Importing Fireworks with a Customs Broker

November 28, 2017
Kurt Schultheis
Importing fireworks is a complicated process that can blow up without following proper procedures. Contact AFC International today to learn more.
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Importing fireworks is a complicated process that can blow up without following proper procedures. Utilizing a Licensed Customs Broker is the best way to maneuver through the haziness of the fireworks maze.

To avoid importing hurdles, follow these importing fireworks tips and use a customs broker to assist you with your individualized needs.

Fireworks Categories Explained

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) governs federal explosives regulations.  There are two general categories of fireworks sold in the United States: Display Fireworks and Consumer Fireworks.

Each firework category requires a license or permit for compliance with this specific activity. As a result, brokers prepare the permit for filing with the proper agencies prior to the importation of the fireworks. Licensed Customs Brokers can make that process a smooth one.

Display Fireworks

The most noteworthy and popular imports are the large firework displays used in shows, generally under the supervision of a trained pyrotechnician. The pyrotechnician is responsible for the safe storage, handling, and functioning of the fireworks.  Display fireworks produce visible or audi­ble effects by combustion or explosion. Any person engaging in the business of importing fireworks must first obtain an ATF explosives license or permit.

Consumer Fireworks

Consumer fireworks are the small fireworks usually sold at stands around the Fourth of July holiday. ATF does not regulate the importation, delivery, or storage of completed consumer fireworks. Federal, State, and local agencies do regulate these items to a varying degree though. As a result, consumer fireworks contain pyrotechnic compositions classified by ATF as explosive materials. Therefore, the manufacturing of consumer fireworks requires a federal explosives license from ATF.

Importing Fireworks from China

Did you know that China is the No. 1 producer of fireworks? Therefore, importers seeking wholesale fireworks from China can contact a customs broker to streamline the process for them. In addition to saving money and adding to profit margins for importers, customs brokers can acquire import bonds and monitor the paperwork process in regard to wholesale fireworks suppliers.

Stay Clear of Illegally Imported Fireworks

Each year, more than $100 million worth of fireworks enter the United States. Import fireworks from China and other countries are scrutinized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Homeland Security for consumer product safety standards and hazardous material transport regulations.

The CBP seizes dozens of illegal firework shipments annually. Seizures result in tons of firework shipments never making their way past US ports of entry. So, customs brokers make sure your fireworks shipments pass inspections and clear importing hurdles quickly.

Obtain a Customs Bond

When you are importing fireworks, obtain the proper customs bond you need to do business properly as an importer. Imports entering United States ports with a value of $2,000 or more require an importer bond. All products requiring federal regulations mandate the use of customs bonds.

A bond is a contract between the CBP, the surety company, and the importer. Hence, the bond ensures importers follow all CBP rules and regulations.

Types of Fireworks

There are many different types of fireworks that can dazzle an audience that you should know about. Here’s just a few to get you started:

  • Aerials: This is a broad term used to describe any firework that shoots into the air. Traditional fireworks like Peonies and Comets fall into this category, which encompasses most of what people consider to be “the classic” display fireworks.
  • Barrages/Cakes: This is a cluster of similar or varied aerial fireworks strapped together, and lit from a single fuse. Think of it like a one-step fireworks show!
  • Catherine Wheels: This type of firework is circular in shape, and is attached to an upright post, like a fence or a stand. When it is ignited, it spins around at high speeds, creating a beautiful circular display of lights.
  • Firecrackers: This type of firework focuses on noise instead of a visual display. It is usually several connected cardboard cylinders that fire off with a series of loud pops or bangs.
  • Fountains: This type of firework sits on the ground and emits a shower of sparks. It can sometimes be accompanied by whistles or other effects.
  • Girandola: This is an aerial type of firework that is known for its distinct spiraling ascent.
  • Ground Spinners: This firework stays on the ground once it is lit, often skipping around in exciting or unpredictable directions.
  • Mines: Instead of igniting in the air, this type of aerial firework burns from the moment it leaves the mortar tube, leaving a bright trail as it ascends.
  • Rockets: Rockets are distinctly cylindrical in shape, with a pointed cone at the top. Rather than being launched from a mortar, this entire device is launched into the air. It is also available in a smaller consumer size, commonly known as bottle rockets.
  • Roman Candles: This is a single cylindrical tube that fires off multiple times, launching small spheres of light into the sky. They are typically used to start a show, or as part of a larger production.
  • Salute: This is a ground-based firework that uses flash powder instead of traditional firework contents. It is typically used in finales, because of the immense amount of light and noise it creates.
  • Smoke Bombs: This type of firework only emits smoke, and does not product any light or loud sounds. The smoke can be almost any color, and it is perfect for children since they are almost completely harmless.
  • Snaps/Poppers: This is another harmless type of firework that is perfect for kids. It consists of tiny caps wrapped in little bits of paper, that ignite and “pop” when thrown against the ground, or another hard surface.
  • Sparklers: This is a classic, well known novelty firework. It consists of a small stick coated in combustible material, and when the end of it is lit, it ignites in a brilliant display of handheld sparks.

