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How to Import Goods for Resale: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Looking to profit from importing? Our definitive guide on how to import goods for resale walks you through the essentials, from license requirements to choosing the right merchandise.
October 9, 2023
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Last Modified: November 20, 2023

Knowing how to import goods for resale can unlock a world of business opportunities. However, it’s not as simple as buying low and selling high. One of the biggest hurdles many new importers face is adhering to the regulations set by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Get one thing wrong, and you could face delays, fines, or even have your goods seized. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stands as the first obstacle to importing goods for resale. Additional steps include understanding harmonized tariff codes and completing necessary paperwork. Costs such as duties, shipping fees, and brokerage services will also factor into your business plan.

Learn the ins and outs of importing goods for resale, including how to choose merchandise, what licenses may be required, and where to sell your goods.

How to Import Goods for Resale: Definitions and Terms

Boxed merchandise on a conveyor belt, portraying a key facet of how to import goods for resale.

As you learn about the import business, you’ll encounter a variety of terms that are essential to grasp. 

Before further exploration of the subject, let’s clarify some of these crucial terms:

  • Imported Merchandise: Goods or products that are brought into the United States from another country for the purpose of resale. Merchandise can range from electronics to textiles and foodstuffs.
  • Tariff: Taxes assessed on imported merchandise. Payment rates are determined by the type of commodity. Understanding tariff codes is essential for determining tax and duty rates.
  • Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) Codes: Unique, 10-digit codes used to assess tariffs on goods imported into the U.S.
  • Customs Brokerage: This is a professional service that helps importers comply with the complex regulations and paperwork requirements of international trade. A customs broker assists with filing documents, paying duties, and ensuring smooth clearance of goods.
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP): This organization is responsible for regulating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. trade regulations.
  • E-commerce Platform: A software solution that allows businesses to set up an online store for the purpose of selling goods. Popular e-commerce platforms include Shopify and WoooCommerce.

Armed with the right terminology, you’re better prepared to negotiate the challenges of importing goods for resale. Compliance with U.S. import laws and regulations is non-negotiable, so a clear understanding of these terms will serve you well as you advance in your import business.

Is Importing Goods Profitable?

Yes, importing goods can be a lucrative venture. The profitability of your import business will depend on various factors.

Importers should be monitoring:

  • Market demand
  • Import costs
  • Competing businesses. 

Performing market research allows you to identify profitable commodities and determine consumer demand for them.

On average, importers can expect to net approximately 10-15 percent profit when reselling their wares in the U.S. This number might not seem very high, but it can add up quickly when selling high-demand merchandise via e-commerce. 

Some steps you can take to increase profitability include:

  • Buying in Bulk: Purchasing goods in greater quantities can reduce your cost per unit, leading to higher profits when you resell them.
  • Reaching Niche Markets: Specializing in specific goods can help you target niche markets, reducing competition and increasing profits. For example, you might focus on importing specialty teas or rare books.
  • Automating Systems: Automation of things like inventory management lets you keep an eye on growing your business rather than administrative work.
  • Effective Marketing: A well-crafted marketing strategy can boost sales substantially. Use SEO, email campaigns, and social media outreach to get the word out about your imported goods.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Importing high-quality, unique items can attract a customer base willing to pay premium prices. 
  • Diversification: Diversifying the range of products you import can provide multiple streams of income and provide protection against volatile markets.

These methods will optimize your business processes and position you for maximum profitability in the competitive world of importing goods for resale.

Do You Need a License to Import Goods for Resale?

Four dockworkers in the foreground with stacks of cargo containers in the background.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) generally does not require importers to hold a special license. However, some types of imported products, such as food, alcohol, and firearms, require specific licenses or permits from other government agencies.

U.S. Import License Requirements

For goods that do require a license to purchase, you’ll need to consult the relevant government agency. For instance, if you plan to import food or pharmaceuticals, you may need a license from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Regardless of the type of merchandise, you’ll need an Employee Identification Number (EIN), which is supplied by the IRS. Additionally, proper customs forms must be filled out for each import shipment.

Importing Goods to Sell: How to Choose Your Merchandise

Palletized cargo on a loading=

When choosing products to import, consider market demand, legal restrictions, and your overall costs. Here, market research is your best friend. Identify gaps in the market or trends that you can capitalize on, and always double-check to ensure you’re not importing restricted items.

To select the best merchandise for your import business, follow these market research tips:

  • Consumer Surveys: Use online platforms to conduct surveys that gauge consumer interest in the types of products you’re considering. This is a direct way to measure demand.
  • Online Trends: Tools, like Google Trends and market analysis software, can track what kinds of products people are searching for online. Take advantage of these tools to reveal information about customer searching habits.
  • Social Listening: Keep an eye on social media platforms and forums to see what’s driving consumer interest. 
  • Industry Reports: Many organizations and consulting firms release detailed market research reports. These reports can be pricey, but are often worth the investment for the deep insights they provide.
  • Trade Shows and Expos: Attending these events offers a firsthand look at what products are coming onto the market and capturing buyers’ attention.
  • Regulatory Check: Always verify that your commodities comply with U.S. import laws and regulations. The last thing you want is to choose a product only to find out it’s restricted or carries high tariffs.

