The United States is home to a massive variety of imported food from all over the world. Americans' appetite for unique flavors drives the demand for businesses to bring this food into the U.S. If you’re planning to import food to the U.S. to meet this demand, there are some important details you need to be aware of.
To import food products into the U.S. for resale, you’ll need to comply with numerous import regulations in place through the FDA, USDA, and CBP. Food that comes from wildlife is also subject to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) requirements. Due to the strict nature and amount of regulations, CBP recommends working with a Licensed Customs Broker when importing food.
To get a complete understanding of how to import food products to the U.S. for resale, we’ve put together the comprehensive guide below. The information below outlines the entire process for importing food and gives you a clear path to success.
If you’re in a hurry or don’t have time to read through all of the information below, no need to worry. Our Licensed Customs Brokers are available to provide immediate assistance for your importing needs. You can schedule a 1-on-1 import consulting session with our Licensed Customs Brokers. They’ll answer all of your questions and address your specific importing needs to help you safely import your food.
Importers of food products are responsible for making sure their goods meet all required import regulations. As noted above, this includes rules in place through the FDA, USDA, CBP, and in certain cases, the FWS. While additional regulations apply for specific food products such as milk, meat, honey, and more, some requirements apply to all food products. General import documentation required for ALL food products is explained below.
Arguably one of the most important aspects when importing food is filing Prior Notice with the FDA. Prior Notice is an electronic submission made through either CBP or FDA’s electronic interface system. This submission allows FDA and CBP officials to prioritize inspections for upcoming food imports scheduled to arrive in the U.S. There are a number of details that are required when submitting the Prior Notice including, but not limited to:
The timeframe for submitting Prior Notice will depend on the mode of transportation of your imported food and whether you use CBP or FDA’s electronic interface system. Depending on these factors, your prior notice can be submitted no later than 2 hours prior to arrival and no sooner than 30 days.
The consequences for failing to submit Prior Notice or submitting incorrect information are worth noting. At the very least your goods will be refused entry and temporarily held at the port of entry until you provide CBP and FDA with the required information. Worst case scenarios range from permanent seizure and destruction of goods and monetary penalties to a ban on future imports, and civil prosecution. Needless to say, it’s critical to submit Prior Notice accurately and on-time.
Similar to prior notice, an ISF Filing is required if your food products are arriving to the U.S. via ship. To learn more, read our comprehensive article on the ISF Filing.
Another important component of successful clearance of imported food is ensuring your foreign partners are registered with the FDA. Nearly all foreign manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors of food intended for import to the U.S. must register their facility with the FDA. This requirement stems from regulations outlined in the FDA’s Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP).
In short, the FSVP requires importers to maintain and provide records showing that foreign suppliers they’re obtaining food from are abiding by all FDA requirements. Viewing these records allows the FDA to identify whether the proper procedures for handling, processing, and storage of food are being followed.
To expedite the food import process, it’s recommended to include the facility registration information at the time of import along with all other required documents. This will avoid the delay of import agents having to verify this information themselves, which in turn furthers the clearance process.
Want to learn more about clearing FDA regulated products? Check out our article on FDA customs clearance.
Also known as a BOL or B/L, a Bill of Lading is an essential document when it comes to importing and shipping. A Bill of Lading serves multiple purposes in the importing and shipping process including:
For customs, the bill of lading allows CBP agents to verify shipping details against other included documents. If there are any inconsistencies or concerns, agents will investigate further to determine if any importing rules have been violated.
Typically, the bill of lading is created by the shipper. If the shipper is working with a freight forwarder, they will create the BOL on behalf of the shipper.
As is the case with many commercial transactions, an invoice plays an important role. A commercial invoice is designed to provide as much detail as possible regarding the sale of the goods being shipped.
Information that must be contained on a commercial invoice includes:
All of the above information is used by CBP agents to calculate and verify import duties. Having incorrect information on your commercial invoice can lead to higher than expected import duties or increased inspection times.
In many ways, a packing list contains much of the same information that’s found on a commercial invoice. However, this doesn’t change the need to include and attach a packing list for your imported food.
A packing list is more concise in the information it provides and pertains specifically to dimensions and quantity of products covered in the shipment.
Packing lists include the following information:
Along with all of the documents mentioned thus far, the packing list can be transmitted to CBP electronically to clear and release your goods.
Whenever you’re dealing with importing commercial goods, your import will need to be covered by a customs bond. CBP requires a customs bond for all commercial shipments arriving into the U.S. A customs bond acts as a financial guarantee that all import duties and fees will be paid to CBP. There are two main types of import bonds that are used for standard import situations which we cover at the end of this guide.
