Legal and Regulations

Preparing to import and export goods

Learn more about some of the key import/export regulations from the federal government's international trade agency.

Published: July 29, 2013

Whether you're considering buying foreign materials to possibly cut production expenses or selling goods overseas to expand your business, it's important to understand import/export tariffs, duties, and licenses in order to prepare for your potential costs and legal requirements.

“Under the law, the onus is on the importer/exporter to know what his or her requirements are,says John Leonard, acting executive director for trade policy and programs at the Office of International Trade, U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP). To help you stay on the right side of the law, here are some important facts regarding international trade tariffs, duties, and licenses.

Importing goods

If you're planning to import, the CBP may request specific information about your shipment. Leonard recommends creating an exact inventory of your imports, including material makeup and originating country.

Additionally, these details can help you project costs. You don't need a license to import, Leonard says, but you do need to know in advance how your goods are going to be cleared at customs – that is, what tariffs or duties you might have to pay. The amount depends on the product and its country, but the CBP provides updated tariff information.

Quotas for goods, such as raw cane sugar and cotton, can increase your costs if you choose to import more. “You can still import beyond a certain annual limit, but the duty may increase,” Leonard says. Also, the U.S. government charges antidumping fees on certain imports, such as garlic, mushrooms, and seafood, to protect local producers, Leonard explains. These fees are in place to deter goods from being “dumped” into the U.S. at a lower price than in their original country. By planning for these fees, business owners can understand the true cost of importing certain goods.  

Exporting goods

Depending on the export, there may be different license and tariff rules. Export licenses are only required for goods that “the Department of Defense might be interested in,” such as munitions or certain chemicals, Leonard says. 

Otherwise, exports aren’t subject to duties or tariffs because exporting domestic-made goods is “something the United States government very much wants to encourage,” Leonard says. Receiving countries, however, might impose duties on the U.S. business for their exports.

Where to go for help

Independent customs brokers can work with you to estimate costs and create a plan for meeting regulations. For a list of licensed brokers in your area, contact your local port of entry. The CBP is also opening up additional Centers of Excellence and Expertise, which are industry aligned-offices located throughout the country to help businesses virtually manage the trade process.

With a basic understanding of what to expect, you can better predict any costs you may incur as you prepare to import or export.