Tourbillon: This is a special type of aerial firework with a characteristic rotary feature that gives it the effect of being circled by smaller spheres of light.

Find a Supplier

88% of all fireworks exports come from China. Since almost nothing can compare to the cost efficiency of chinese fireworks, chances are that’s where your supplier will be located too. Your Customs Broker would be an expert in this field, and could give you a hand in dealing with your supplier. They can streamline the whole process to make it as easy for you as possible.

Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI) is a great place to get ideas, or you can go through online directories like Alibaba for a more direct connection to suppliers. You could also look up the product you’re looking to import using its North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code. Almost all products have an NAICS identification code, and some suppliers list their products using those codes. This is a great way of finding exactly what you want, if you’re looking to import something specific. If you don’t know what the code is for the product you want, you can find it using the on the NAICS search feature on the United States Census Bureau website.

Illegal Fireworks

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the government agency that determines the regulations that dictate what an illegal firework is, to protect the population from as much injury as possible. A firework’s legal status is dependent on the amount of explosive compounds the firework contains, the noise it makes, and the size and structure of the firework.

No matter where you get your fireworks, you should always do your research on your supplier. The last thing you need is to get caught importing illegal fireworks, even if you do it unknowingly. You must understand the laws and regulations, so you can avoid getting caught up in illegal explosives trafficking. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Unmarked or vaguely labeled devices
  • Anything resembling a cardboard tube or a small lumpy sphere wrapped in a paper bag
  • Solid red, brown, or silver devices
  • Anything looking poorly constructed or flimsy
  • A fuse coming out of the side of the device, instead of on top
  • Dust on the outside of the device
  • Any supplier that is hesitant to disclose information to you

One of the things that makes illegal fireworks so dangerous is their unpredictability. They could combust in transport, or react in uncontrolled ways when the fuse is lit. Accidents involving illegal fireworks often results in serious injury or even death, and that is definitely not something you want to be liable for.

Regulations for Importing Fireworks

Before you get started with importing fireworks, there are tons of federal regulations you need to know about first. Because of the pyrotechnic compositions of most fireworks, importing them into the U.S. can pose some safety concerns. You need to know what restrictions and regulations are in place so you don’t get yourself into trouble. It is your responsibility to make sure that the fireworks you are importing are compliant with all safety regulations, so your customers can keep themselves and their families safe.

Federal Explosives License

Anyone wanting to import display fireworks for any purpose will require a Federal Explosives License (FEL) from the ATF. It is a complicated multi-step process to get approved, but it is worth it to pursue because failure to obtain this license could result in jail time, or even detention in Federal prison. The last thing you want is to be caught smuggling explosives into the U.S. without a license.

In order to apply for a FEL, you will need to fill out the entirety of the ATF form 5400.13/540016. It is extremely important that you fill it out completely and accurately, since mistakes could cause serious delays. Make sure all transportation and warehousing plans are established before you fill in the form, and be prepared to provide the information of any person engaging in the business or with the shipment at your establishment. Then, for all of the people listed in the form, you will need to provide a clear 2” x 2” photograph and fingerprints for each one. The fingerprint card, also known as FD-258, will need to be taken with the assistance of a law enforcement officer, to ensure it is clear and correct.