In a hurry and need a customs bond now? We offer continuous customs bonds for as low as $245. You can purchase your customs bond online, complete the easy application, and have your bond in as little as 48 hours. Purchase your bond today and cover your upcoming food imports.
The last document that’s required to clear your imported food is the entry summary. Officially recognized as CBP Form 7501, the entry summary is a combination of nearly all of the information found on the other documents mentioned above.
As the name implies, this form acts as a complete summary of all relevant and critical information for your import. There is some additional information required on the entry summary including the entry type, estimated duty and tax to be paid, bond type, and more.
While it might be frustrating and redundant to list much of the same information across multiple forms, CBP relies on this process to cross reference critical details. In reality, this process of cross referencing information across various sources ensures that imported goods are safe and legally imported.
Just like the other required forms, the entry summary can be submitted on your behalf by a Licensed Customs Broker. When it comes to the entry summary, this can be extremely helpful as this form can be quite confusing and intense, especially for a new importer.
Our Licensed Customs Brokers have extensive knowledge and experience when it comes to importing food to the U.S. Our goal is to simplify this often challenging and difficult process. Whether you need us to manage the entire process for you or just want answers to a few specific questions, we’re here to help you.
If your food is already packaged and ready for consumer use, you’ll also need to be aware of and comply with labeling requirements. While different foods can vary on a few labeling rules, some requirements are universal for all food. While the full list of food labeling requirements is exhaustive, we’ll cover some of the main guidelines below. Specifically, we’ll go over unique labeling rules that come into play for imported food.
As noted above, these are just a few of the many food labeling requirements for packaged foods. In rare cases, some packaged food is exempt from certain labeling requirements. Common exemptions include food manufactured by small businesses(criteria is based on annual food sales to consumer and total sales), certain foods that provide little to no nutritional value such as instant coffee and many spices, and medical foods.
Before ordering pre-packaged food from a foreign supplier, be sure to verify that the labels are in compliance with FDA requirements. Special labeling requirements for USDA, FWS, and more are covered below in sections discussing specific foods such as meat and seafood.
Experienced importers can attest to the importance of having a deep understanding of Incoterms. New importers might be wondering, what are Incoterms? When it comes to importing food products to the U.S., knowing your Incoterms is a must.
Incoterms, short for International Commercial Terms, outline who is responsible for the various logistical and financial components of an international commercial shipment. In total, there are 11 Incoterms, each represented by a unique 3 digit abbreviation, that determine the buyer and seller’s responsibilities for these shipments.
Because the focus of this guide is on importing food, it’s important to note the responsibility of customs clearance for each Incoterm. For example, a shipment that is using the DDP (Delivered Duty Paid) Incoterm, puts nearly all of the responsibility and risk on the seller of the goods. This includes all aspects of customs clearance including paying for import duties and filing all appropriate import paperwork. Conversely, the EXW (Ex Works) Incoterm, puts the majority of responsibility and logistics costs on the buyer, even including export customs clearance.
Before agreeing to an international shipment, make sure you understand the Incoterms that will be used. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of importers being blindsided by thousands of dollars in import duties that they assumed the seller was responsible for.
Our Licensed Customs Brokers can review your international shipments and help you understand what you’ll be responsible for in all aspects of the shipment. We’ll ensure that you aren’t caught off guard by any unwanted surprises in the import process.
If you’re looking to bring dairy products into the U.S., you’re going to have some additional hoops to jump through. Dairy products are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in addition to the FDA requirements already discussed. This situation is further complicated by the varying requirements depending on what type of dairy products you’re importing to the U.S. Certain dairy products require a special import permit from the FDA, while others don’t.
The products listed below are some of the dairy items that require a milk import permit under the Federal Import Milk Act(FIMA).
Somewhat surprisingly, some of the items that don’t require a milk import permit include: Evaporated milk, sour cream, dry milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. It’s important to note that the milk import permit can only be obtained directly through the FDA.
Additionally, some dairy products from certain countries are eligible for free or reduced duty entry under the Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) system for U.S. dairy imports. The TRQ system limits how many imports are eligible for the reduced duty entry and you must obtain a license from the USDA. Once the TRQ is exceeded for specific dairy products, future imports can be brought in, but at a higher tariff rate according to the U.S. Harmonized Tariff System (HTSUS).
Lastly, depending on the type of dairy product and country of origin, you may need to obtain an official USDA veterinary permit. This requirement is in place to ensure that products with a higher likelihood of having a foodborne illness are closely examined before import.
