US Import FAQ
Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions regarding imports to the US
- What is a Customhouse Broker
- Do I need a Customs broker to clear my goods through CBP?
- What is a consumption entry?
- What should I consider before importing something?
- What are the requirements, criteria, or format of a commercial invoice, bill of sale, receipt that must be provided when clearing or filing entry documents with Customs and Border Protection?
- Sending store bought foods (i.e. chocolates, candies, canned goods etc.) as gifts to the U.S.
- When is a Customs bond usually required?
- How do I get a Customs Bond?
- What value should be on the commercial invoice submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection?
- What is an IRS number or importer number?
Questions and Answers
What is a Customhouse Broker?
Customs brokers are private individuals, partnerships, associations or corporations licensed, regulated and empowered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assist importers and exporters in meeting Federal requirements governing imports and exports. Brokers submit necessary information and appropriate payments to CBP on behalf of their clients and charge them a fee for this service. Brokers must have expertise in the entry procedures, admissibility requirements, classification, valuation, and the rates of duty and applicable taxes and fees for imported merchandise.
Do I need a Customs broker to clear my goods through CBP?
There is no legal requirement for you to hire a Customs broker to clear your goods. However, many importers opt to do so for the convenience. Customs brokers are licensed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to conduct CBP business on behalf of importers. They take the burden of filling out paperwork and obtaining a CBP bond off of the importer's hands. Some importations can be particularly complex - such as the importation of textile items for resale - because of quota or other special requirements governing the importation of the product. The importer is always ultimately responsible for knowing CBP requirements and for ensuring their importation complies with all federal rules and regulations, but using a Customs broker can save you from making costly mistakes. If you choose to file your own customs entry, please read our brochure, "U.S. Import Requirements" for a brief overview of what is involved. (It is at the bottom of the link page.) If your goods are being imported via an express courier, the courier automatically utilizes Customs brokers to clear your goods on your behalf. If you have any concerns about their charges for this service, please contact the courier company directly. Customs brokers charge for their services, so you may want to contact a few to discuss rates. A list of Customs brokers can be found on our web site under the Ports section by clicking on the port you intend to import through
What is a consumption entry?
A consumption entry is one type of CBP entry. A consumption entry is used when goods are imported for use in the United States and are going directly into the commerce of the United States without any time or use restrictions placed on them, which covers about 95% of all entries into the U.S. When we say for use in the United States, we mean for commercial, business or personal purposes. A consumption entry may be formal or informal depending on the circumstances. However, the majority of consumption entries are formal and the goods are being imported for commercial purpose and/or "resale", which require filing an Entry Summary (CBP 7501) and acquiring a CBP bond (CBP 301). This covers a broad range of commodities (i.e. textiles, electronics, food etc.) entering the U.S. For example, a commercial shipment of textiles being shipped from China to a distributor in the United States would be a formal consumption entry. However, if the textiles were going to a warehouse prior to the distributor, a formal warehouse entry would have to be filed. Consumption entries for goods entering the U.S. as informal entries are not necessarily filed on a CBP 7501. Various forms are used for informal consumption entries and usually no CBP bond CBP 301 is required. Informal consumption entries generally cover shipments intended for the importers' personal use or commercial goods entering the U.S. via air, ship or mail for consumption that are valued less than $2,000. This does not include commodities subject to other Federal agency regulations, most textiles, or goods subject to quota/visa restrictions. For example, a shipment of furniture being shipped from Indonesia to a homeowner in the United States valued at $6,000 would most likely be an informal consumption entry because the goods are intended for their personal use. In addition to consumption entries, other entry types are used to clear goods entering the United States. Some entry types include warehouse, transportation, temporary importation under bond (TIB), permanent exhibition, trade fair, carnets, drawback, foreign trade zone, vessel repair, and appraisement FTZ entries.
What should I consider before importing something?