The next step in the process involves—you guessed it—another form. All people considered “employee possessors” of the explosive materials for any given amount of time must individually fill out the ATF Form 5400.28. An employee possessor is defined as anyone that directly possesses, controls, or oversees the care of the explosive in question. Ensure that all employee possessors have correctly filled in all answers on their individual forms, and signed with their legal full names.

You will also need to include payment for all the selected licenses and permits with a money order, credit card, or check made payable to: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. You cannot pay the fees using cash. Make sure you have calculated your totals correctly to avoid any embarrassing mistakes.

If you have any questions or you don’t know how to fill in any part, do not simply guess. It is always best to reach out to the ATF, or your customs broker, to get all of your questions answered before continuing.

Once you have gotten the entire finished packet for your application together, you must send it to the ATF’s Lockbox in Atlanta, Georgia, where the money will be processed. Then, they will send it over to the Federal Explosives Licensing Center (FELC) where they will start conducting background checks on all the people listed in the forms, to make sure they can be trusted with the combustible products. They will also review all of the sections on the forms to ensure they are completed satisfactorily.

At this point, if your application checks out fine, it will be sent to the ATF field office that has jurisdiction over your location. There, they will schedule for an Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) to come and survey your location and do a face-to-face qualification inspection, and inform you of the requirements associated with local laws, federal laws, explosives storage, recordkeeping, and any additional laws. They will go over your application with you, and consider your responses in their evaluation. Roughly 90 days after you submit the completed file, you can expect a follow-up that informs you of whether or not you qualify for licensing.

Customs and Border Protection

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) controls everything that comes through any U.S. ports of entry as part of the Department of Homeland Security. The CBP is the agency that enforces lawful trade, and prevents counterfeit or dangerous materials from crossing the border into the U.S. Every single U.S. import must go through the CBP for screening. Your Customs Broker will be well-versed in all CBP regulations, and can make sure that nothing is overlooked in the process of filing your import.

Customs Bond

One of the first things that the CBP will require from you is a customs bond, also known as a surety bond or import bond, to cover your import. Customs bonds can seem like a stressful thing to worry about, but they are actually very simple. Think of them as a type of insurance, and they get a lot easier to understand. All a customs bond does is ensure that all duties, taxes, and fees are paid appropriately, and act as a sort of contract between the importer, the surety company, and the CBP. There are two main types of bonds that you should be aware of: single entry bonds, and continuous bonds.

  • Single Entry Bond: You should consider this type of bond if you only intend to ship only a few times a year. You will need a new single entry bond for each shipment you make, so if you intend to make more than 4 or 5 shipments in a year, this may not be the best choice for you. This type of bond is also ideal for covering low-value shipments.
  • Continuous Bond: You should consider this type of bond if you intend to make many shipments throughout the year. You will only need one bond to encompass all your shipments, but you must get another bond after 1 year. This type of bond is a requirement if your goods are considered high-value, meaning their total worth is more than $2,500.

Your customs broker could explain each option in greater detail, and help you decide which one is the best option for your business. USA Customs Clearance can help you secure a bond or get you a quote fast, so you don’t have to waste time waiting around.

Bill of Lading

Next, you will need to provide a Bill of Lading (BOL) in order to fill out any additional paperwork in the future. Basically, a BOL is a detailed receipt, used to take inventory of all the goods being shipped and what they are worth. Make sure that you keep a copy of it at all times, as you will be required to provide it to get almost anything done in regards to your shipment. For shipping fireworks, a special note must be made on the BOL to inform handlers of the hazardous materials inside the packaging. You will also need to provide names and addresses for both the shipper and receiver, identification numbers, the date, the freight class, the packaging type, and any special instructions for handling the package.

Tariffs

In order for the CBP to determine the value of the import, it must be identifiable to the most specific category possible. Although all packages must be labeled with a concise description detailing what the product is and what it is made of, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) has streamlined the identification process.

