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How to Get An Import Permit

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Workers using laptop in textile factory
Erik Isakson/Blend Images/Getty Images
The United States is one of the rare countries that does not require a license to import. Thousands of products are imported freely with no restrictions unless the product falls into a unique class of articles, such as firearms, human body parts, pornographic materials and so forth. Other countries are not as open and friendly. They require import permits and place more restrictions on certain items. The trick is to determine whether the country you wish to import to requires a permit for your product and, if so, to find out how to get one. Here are three ways to get started.

1. Ask your supplier whether you need an import license and how much it costs.

Hopefully, you’ve got a good, trusting relationship with your supplier because, according to UPS, it is the shipper's responsibility to comply with current government regulations and applicable laws in each country. That means you should ask your supplier at the beginning of your negotiations whether you need an import permit for the country where you intend to import and sell your product and how they can help you obtain one.

If you fail to get a required import permit, you will not be able to bring the product into the country and your supplier won't get paid, so you both suffer the consequences.

Ask for a statement in writing from your supplier that he/she is solely responsible for ensuring that the product you are importing complies with the importing country’s laws and regulations, including Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration rules. Find out how long the import permit is valid and read it thoroughly to ensure you understand all the conditions and can comply with them.

If you are sued because one of the products violates the country’s laws and regulations, the supplier should indemnify you (pay your legal defense and protect you against loss) for that. It is prudent to work with an experienced international lawyer who is well versed in the laws of the import country and can negotiate your supplier contract in a way that protects your business from any potential harm.

2. Contact UPS or FedEx for help.

Either of these two big global transportation companies can ship your products to any country in the world and assist you with the necessary documentation required for the clearance and delivery of your goods in a timely fashion. In addition, they serve as your customs broker by facilitating an understanding of the laws and regulations that apply to your business, including permits, licenses, duties and taxes.

For example, at FedEx, open a free account and select a location. As an example, select Africa. Then click on Cameroon from the pull down list. It now becomes your dashboard or home page where you can ask questions (Do I need an import permit in Cameroon?), find necessary documents for your international shipment, get regulatory information specific to your shipment, estimate duties and taxes, review country profiles (to determine import license requirements) and identify companies or individuals that have been denied international business transactions, to name just a few. The FedEx Global Trade Manager serves as your virtual one-stop international shipping center.

UPS has a similar offering with its UPS Global Trade, where you can access international shipping, import, export and worldwide country information. In addition, they have a complete “Restricted from Import” section where you can find country-specific details on prohibited and restricted commodities as well as a checklist on country regulation topics, including but not limited to import documentation. To access all pertinent information, you must open a free account.

3. Check with the local government’s international trade administration office to determine whether you need an import license and how to get one.

If you have access to the Internet, a quick search using the name of the import country along with “import permit” will provide additional information to what UPS or FedEx will offer. It can’t hurt. For example, I did a search on “import permit, Brazil” and came up with: TTB Brazil and Bridgat.

Now that you know how to get an import permit, start importing and selling the product of your dreams.

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