cargo ship coming into port

Importing and exporting can help your business expand either at home or abroad, but it is important to follow all laws and regulations to stay up and running. Wholesale Central is here to provide you with a step-by-step guide to make it easier and have all of the information readily available in one place. 

Before we dive into the different processes to follow, let us break down the basics of importing and exporting:


Imports are any resources, goods, or services that producers in one country sell to buyers in another country. Some types of goods and services require a license or permit to import into the U.S. as a part of the business.


Exports are any resources, intermediate goods, or final goods or services that a buyer in one country purchases from a seller in another country. Depending on the good or service, you may also need a license or permit to export it from the U.S. as a part of the business. 

  1. Obtain a License or Permit
  2. Contact Ports of Entry
  3. Find Out if You Are Required to Submit an Importer Security Filing
  4. Research General Quota Information Prior to Importing
  5. Be Prepared for CBP Examination Bills

Step 1:

Obtain a License or Permit

How to Get an Import License or Permit

According to the USA government website, in most cases, you will not need a license to import goods into the country, but for certain products, some agencies may require a license, permit, or other certification. Follow these steps to avoid problems when importing:

  1. Check the requirements of federal agencies. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a downloadable file that describes the types of items that may require a license or permit. You can also get contact information for the agency that regulates a specific product you are importing. 
  2. Contact the local port of entry you will use to import your goods for import requirements and other information about the process. 
  3. Even if you do not need an import license, you must fill out CBP entry forms within 15 calendar days of the date that your shipment arrives at a U.S. port of entry. Make sure to provide your importer number on all of these forms. 
    1. Your importer number is your IRS business registration number. If you do not have this number or you do not own a business, then your importer number is your social security number. 

How to Get an Export License or Permit

According to the USA government website, most items exported to a foreign buyer will not require an export license. However, all items are subject to export control laws and regulations. This list of federal departments and agencies is the best way to find out whether you need an export license for your product. 

The CBP has some important steps to follow when exporting items:

  1. The Electronic Export Information (EEI) needs to be filed when the value of the commodity classified under each individual Schedule B number is over $2,500 or if a validated export license is required to export the commodity. Businesses are responsible for preparing the EEI and the carrier files it with the CBP through the AES or AES Direct. 
  2. Prior to exporting, businesses should acquire the Schedule B number for the commodity they intend to export. The Schedule B number must be reported in the AES to identify the goods being exported. This number can be obtained from the Census Bureau at 1-800-549-0595, option 2. 

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Step 2:

Contact Ports of Entry

Businesses can contact the local port of entry used to export your goods to find out any requirements. If you are unsure of or have not decided the port where your shipment will arrive, or you are looking at importing through multiple ports, you may contact a service port of entry near you. Ask to speak with a CBP import specialist assigned to the item you are importing. 

Import specialists are a valuable resource for commodity specific knowledge and can provide classification advice, commodity specific requirements, advisory duty rates, and respond to questions you may have about filing an entry, according to CBP. At many ports, entry specialists handle questions regarding entry filing. Entry specialists work closely with import specialists and provide the technical processing expertise required to file the necessary paperwork.

When calling the port, businesses should be able to provide as much detail regarding the transaction as possible. In order for the import specialist to best assist you, it is important you be able to exactly describe the merchandise you are planning to import and answer specific questions such as: 

  1. The country of origin of the merchandise and manufacturer
  2. The composition of the merchandise
  3. The intended use of the item
  4. Pricing/payment information in order to properly determine the value of the shipment

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Step 3:

Find Out if You Are Required to Submit an Importer Security Filing

On January 26, 2009, the new rule titled Importer Security Filing and Additional Carrier Requirements, commonly known as “10+2,” went into effect. This new rule applies to import cargo arriving into the U.S. by vessel, and failure to comply could ultimately result in monetary penalties, increased inspections, and delay of cargo. 

Importer Security Filing Mandatory for Ocean Vessel Shipments

Under the new rule, the business or their agent must electronically submit certain advance cargo information to CBP in the form of an Importer Security Filing. It does not apply to cargo arriving by other modes of transportation other than ocean vessels. For more detailed information about these requirements, click here

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Step 4:

Research General Quota Information Prior to Importing

Import quotas control the amount or volume of various commodities that can be imported into the U.S. during a specified period of time. U.S. import quotas may be divided into two main types: 

  • Absolute.
    These quotas usually apply to textiles and strictly limit the quantity of goods that may enter the commerce of the U.S. during a specific period. Currently, there are no items subject to these restrictions. 
  • Tariff-Rate.
    These quotas permit a specified quantity of imported merchandise to be entered at a reduced rate of duty during the quota period. Once a quota has been reached, goods may still be entered, but at a higher rate of duty. 

More information on quotas is available on the CBP quota page.  

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Step 5:

Be Prepared for CBP Examination Bills 

Under Title 19, section 1467, of the United States Code, CBP has a right to examine any shipment imported into the U.S. and it is important to know that the importers must bear the cost of these exams. CBP regulations also require businesses to make their merchandise available for examination. 

There are also costs associated with moving the cargo to and from the exam site and with storage. Rates will vary across the country and a complete devanning may cost several hundred dollars. More information on this can be found here

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Importing and exporting merchandise is no small task, but some businesses do this day after day, and eventually the process becomes second nature. Whether you are a beginner or experienced business owner looking for some refresher tips, let this guide help you to achieve your goals.

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