Requirements for importing specific commodities depend on a wide variety of things. Some information, such as whether an item is subject to quota restrictions, eligible for reduced rates of duty, or restricted from entry because they originate in an embargoed country, can be determined only if you know the item's Harmonized Tariff Schedule classification number. Determining an item's HTS number can be extremely complicated. Please see our information under Duty Rates in the Import section of this web site. Other requirements depend on other agencies' safety, energy efficiency, health, etc. standards. Many of the items governed by these various rules cannot be imported without a permit from the related agency. See the chapter on Special Requirements in our publication "Importing into the U.S." for more information. Another thing to consider is marking of county of origin. Everything imported for use in the U.S. must be marked with the country of origin, but some things are very hard, or impossible, to mark, such as diamonds, flowers, or water. See our publication "Marking of Country of Origin" for more information about marking. Finally, the distribution of many trademarked and copyrighted items in this country is restricted by contractual agreements that give exclusive rights to specific companies or individuals to distribute the product in this country. If you attempt to import a product covered by such an agreement, it could be seized at the border. For more information please see our information on Intellectual Property Rights.
What are the requirements, criteria, or format of a commercial invoice, bill of sale, receipt that must be provided when clearing or filing entry documents with Customs and Border Protection?
In general, a commercial invoice should contain enough information for a CBP Officer to determine if the goods being imported are admissible, and if so, what the correct HTS classification and rate of duty should be. There is no specific format for an invoice, although CBP regulations do provide an example of what should be on an invoice in 19 CFR, Section 141.85. At a minimum, an invoice should: 1. Describe the item clearly 2. Give the quantity 3. State the value (either price paid, or estimated value based on other considerations.) Give both the value in foreign currency and U.S. dollars. 4. Country of Origin (where the item was made) 5. Where it was purchased 6. Name of the business or person selling the merchandise 7. Location of the business or person selling the merchandise 8. Name and address of business or person buying the merchandise, and if different from the importer, 9. The U.S. address of the person or business the goods are being shipped to. The U.S. importer will need to present the invoice to CBP when clearing their goods. The above information will usually suffice for goods that are donated or bought and sold in informal settings such as flea markets, over internet auction sites, in retail stores, etc. More formalized commercial transactions may need to have additional information on the invoice. For further guidance see 19 CFR, Section 141.86
Sending store bought foods (i.e. chocolates, candies, canned goods etc.) as gifts to the U.S.
If you are a private individual who wishes to send beverage and food items to the U.S., you should be aware that some items are highly restricted, particularly food items with meat products, including soup mixes, bullion, sausages, tinned meats, etc., and fresh produce. As a general rule, candies, condiments, spices, coffee and teas that are commercially packaged are ok, however bulk teas or spices, etc. are subject to inspection and if they are found to have insects, they may be seized and destroyed. Food that is sent to an individual in the U.S. for personal use (i.e. not for resale) by a business is subject to special requirements of the Food and Drug Administration. Businesses that send goods to the U.S. must file prior notice. Prior notice may be filed on-line if the goods are being sent through the postal service. (Foods sent from an individual to an individual for personal use or as a bona fide gift are not subject to the Prior Notice requirement.) When filing prior notice, you will be asked to provide the following: -The identity of the article, which includes the FDA product code (if known), common name, trade or brand name, quantity, etc. -The manufacturer, shipper, or growers' name and address, e-mail address, telephone and fax number (if known), -The country from which the article originates and is shipped or mailed. Additional information may be required if the goods are intended for commercial use in the United States. When businesses file prior notice for a mail shipment, they will be given a PN satisfied number. If the goods are going to be sent via mail, the PN number should be provided at the time of mailing. If the goods are being sent via rail or air, prior notice must be filed and satisfied 4-hours prior to the goods arrival in the U.S. If the goods are being sent via vessel, prior notice must be filed and satisfied 8-hours prior to the goods arrival in the U.S. Prior notice can be submitted via the FDA Web Portal or via fax. If the sender of the goods does not have access to the Internet or a Fax Machine, the intended recipient can file PN for you and provide you with the PN number to put on the shipping documents.
For additional information on the Bio-Terrorism Preparedness and Response Act regulations and prior notice requirements, please contact the Food and Drug Administration 1-800-216-7331, if outside the U.S. call (301) 575-0156.