It’s also worthwhile to study what goods have dominated U.S. importing over a set period of time. For instance, these five commodities are the top imports into the U.S. in 2022 by dollar value.

Top Five U.S. Imports of 2022 by Dollar Value 

CommodityUS Dollar Value
Electrical machinery and equipment477.1 billion
Computers475.9 billion
Vehicles329.6 billion
Oil and other mineral fuels322.7 billion
Pharmaceuticals165 billion


With thorough market research, you can reduce the risk of choosing merchandise that’s difficult to sell or illegal to import. Doing so will give you provide an advantage in this competitive business.

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Steps to Setting Up an Import Business

Before you can start re-selling, you’ll need to determine the legal structure of your business. 

This decision will have implications for taxes, ownership power, and other aspects. 

Three of the most popular business structures are:

  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): Provides protection against personal liability in most instances, allows profits and losses to flow directly to personal income without corporate taxation, and offers flexibility in business management.
  • Corporation: This involves forming a separate entity owned by shareholders. While complex in structure, it also provides protection against personal liability. It’s a great choice if you have diverse structure and wish to silo sections of your business.
  • Sole Proprietorship: The simplest structure, wherein a business is owned and operated by one person. It’s easy to set up, but offers no protection against personal liability. All profits and losses are directly tied to the owner.

For a new business with a single owner/employee, an LLC often makes the most sense. It offers a balance of legal protection and operational flexibility. You can always start as an LLC and transition to a corporation as your business grows and requires more complex organizational structures.

Other steps you’ll want to take to get your business off the ground include:

  • Writing a business plan
  • Securing financing from potential investors
  • Drafting a mission statement

By following these steps, you’ll lay the groundwork for your import business. Each part of your business plan will have long-term impacts, so it’s important to be thoughtful and thorough.

Find out more here: “Start an Import Export Business: Complete Step-by-Step Guide.” 

How to Sell Imported Goods

Ships docked at port waiting to be loaded with cargo containers.

You have your merchandise, you’ve registered your small business, and now it’s time to start selling. While there are multiple channels to do this, the easiest and most straightforward way is through e-commerce. 

Setting up an e-commerce storefront will make it easy to offer your products to millions of customers in the U.S.

The basic steps of setting up an e-commerce business are as follows.

  • Choose a Platform: Popular choices include Shopify and WooCommerce. Each platform has its own set of features, fees, and user experience, so pick the one that aligns best with your business goals.
  • Design Your Online Store: Most platforms offer customizable templates. Make sure your store is easy to navigate with an intuitive user interface.
  • Upload Your Product Images: Include high-resolution images, SEO-driven product descriptions, and competitive prices.
  • Set Up Payment Gateways: Ensure that your store can accept multiple forms of payment like credit cards, PayPal, and other online payment systems.
  • Implement Marketing Strategies: Utilize SEO, social media advertising, and email marketing to draw traffic to your store.

By effectively leveraging an e-commerce platform, you can make the process of selling your imported goods not only easier, but more profitable.

Of course, to have goods to sell, you have to successfully navigate the actual import process. This comes with its own challenges and costs.  

US Import Fees and Costs

Importing goods into the U.S. isn’t just about choosing the right products and setting up an online store. You’ll need to be familiar with the costs involved in the import process. These costs have an impact on your profit margins, so it’s vital to factor them into your business plan.

Here is a list of some common fees you should be aware of:

  • Shipping Costs: You need to pay to transport goods from overseas, as well as find an arrangement for distributing to clients domestically. 
  • Customs Brokerage Fees: Hiring a customs broker simplifies the import process, but will cost you a percentage of the shipment value or a flat fee per transaction.
  • Cargo Insurance: This protects importers from financial losses should goods get lost or damaged during transport. 
  • Storage Fees: If your goods need to be stored in a U.S. warehouse before distribution, you’ll incur storage fees at a warehouse.
  • ISF Filing Fees: Importer Security Filing (ISF) is required for shipments entering the U.S. by sea and should be filed by a customs broker. 
  • Terminal Handling Charges: These are fees charged by the port or terminal operators for handling the container once it arrives.

Understanding these costs in detail can help you price your products more accurately and strategically. Proper budgeting and planning lead to healthy profit margins and make a sustainable import business.

The Advantages of Hiring a Customs Broker

A broker filling out shipping forms in a warehouse.

If you’re new to the import business, you’d be wise to retain a customs broker before getting started. They excel in expediting the customs clearance process.

The competitive advantages of hiring a customs broker include:

  • Expert Guidance
  • Efficient Documentation
  • Cost Savings
  • Avoiding Delays
  • Customs Duty Assessment
  • Convenience
  • Resourceful 
  • Problem-Solving

Partnering with a customs broker is like investing in peace of mind. Their knowledge and experience can be a game changer, especially when you’re just starting out in the complicated import business.

For more details, check out our article, “11 Benefits of Using a Customs Broker: How a Broker can Boost Your Import Business.” 

Build Your Business With USA Customs Clearance

While the process of importing and reselling can seem daunting, partnering with an experienced customs broker can eliminate guesswork. That’s where we come in.

At USA Customs Clearance, we have the knowledge and know-how to ensure that your merchandise clears U.S. customs quickly. Look to us for assistance with:

Get your import business started on the right foot. Call our team of experts at (855) 912-0406 or contact us online to take the first step on your import adventure.

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