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Do You Need an Import License to Import Into the United States?

June 13, 2018
USA Customs Clearance
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that does not require an import license. Other countries are not so import friendly. You will likely find that other countries have stricter import licensing procedures. Even though there are no import license rules in the U.S., you’ll find a few regulations to be aware of when importing goods.
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If you’re seeking to import goods into the United States, you might be asking yourself if you need an import license.

The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that does not require an import license. Other countries are not so import friendly. You will likely find that other countries have stricter import licensing procedures. Even though there are no import license rules in the U.S., you’ll find a few regulations to be aware of when importing goods.

In most cases, companies or individuals do not need a license to import goods. However, there are some specific situations where a license is required. Many government agencies have specific commodity restrictions. Also, there are a myriad of compliance requirements for importers to follow. Your Licensed Customs Broker can help guide you through the process and make sure you are in compliance.

Things you need to be aware of when importing and exporting goods include:

  • U.S. import laws and regulations.
  • “Informed compliance” requirements of the U.S.
  • Specific goods that need permits, licenses, or other certification.
  • Other business factors for importers.

The World Trade Organization’s Committee on Import Licensing says that import rules should be easy to follow, clear and predictable. Import rules are in place to make trade easy. WTO members are required to follow trade rules and guidelines. These rules protect the global market and keep importers safe.

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Who Handles Import Regulations?

In the U.S., you will find that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regulates most import rules and laws. CBP was created in 2003 to keep borders safe. CBP protects the U.S. from potential threats such as:

  • High risk cargo.
  • Contraband.
  • Unsafe imports.

CBP handles things like customs, immigration, border security, and agricultural protection. CBP also works with other government agencies in an administrative berth. CBP is often involved with the import process from start to finish.

What is Informed Compliance?

You’ll need to follow the rules of informed compliance when bringing goods into the U.S. Simply put, informed compliance is the shared duty between importers and CBP. It is the duty of CBP to express its rules to importers. On the other hand, it is the importer's duty to “exercise reasonable care” to meet the CBP rules and regulations.

What Commodities Need Licenses?

CBP, as well as Other Government Agencies (OGA), may regulate the entry of some goods into the U.S. In these cases, you might need an import permit or a kind of import license. Some of the types of goods that require permits and OGAs that regulate them are as follows:

Agricultural Commodities

  • Agencies: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Examples: Cheese generally requires an import license and are subject to quotas. Fruits and vegetables must be inspected and certified. Imported plants and plant products require a phytosanitary permit.  

Arms & Ammunition

  • Agency: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (TTB).
  • Examples: Imported firearms must have a license issued and are subject to an excise tax. Imported alcohol also requires a license and is subject to excise tax.

Commercial Equipment

  • Agencies: The Department of Energy  (DOE) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Examples: Air conditioners and furnaces must have energy efficiency labels.

Consumer Products

  • Agency: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • Examples: Toys for children under age 3 cannot have choking hazards. Additionally, the CPSC limits the use of some materials in children’s toys, including phthalates and other prohibited materials.
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Precious Metals

Precious metals are regulated by the CBP
  • Agencies: CBP and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  • Examples: Gold articles with a  gold content ½ carat below indicated fineness are prohibited.

You’ll also find that there are a few government agency restrictions that are not commodity specific. For example:

  • The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) administers regulations that impose sanctions.
  • The International Trade Commission (ITC) restricts imports where unfair methods of competition took place.

What Other Factors Should Importers Consider?

Importers have a few other things to think about when bringing goods into the U.S. Some of these items are:

  • Tax and Duty. Some imported goods and services are subject to taxes. The primary forms of taxes on imports are:
    • Duties based on the type, value, and country of origin of the goods you are importing.
    • Fees for merchandise processing and harbor maintenance.
    • Excise taxes for certain levied goods.
  • Entry Documents. Specific documents are required when importing into the U.S. Documents required for entry include:
    • Entry Manifest (CBP Form 7533).
    • Proof of right to make entry.
    • Commercial invoice.
    • Packing lists.
    • Other needed documents to determine if the goods can be admitted to the U.S., like a Certificate of Origin.
    • Importer Security Filing (ISF) for shipments arriving by ocean vessel.

Who Can Assist with Import Licensing and Other Requirements?

Your Licensed Customs Broker can help you navigate the laws and regulations of importing foods into the U.S. Your Licensed Customs Broker can provide you with a suite of helpful services. Things Your Licensed Customs Broker can do for you include:

  • Prepare and reviewing import documents.
  • Ease communication between the importer and the U.S. government.
  • Provide you with expertise in entry procedures and government agency requirements.
  • Get your imports ready for release.
  • Work with CBP agents to make sure that all government fees, duties and taxes are paid on time and as needed.
  • Help you obtain any needed permits and import licenses.
  • Aid you in figuring out if you’re eligible for tax or duty deferment.
  • Advise you through the entire import process, from start to finish.

Your Licensed Customs Broker will put their expertise and know-how on your side to make the import process easy and headache-free. We have the importing tools for beginners you need. You can learn more about working with a Licensed Customs Broker from AFC International.