When is a Customs bond usually required?
If you are importing merchandise into the U.S. for commercial purposes that are either, valued over $2,000, a commodity subject to other Federal agencies requirements (i.e. firearms or food), or goods subject to quota/visa restrictions (i.e. textiles), you must post a Customs bond to ensure that all duties, taxes and fees owed to the federal government will be paid. If you use a Customs Broker to clear your goods through customs, the broker's bond may be used to secure your transaction. You have the option of obtaining a single entry or continuous bond. The type of bond you elect to obtain ultimately depends on how often you import into the U.S. For instance, if you only import on occasion, the single entry bond is recommended. If you import frequently and through various ports of entry, the continuous bond is beneficial and economically the best choice. If you are an international carrier and you transport cargo or passengers via air, vessel or vehicle from a foreign destination to the United States or a domestic carrier that merely wants to transport imported cargo "IN BOND" from one state to another, you will also have to obtain a Customs bond. If you are a warehouse or facility operator and want to become a Customs bonded facility with the ability to store or secure imported or exported goods, you must obtain a Customs bond. In addition, you must apply with the port director and determine the type of warehouse you wish to establish. Additional information on how to become a bonded warehouse is available on this web site. If you want to perform some activity in a secure customs area, i.e. cartage, or serve as a Customs Broker or as an approved gauger or laboratory, you must obtain a Customs Bond. Customs bonds can be obtained through a surety licensed by the Treasury department. A list may be found on Treasury's Financial Management Service's web site. Many Customs brokers are also agents for sureties and sell bonds. A list of brokers in your state is available on this web site. Be aware some brokers will not issue you a bond without you giving them power of attorney to file your entry or entries on your behalf. In lieu of purchasing a bond from a licensed - or corporate - surety, you may pledge cash.
To do business with customs using a continuous bond, you must apply for permission. The application package should be submitted to the Entry office at the port through which your goods are imported or where the majority of your goods are imported. The application package should include the bond (CBP 301) issued by the surety, a letter on company letterhead stating your intent (i.e. type of bond (i.e. international carrier bond, cartage bond, import bond, etc.), description of merchandise being imported (if applicable), amount of duties and taxes paid to CBP the preceding year (if you have not paid duty previously, then the amount of duties and taxes you expect to pay in the current year), and a CBP 5106 if your address or telephone number has changed from a previous application. Additional information on bonds is also available on this site.
How do I get a Customs Bond?
You can obtain a Customs bond (CBP 301) through a surety licensed by the Treasury department. A list is on Treasury's Financial Management Service's web site.
Cargo International Logistics can assist in obtaining a Customs Bond. For information on how to determine the appropriate bond amount for the type of bond required for your circumstance, please reference Monetary Guidelines for Setting Bond Amounts Additional information on bonds is available on this web site
What value should be on the commercial invoice submitted to U.S. Customs and Border Protection?
The value on a commercial invoice should be the price the buyer in the U.S. paid for the goods, not the amount the goods will be sold for in the U.S. Duty will be assessed on the price paid for the goods (not including the cost of freight and insurance) unless the basis for duty is some other measure, such as quantity or volume (i.e. 1.3 cents per bushel).
You should include in the declared value any money paid for selling commissions, assists, royalties, packing and proceeds and these items should be noted on the commercial invoice. Failure to include the above is undervaluing the goods and may result in penalties. All prices in foreign currency must be converted to U.S. dollars on invoices and other entry documents. For more information on CBP valuations regulations, please reference the Informed Compliance Publication section of the CBP web site.
What is an IRS number or importer number?
The importer number (requested on Customs and Border Protection entry paperwork) is usually the IRS business tax number assigned to businesses. If you do not have an IRS business tax number, you may use your social security number in any paperwork requiring an importer number. If you do not have either an IRS business tax number or a social security number, you may request that an importer number be assigned for you by filling out a form 5106 and giving it to the CBP entry branch where you will be filing your customs entries. The regulations governing the issuance of an importer number are in 19 CFR 24.5