The Harmonized Tariff Code is a code that is used to immediately identify what the product is, what it is made of, and how it is used. Every product imaginable has a unique code relating to it, and many categories have subcategories that get extremely specific. If you don’t know the code for your particular product, don’t sweat it! You can easily find the code for any product with the online HTSUS database search function.

The universal code for most fireworks is 3604.10, but the rest of the code is dependent on the type of pyrotechnic device you are importing.

State Specific Laws

Even though the Federal Government mandates certain laws pertaining to consumer fireworks and firework safety, individual states can make their own regulatory laws as well. Within those states, even separate counties can have different regulations, too! If you intend to commercially import fireworks, you should strive to understand the regulations in the area in which you intend to sell, so you can ensure you don’t attempt to import any prohibited devices.

Even though this list covers the basics of each state’s laws, it is always a good idea to check in with local authorities to see what is okay in your specific county and what isn’t.

  • Alabama: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state. However, sale from tents, trucks, or mail-order is strictly prohibited.
  • Alaska: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Arizona: Novelty fireworks are permitted year-round. During the weeks surrounding Independence Day and New Years, ground devices like fountains and spinners are allowed. Aerial fireworks are prohibited.
  • Arkansas: Novelty fireworks are permitted year round, but all legal consumer fireworks are permitted during the weeks surrounding Independence Day and New Years.
  • California: Firecrackers, aerial fireworks, wire and stick sparklers, roman candles, and any device with a surprise element in it are strictly prohibited. There are also limits on the types of chemicals in the fireworks’ composition.
  • Colorado: Fountains, ground spinners, and various novelty are permitted, but firecrackers, aerials, and anything considered audible ground devices are prohibited.
  • Connecticut: All explosives and aerial devices are strictly prohibited. Not even novelties are allowed, with the one exception of hand-held or ground based sparklers.
  • Delaware: Novelty fireworks, sparklers, and ground based sparklers are permitted in this state, but anything explosive or aerial is strictly prohibited. The volume of pyrotechnic compounds is closely monitored, and strongly enforced.
  • Florida: Novelty fireworks, nonexplosive pyrotechnics, and ground based fireworks are all permitted in this state. Firecrackers, flammable or explosive compounds, and aerials are prohibited.
  • Georgia: This state explicitly forbids the use of any device with flaming propulsion. This includes balloons, rockets, and floating lanterns. However, other devices like roman candles and novelty fireworks are permitted, along with most non-explosive and non-aerial pyrotechnics.
  • Hawaii: This state forbids the use of aerial fireworks, and any ground firework that moves more than 12 feet in any direction.
  • Idaho: This state requires an import license, a retail sales permit, and a liability bond, which will come with extra fees. They only permit non-aerial ground devices, like fountains, ground spinners, and novelty fireworks.  
  • Illinois: This state permits novelty devices, like snakes and poppers, but prohibits almost all other types of fireworks. A full list of specifically compliant devices can be found through the state fire marshal.
  • Indiana: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Iowa: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Kansas: Rockets mounted on a stick or wire are prohibited in this state.
  • Kentucky: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Louisiana: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Maine: Many types of aerial fireworks are prohibited, but not all of them. All fireworks must be sold from a fixed stand-alone building, and not from a tent or truck.
  • Maryland: Novelty fireworks, ground based devices, and anything non-explosive and non-aerial is permitted, as long as they are approved by the state fire marshal. Anything that does not fit into those specifications is prohibited.
  • Massachusetts: All consumer fireworks of any kind are strictly prohibited.
  • Michigan: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Minnesota: Fountains and novelty devices are permitted, but explosive and aerial devices are prohibited.
  • Mississippi: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Missouri: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Montana: Most consumer fireworks are permitted in this state, except for skyrockets, roman candles, and bottle rockets. Mail orders are also not permitted.
  • Nebraska: Most consumer fireworks are permitted in this state, with the exception of rockets, colored wire sparklers, and large firecrackers.
  • Nevada: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state, but only in certain areas.
  • New Hampshire: Rockets mounted on sticks and smoke devices are prohibited in this state. All sales must be completed in a stand-alone building, instead of a tent or truck. Be aware that there are many more regulations in regard to selling fireworks within this state.
  • New Jersey: Aerial devices, firecrackers, and fireworks containing yellow or white phosphorus or mercury are prohibited in this state.
  • New Mexico: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • New York: Sparklers, fountains, and novelty devices are all permitted, but aerial devices, roman candles, wire sparklers, and firecrackers are prohibited.
  • North Carolina: Explosive and aerial fireworks are not permitted in this state.
  • North Dakota: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Ohio: This state has interesting regulations. Novelty devices like smoke bombs and sparklers may be purchased and used anywhere, but larger fireworks cannot. Any firework purchased in this state must be from a licensed location, and all fireworks must leave the state before being detonated. So, fireworks can be sold here, but not used by a consumer.
  • Oklahoma: Skyrockets, sky lanterns, and bottle rockets are prohibited, as are mail order and door-to-door sales.
  • Oregon: Aerial fireworks are prohibited. All fireworks sales must be made at a licensed location, and cannot under any circumstances be purchased online.
  • Pennsylvania: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Rhode Island: Aerial fireworks and flame-producing devices are prohibited in this state.
  • South Carolina: Small rockets are prohibited in this state, but all other legal consumer fireworks are permitted.
  • South Dakota: Any firework containing dynamite, nitroglycerin, and giant powder is prohibited, which includes firecrackers.
  • Tennessee: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state, but mail orders are prohibited.
  • Texas: Most legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state, with the single exception of small rockets.
  • Utah: Fountains, novelty devices, spinners, and cakes are allowed in this state, and almost everything else is strictly prohibited.
  • Vermont: Firecrackers, skyrockets, roman candles, and some other aerials are not permitted in this state.
  • Virginia: Exploding aerial fireworks are not permitted in this state.
  • Washington: Firecrackers, skyrockets, salutes, chasers, and bottle rockets are prohibited in this state.
  • Washington D.C.: Exploding fireworks, aerial fireworks, and any device containing oxidizing agents or chemicals are strictly prohibited in this state. Novelty fireworks and fountains are permitted.
  • West Virginia: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.
  • Wisconsin: Exploding and aerial fireworks are prohibited in this state.
  • Wyoming: All legal consumer fireworks are permitted in this state.