You may also contact the local U.S. port of entry to get import process information.

Ready to start importing? Get the help you need by clicking the chat window in the bottom right corner. A customs specialist can help you start the import process today!

33 comments on “Do You Need an Import License to Import Into the United States?”

  1. Hello, my interest in importing precious metal (gold, silver, diamonds) from non sanctioned countries do I need license, permit, certificate to import to USA. I’m a citizen of USA and any import will be stamped or certified from country of origin. If any what is need to enter the country.

  2. Im importing diapers in Nevada for Hospital use. what are the requirements we need to comply to be registered/ eligible and certified to import Adult use diapers?

  3. Hi there!
    I'm importing makeup products to US from Singapore. What are the requirements we need to comply to be registered/eligible to sell online in US?
    Can you please send me an email and let me know what documents we need to prepare?

  4. Hi there!
    I’m importing makeup products ( lipstick only ) to US from Singapore. What are the requirements we need to comply to be registered/eligible to sell online in US?
    Can you please send me an email and let me know what documents we need to prepare?

  5. hey, i want to import some custom PC cable parts for making some custom cables for a pc build. is there any taxes i need to pay? How to do it?

    1. Importing PC parts for personal use won't require a Customs Bond but if it's for business purposes or resale you will need to file paperwork with Customs and Boder Prtoection as well as securing a Customs Bond. We can help you file your bond, just click on the "chat now" box in the bottom right corner of the page and one of our import specialists will help you.

    1. Thank you for reaching out with your question. If you are importing these handicrafts for business purposes, you will need a customs bond. In addition, the Animal Health and Plant Health Inspection Service requires a permit for wooden handicrafts coming out of China into the US. The USDA is a good source of information about Lacey Act compliance.

  6. Hi dear,
    I want import kitchen wares or home goods from China to California,do I need the license?what is your recommendation? Thank you

    1. We offer consulting services where we are able to help with all the info you’ll need including the paperwork and document requirements, clearance customs and any duties and fees you may be responsible for. We can also help you understand the new tariffs and duties that you may be responsible for and can file your paperwork with Customs and Border Protection. We will email you the details so we can get started.

  7. Hi. I need to get an import license to import electronics wholesale value $2000. How do I get one. I was under the assumption that I did not need one because less than 2500. Can you assist. Thanks

  8. Hi , I am trying to import electronics into the Us through Mexico. They are telling me that I need an import permit. I was under the impression that this was not needed in the us but the customs official say this is needed. Do you know how I can get one?

    Thanks. Rk

  9. I'm trying to get my order out of custom the shipping company said I need to have a importation licence

  10. I am looking at the possibility of importing olive wood cutting boards and utensils from Argentina. Are there any type of special permits or paper work that i need to know about?

  11. Hello, can you give me an example of how much tax/custom duty I need to pay for a painting worth $1K? It’s for business, and are you a license custom broker?

    1. Hi! Thanks for reaching out! We are customs brokers, so you're in the right place. One of our customs experts is going to email you to get you the answers to your questions.

  12. Hello
    Im planning on importing Coconut Palm sugar from Indonesia. I dont have any commerical license. Can you advise what regs and rules I need to consider and do i need a business or commercial entity license. Additionally how can you guys help.

    1. Hello, OK please note all imports in the US are regulated by US Customs. Sugar will also be regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Have you imported items in the US before? The first step is purchasing a Customs Bond-an insurance bond required by the government for imports.

  13. Hello I'm awaiting my importation license to import cigars. Is it a conflict of interest to have both a importation license and a brokers license? It has been 5 mos.and I'm being asked who is the broker to conclude my application process along with a back ground investigation.

    1. Hi Vondre, thanks for reaching out with your question! One of our import experts will follow up with you at the email address you provided. Thanks for stopping by!

  14. I would like to import from Canada. Probably a one time order of Custom hunting bullets that I plan on reloading here at my home in the USA, for my own personal use. How can I pull this off?

  15. Hello
    I am interested in knowing what are the laws for Importing clothes from India to sell locally in US. It's going to be very small home base business with license to sell. Please advise.

  16. Hi, I am purchasing a single fur (fox fur) headband from Canada for $250 CAD. Will there be any import taxes or fees required when it arrives? This is for personal use only. I am having such difficultly finding straight information about this and am hesitant to even consider other purchases.

  17. Hello,

    I am planning to import ecofriendly disposable trays for restaurant use and tortilla / chapati press commercial grade machine from India. Do I need import license?

    Thanks

  18. I am starting an ewaste recycling facility. I will be importing PCB (printed circuit boards) boards, cpu processors and various other computer components as well as catalytic converters and copper wire scrap by the ton. What licenses, if any are needed? Thanks, chris

    1. Hi Chris, an import license is not required but you will need to formally import these items through US Customs. This formal import is typically handled by a US customs broker but depending on the value of the items being shipped, you might have the option to personally clear the shipment yourself. If you would like more information, please email us at customsbrokerage@rlglobal.com

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