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How to Comply with Import Regulations

Importing goods that violate quota restrictions or are unsafe could cost you


Importing goods that violate quota restrictions or are unsafe could end up costing you money in fines and penalties, and that will erode your profits. Are you complying with both state and federal government import regulations? Here’s how to find out.

The Internet makes it very easy to source and buy products worldwide. But regardless of whether you buy a product on the Internet or somewhere else and import it into the United States, you must clear the shipment with the Customs Border Patrol (CBP) people. During the process, you may be subject to the payment of duty as well as to whatever rules and regulations govern the importation of that particular product into the United States.

To comply with the CBP rules and regulations, you must fill out the first item in the list below and ask your supplier for the following items (2-8):

1. Fill out a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Declaration (you can get this document from a logistics company or a foreign post office). This document is in addition to–not in lieu of–your regularly required commercial invoice. If your item is accompanied by a license or certificate, enter the license and/or certificate number on the form.

2. Complete name and address of seller (supplier) in English.

3. Provide a description, in English, of the product to be imported. The more detail, the better, to match up against the actual imported product. You want to minimize confusion or the potential for any questioning. At this juncture, the description of merchandise determines and sets the classification number and duty rate that Customs assigns the product when it arrives in the United States. Reiterating what was stated before: Importing goods that violate quota restrictions or are unsafe could end up costing you money in fines and penalties, which will erode your profits. Worse yet, CBP oftentimes randomly inspects packages and if it finds that you are intentionally misleading it, your goods could be seized and you may be fined.

4. Report the quantity of each type of item being imported. For example, four women’s bracelets, 14-carat gold with reddish brown leather and six sterling silver, pearl silver coral, men’s wedding rings, USA size 9.

5. Write the purchase price in U.S. dollars. Provide both the unit price, and if more than one unit was purchased, the total value for all like items. Do not think about miscalculating the goods. In other words, some importers want to keep the price low on the commercial invoice and CBP documents to ensure the lowest possible duty, but this is, as you can guess, illegal. Another tactic is to undervalue the actual good. For example, let’s say you are importing diamond rings but declare them as cubic zirconia rings instead to keep duty low and to ward off potential thieves. Again, this is illegal–don’t do it. To protect against theft, insure the shipment. Discuss your options with the seller and your own transportation company.

6. Report the weight of the item(s). Enter the net weight of each item in pounds and ounces. Inquire on whether you need to show metric weight conversions too. Enter the total weight of the package in pounds and ounces, including packaging, which corresponds to the weight used to calculate the transportation rate.

7. Name the country of origin of the product itself. This is where the items were produced/manufactured or assembled–not necessarily the country where you are importing from. Sellers of commercial items are advised to supply this information because it will assist CBP officials in processing the items.

8. Attach the CBP form to the outside of your shipment. Be sure to designate how many cartons are involved in the shipment on the outside of the packages (e.g., one of four cases, two of four cases, so forth).

According to Customs Border Patrol, foreign shipments that are not accompanied by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection declaration form and an invoice may be subject to seizure, forfeiture or return to sender. When in doubt about quota restrictions or the safety criteria on your product, ask your transportation company or customs broker. Don’t rely strictly on the advice of your supplier. To protect your interests, it pays to get more than one expert opinion.

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