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Guide to Importing into USA

Before diving into imports, here are a few suggestions for the exporter (Vendor) in order to expedite the clearance of your merchandise by a Customs Broker:

  1. Place all required information on your customs invoice – This includes a detailed item description, number of units/pieces (including units of measure), value, country of manufacture, HTS classification code
  2. Be sure the information on the commercial invoice is legible, clear, and keep the data within each column
  3. An accompanying packing list is recommended
  4. Place marks and numbers on each package with corresponding marks and numbers on your invoice. This will help customs officials identify particular items in your shipment if needed
  5. Be sure that the product and documents are compliant with any partner government agency requests
  6. Work with CBP to develop packing standards for the imported product
  7. Be sure security procedures are in place. Do not give smugglers the opportunity to introduce unknown items into your shipment


As your merchandise reaches the United States, it is up to you, the consignee, or your appointed customs broker, to file an entry with the port director at the port of entry. A Customs entry is not final until the shipment has arrived at the port of entry, has been authorized by the CBP and any duties / fees have been paid in full. If an examination is required prior to release, it is the responsibility of the importer of record or their appointed customs broker to arrange it.

**Please note: In addition to a CBP entry, importer should contact other government agencies for particular commodities. If your shipment contains alcohol, tobacco, wildlife products (ex: furs) Importers should contact the appropriate agency prior to import.

Right to make entry

Goods/Products may only be imported by their rightful owner or their appointed Licensed Customs Broker. The importer of record must be stated on the bill of sale as well as the bill of lading or AirWay bill in the case of an air shipment.


What documents are required to customs clear a shipment? The only required documents for an entry are as follows:

  • Commercial invoice (bill of sale) or proforma invoice if commercial invoice cannot be produced
  • PGA form, if required (ex: FDA, EPA, etc.)

All other documentation will be received directly from your freight forwarder or trucking company.

Commercial invoice A commercial invoice should include the following:

  • US port of entry
  • Contact information of Purchaser, Vendor, & Shipper
  • Detailed description of merchandise (including country of manufacture)
  • Piece count of each product (quantities & measures)
  • Cost per item and currency
  • All charges relating to the shipment including packaging, shipping charges
  • Date of purchase
  • The invoice must be in English or accompanied by an accurate English translation

Surety (Bond)

All imports must be accompanied by a bond in order to ensure the payment of any duties, taxes, or fees relating to import. A bond can be purchased through a US based surety company or your selected Customs Broker There are 2 types of customs bond:

  1. Annual Bond – This is the most common and cost effective bond as it covers all imports for 1 year. A bond covering an amount of $50,000.00 USD will cost between $400.00 – $450.00 USD. Larger bonds can be purchased as well extensions of a smaller bond.
  2. Single-Entry Bond – Single entry bonds are most often used when importers do not expect to receive more than 5-10 per year and cost about 5% of the value of the shipment


After the submission of a customs entry, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has the right to examination. These Examinations are done completely at random, but the chances of being examined are much higher if it is your first time importing into the country. IF no legal or regulatory violations have been found, your shipment will be released. Any charges relating the inspection are billed to the importer of record directly or through your appointed Customs Broker.

Entry for Warehouse

If the importer of record would like to differ applicable duties, a shipment may be placed in a CBP bonded warehouse. The goods can remain in the bonded warehouse for up to 5 years from the day of import and goods can be withdrawn at any time with the payment of applicable duty. Should the importer wish to manipulate the cargo in any way short of manufacture, they may do so under CBP supervision. Perishable items, explosives, or prohibited goods may not be stored in a CBP bonded warehouse.

Undeclared Goods

If no customs entry has been presented at the port of entry by yourself or your appointed Customs Broker within 15 days of arrival, the shipment may be placed in a general warehouse at the importer’s expense. If not entry is made within 6 months from the date of import, they may be sold at public auction or destroyed.

Mail Entries

As a commercial importer, you may find some advantages using the United States Postal Service (USPS) rather than a courier to import merchandise into the United States. Some benefits are below:

  • Ease of Clearance: All duties on shipments valued under $2,000 USD are collected by the letter carrier
  • Reduced Shipping Costs: Smaller, low value shipments can often be shipped much cheaper through the mail
  • No Formal Entry: No formal entry is required on duty-free products valued at less than $2,000.00 USD
  • No Declaration on Personal Shipments: No requirements to customs clear a shipment destined to a private individual if under $2,000.00 USD Value

When shipping Items through the USPS, please be sure to complete the following:

  • CBP declaration and commercial invoice securely attached to the outer packaging.
  • If declaration or invoice cannot be securely attached to the outside of the package, it must be enclosed in the package and “invoice enclosed” clearly written on the outside.

Exceptions for $2,000.00 value informal entries:

  • Billfolds
  • Products made of feather
  • Footwear
  • Articles of fur
  • Articles of leather
  • Toys / games
  • Others

Formal vs. Informal Entries

A Formal entry is necessary for imports with a total value above $2,500.00 USD. An entry bond is mandatory for a formal entry as it ensures payment of applicable duties. Established importers who use an annual bond as opposed to a single-entry bond may retrieve their goods before the payment of their duties, taxes, and other fees (closing of entry). Under usual circumstances, an informal customs entry is made possible when the total value of goods imported is less than $2,500.00 USD and are usually for personal consumption / use. As Just like formal entries, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, when importing textiles, an informal entry may only be used for values less than $250.00 USD. Ask your Customs Broker about how you can use this to your advantage.

