • Richelle Monfort 7th of July
    @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, http://www.salehoo.com/education/importing-shipping/importing-into-the-us-papers-procedures-duties @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 7th of September
    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 www.salehoo.com could post it. Thanks, Jules
  • Richelle Monfort 7th of September
    Hi Jules, Which link are you referring to? Kindly specify so we can assist you accordingly. Cheers :)
  • Sam 8th of October
    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 11th of October
    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 http://dataweb.usitc.gov/. Also, please visit this link for more tips and useful links: http://www.salehoo.com/education/importing-shipping/importing-into-the-us-papers-procedures-duties Hope this helps.
  • Blanca 27th of 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 27th of May
    @Blanca: See the list here :) http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/toolbox/contacts/ports/
  • crg 27th of July
    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 27th of July
    @crg: There's a custom brokers' list at http://apps.cbp.gov/brokers/index.asp?portCode=5301 Cheers!
  • Eric 13th of September
    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 12th of November
    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 15th of November
    Hi Tak! I think these links will help. http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/Inspections/InspectionGuides/ucm074952.htm http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductandIngredientSafety/ProductInformation/ucm203078.htm Cheers!
    • Grace 5th of September
      Hi Ms. Irene, I want to open online boutique business, selling clothes and shoes. How can I import goods in the Philippines here in US? What the first step I need to do, the cost for shipping and taxes? Thank you
  • bahoombie 12th of January
    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 13th of January
    @bahoombie: Kindly refer to this post http://www.salehoo.com/education/importing-shipping/china-importing-logistics-and-storage The best way to find out how much you have to pay is by visiting your country’s customs website, and for USA - http://www.customs.gov Hope this helps. :)
  • Ron Fitzsimmons 28th of January
    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 28th of January
    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 30th of January
    @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 http://dataweb.usitc.gov/ and getting in touch with Customs http://www.customs.gov/
  • Irene Vallejo 30th of January
    @Param: Same advice as above, check for the tariffs online at http://dataweb.usitc.gov/ and get in touch with Customs at http://www.customs.gov/
  • Vallae Rama Rao. 21st of November
    I like because it is useful to understand the tariffs online and the customs procedures.
  • Shipping from USA to Canada 28th of March
    Thanks for giving useful information about export and import and also reminding us with the shipping charges...Keep sharing..
  • KrazyKonga 23rd of February
    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 14th of 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.
  • stuart 18th of June
    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 23rd of June
    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 SaleHoo Admin 24th of June
      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!
  • 14th of November
    hello,
    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 SaleHoo Admin 15th of November
      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?
  • 26th of January
    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?
  • Melissa Johnson SaleHoo Admin 26th of January
  • Mike 6th of February
    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 SaleHoo Admin 9th of February
      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 9th of January
      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.

      Thanks,
  • Raymond Aleks 13th of March
    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?
  • Rugi 4th of April
    I want to import plastic thermoware/hotpots casseroles from India. Is there a restriction on this.
  • Harold Bieber 29th of September
    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 SaleHoo Admin 2nd of October
      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 29th of February
    Hi..

    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 SaleHoo Admin 1st of March
      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 11th of March
    I appreciate the information received. Thanks much looking forward to continued relationship.
  • Redo 8th of June
    Hi,

    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 SaleHoo Admin 9th of June
      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: https://www.salehoo.com/forum/ Our staff are on the forum as well!
  • Vijay patel 17th of February
    Thanks I am looking for which type of good I import from India to for sell in USA
  • MKa 23rd of February
    Hi,
    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.
    Thanks
    • Justin Golschneider SaleHoo Admin 28th of February
      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: https://www.cbp.gov/document/publications/importing-united-states
  • Sam 2nd of March
    Hi, very useful article, thank you. Can you point me towards any information or resources for importing to the US from West Africa?
  • Sarima 21st of March
    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
  • Ronsie 18th of April
    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?

    Thanks.
    • Justin Golschneider SaleHoo Admin 19th of April
      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: https://www.cbp.gov/document/publications/importing-united-states

      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: http://dos.myflorida.com/sunbiz/start-business/
    • Justin Golschneider SaleHoo Admin 19th of April
      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 22nd of April
    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!
  • 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 25th of June
    I want to import clothing from France. Could you give me some pointers? Thanks
    • Justin Golschneider SaleHoo Admin 26th of June
      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.
  • 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
  • Trang Do 17th of August
    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.
  • Radu 27th of September
    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,
    Radu
    • Justin Golschneider SaleHoo Admin 27th of September
      Hi Radu! You need to mention the specific country. From the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at the following link: https://www.cbp.gov/trade/rulings/informed-compliance-publications/marking-country-origin-us-imports

      "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."
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