Severe droughts may result in temporary bans on fireworks as well, so make sure you are aware of that when you are choosing a port to come through with your shipment of fireworks.

The American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) outlines a comprehensive, updating list of State specific laws. It is also a good place to look for additional information on each state, including contact information for individual state fire marshals.

Choose the Right Customs Bond

A single entry bond is for importers that are working to import one shipment for a specific port of entry.

If you are importing fireworks from China regularly, a continuous bond is a more effective approach. Those looking to import fireworks direct from China will utilize these types of customs bonds, which handle shipments with high value and accommodate a large number of entries at several ports of entry.

Connect with a Customs Broker Today

The CBP licenses Customs Brokers to conduct CBP business on behalf of importers. The importer is always ultimately responsible for knowing CBP requirements. In conclusion, a customs broker ensures your imports comply with all federal rules and regulations. Using a Customs Broker can save you from making costly mistakes during the customs clearance process.

At USA Customs, we provide customized solutions that keep you in compliance and your international shipping in transit. Our Customs Brokerage professionals have a wealth of knowledge to streamline the importing process for you. When you are importing fireworks or any other type of goods, let us make the importing process easier on you.

3 comments on “Importing Fireworks with a Customs Broker”

  1. Hello,

    We are looking to import a 20' container of smoke bombs into the USA from China. Can you please contact me and have one of your reps advise me on the process?

    Thanks.

    Emerson

  2. Hello I plan on importing fireworks from China within the next couple of months for recreational use one the 4 of July. Can you please have an agent contact me for more information on your services.

    1. Thanks for reaching out with your question! Because your import will be for personal use, you will not need to secure a customs bond, however fireworks fall under hte regulation of the ATF. You should do your research on the regulations associated with the type of fireworks you'll be bringing into the US.

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