Section 321

Section 321 is a type of informal entry which allows for the release of goods valued at $800.00 USD or less without filing a customs entry by you or your Customs Broker. Shipments released under “Section 321” are both duty & tax free. To Qualify for for Section 321, a shipment may not exceed a total value of $800.00 USD and must not be one of several lots covered by a single order or invoice to which the value would exceed $800.00 USD or the equivalent. The shipment must be intended for one private individual. For information on section 321, click here

In-Bond Transportation

Not all imported cargo into the US is entered at the port in which it arrives. The importer or transporter may choose a different location where the goods must travel past the border and further into the United States. In order to do so, these goods must be transported in a “Bonded Status” from the port of arrival to the port of entry. This can only be accomplished by a bonded carrier under CBP form 7512.

Right to Make Entry

Goods arriving in the U.S.A. must be accounted for by the owner, purchaser, vendor, his/her authorized employee, or by a licensed customs broker. CBP Officers or employees are not legally authorized to act as import agents of imported goods but may give reasonable advice and assistance. Licensed US Customs Brokers are the only persons other than the importer of record authorized to act on their behalf. Customs Brokers are private companies licensed by CBP to prepare & file entries as well as  account for, collect, and remit any applicable duties/taxes. If a when a customs brokers makes an entry, it must be supported by a CBP Power of Attorney.

Examination of goods & Verification of documents

At any given time prior to release, the CBP has the legal right to examine and verify all goods destined for the USA as well as their supporting documents. Examination is necessary in order to validate the following:

  • The value of goods in order to determine dutiable status
  • Whether or not goods follow proper labeling protocol
  • Whether the shipment contains prohibited items
  • Whether goods are properly invoiced
  • Whether quantities match those declared or if a shortage exists
  • Whether shipment contains narcotics

Any costs associated with the coordination of and examination of goods is the responsibility of the importer of record and goods can be held for release by the coordinating warehouse without payment in full.


When determining dutiable amounts based on net weight, a deduction is made from the gross weight, referred to as Tare. Tare is the allowance for deficiency in weight caused by packaging, transport box, bag, etc.


Orderly packing and proper invoicing are paramount when it comes to importing into the U.S.A. If during an inspection items subject to different rates of duty are so packed together that a CBP officer cannot determine the quantity without separating them, the combined items will be subject to the highest rate of applicable duty.

Reasonable Care

Reasonable care is the responsibility of the importer. CBP publishes a wealth of information to assist the import community on reasonable care and the use of a licensed Customs Broker can all but guarantee compliance.

Assessment of Duty

All goods imported into the United States are subject to duty or duty-free entry depending on the HTS classification. Duty can be applied based on the value of an item, weight, or size, or count. Duty Can be eliminated through trade agreements such as NAFTA.

Ruling on Import Duties

CBP makes a decision on the dutiable status of an item once the entry is liquidated (after entry documents are filed). An Importer / Exporter or any interested party may receive advanced information by submitting a request for ruling. This can be done by directing the appropriate information to:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Attention: Office of Regulations and Rulings Washington, DC 20229


Director, National Commodity Specialist Division U.S. Customs and Border protection One Penn Plaza, 11th Floor New York, New York 10119

Importers may obtain a binding ruling which will be binding at all ports of entry unless revoked, by submitting to the national commodity specialist division. The following is required for a ruling:

  • Name, Address, and other identifying information of vendor, purchaser, and manufacturer as well as the manufacturer ID code
  • Names of ports at which the products may be entered
  • A description of the transaction and its country of origin
  • A statement from the importer that according to their knowledge, there are no known issues regarding the product before the CBP or any court system
  • Statement as to whether or not classification advise has ever been given by a CBP officer and from whom
  • Complete description of goods (can include samples, sketches, etc.)
  • Cost breakdown of each component and their respective quantities
  • Description of the primary use of the product

Temporary Free Importation (TIB)

Goods being imported into the United States for non-resale may be admitted into the country under bond without the payment of duties for exportation within one year of the date of import. A TIB may be extended for one year at a time with a maximum of 3 years. Products / Merchandise entered under a temporary importation bond must be exported, destroyed, or extended before the expiration of the bond period. All goods entered under Temporary Free Importation are still subject to quotas.

ATA Carnet

An ATA carnet is an international customs document used for the temporary duty-free import of a product or shipment. The carnet serves serves as a guarantee against payment of duties should the goods not be exported and is valid for one year. During this period, the Carnet holder can make as many trips with their accompanying goods as they like. A Carnet is generally used in the United States for the temporary admission of:

  • Professional equipment
  • Advertising material
  • Commercial samples

NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)

The North American Free Trade Agreement effectively removed any duties from products originating in Canada, Mexico, and the USA. NAFTA defines the term “Originate” in 4 ways.

  1. “Goods wholly obtained or produced entirely in the NAFTA region (these contain no foreign inputs); “
  2. “Goods produced entirely in the NAFTA region exclusively from originating materials (these contain foreign materials that have been previously manufactured into originating materials); “
  3. “Goods meeting an Annex 401 specific rule of origin such as a prescribed change in tariff classification, regional value content requirement; and in extremely limited instances,”
  4. “Unassembled goods and goods classified with their parts, which do not meet the tariff-shift rule but contain 60 percent regional value content using the transaction-value method, or 50 percent using the net-cost method.”

Noncommercial NAFTA Imports For personal imports into the US, NAFTA may be applied without a certificate of statement or Origin Commercial imports, Low Value In order to receive duty free status on a commercial shipment valued at $2,500.00 USD or less, a statement of origin must be provided (19 CFR 181.22(d)) Commercial Imports, High Value In order to receive duty free status on a high value commercial shipment (valued above $2,500.00), the importer must have a valid NAFTA certificate Post Import Claims Importers who do not have a NAFTa or are unsure, have up to one (1) year from the date of importation to file a claim.