Especially when importing dairy products, it’s advisable to consult with a Licensed Customs Broker. With confusing requirements and lots of red tape, there’s many opportunities for things to go wrong. Our team of experts will review the details of your shipment to let you know precisely what requirements you’ll be responsible to comply with and work with you to ensure everything you’ll need is in order.
Importing fruits and vegetables to the U.S. falls under additional regulations through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) which is a division of the USDA. Thankfully, the requirements are fairly straightforward and easy to decipher thanks to APHIS.
Much of this ease comes from the approved commodity database developed and maintained by APHIS. This tool contains comprehensive information on all fruits and vegetables that have already been approved for import into the U.S. The information is organized by type of fruit or vegetable and country, letting you quickly know if what you’re looking to import is allowed. Additionally, once you select the type of food and country, APHIS provides you with the requirements to do so.
Generally, you’ll need to obtain an APHIS import permit by completing PPQ Form 587 in order to import fruits and vegetables. Luckily, this form can be completed online and approval can be received in as little as one day.
Importing meat and poultry into the U.S. is one way to keep supply chains strong and supermarket shelves stocked. However, it is important to know that there are a few essential rules and regulations to follow.
Guidelines for importing meat and poultry into the U.S. are set by the USDA and FDA. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) works to ensure that all imported meat, poultry and egg products are safe and properly labeled. FSIS also ensures that imported meat and poultry products meet the same quality standards as U.S. produced products.
According to information from the USDA, you can import meat into the U.S. from about 30 different countries. This means you can source meat and poultry imports from around the world. Major sources of beef imported into the U.S. include Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. Poultry imports can come from about 10 different countries. Top sources of poultry imported into the U.S. include Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.
The USDA and the FSIS work together to make sure all imported meat is safe and healthy. They’ve put together a handy checklist for importers to make sure meat and poultry can clear customs and make it into the U.S. supply chain.
According to the checklist, the following conditions must be met when importing meat and poultry into the U.S:
It is also important to know that you must file prior notice with the FDA when importing meat and poultry. Notice can be filed as little as 2 hours before arriving at the port of entry when traveling by road. Notice can be filed as little as 4 hours before arrival at the port of entry when imports are traveling by rail or air. Imported meat and poultry requires prior notice as little as 8 hours before arriving by sea.
For even more information on this topic, check out our article on importing meat into the U.S.
The United States imports a vast amount of seafood from all over the world each year. Much of this comes from China, which ships us farm-raised tilapia, shrimp, salmon and catfish directly from their shorelines each year. Other imported seafood includes:
The FDA ensures your U.S. seafood imports are safe for American consumers. Imported seafood safety measures include:
Importers need to complete USFWS Form 3-177 when importing seafood. At the time of entry CBP will review the information provided on this form. FWS agents will also review the information provided and conduct an inspection of the imported seafood.
Want to learn more? Check out our guide on how to import seafood to the U.S.
If you’re planning on sticking around in the food import industry for a long time, participating in the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) should be a strong consideration. Managed by the FDA, this program provides some valuable benefits to participating importers including: Faster & easier entries, limited number of exams, access to an FDA help desk, and more.
Of course, access to these benefits isn’t for just any importer.
In order to qualify for the VQIP, importers must meet certain criteria, including:
It’s worth noting that the 2021 user fee to join the program is $17,000. The benefits, requirements, and cost should all be given considerable thought before deciding to join the program.
Determined to start importing food products for resale, but not sure what food to start with? No problem. We’ve done the heavy lifting for you! The United States is made up of nationalities from all over the globe so American consumers love importing food into the U.S. Check out the most popular imported food products list from the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Census Bureau below:
Another food product that has a high volume of imports into the U.S. is honey. Importing honey to the United States comes with a strict set of rules and guidelines. If you need help importing this multi-use food, our Licensed Customs Brokers are here to help.
As you can see, importing food products to the U.S. for resale is a highly involved process with many regulations and rules. Unfortunately, it’s easy for mistakes to occur which can lead to major issues for importers. To avoid these problems and make the process easier, many importers choose to work with a Licensed Customs Broker. Dealing with strict customs requirements and regulations is part of a customs broker's daily responsibilities.
When you work with our Licensed Customs Brokers, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your import will safely and quickly clear customs. We take the stress and worry out of importing food and allow you to focus on other critical aspects of your business.
As noted near the beginning of this guide, you’ll need a customs bond when importing food products to the U.S. Depending on your specific situation, you can opt for either a single entry or continuous bond.
In short, a single entry bond is used to cover a one-time import of goods, while a continuous annual bond covers all import shipments for 12 months. Essentially, if there’s any chance that you’ll have more than 1 import shipment in a calendar year, it makes more sense to obtain a continuous bond.
We offer continuous customs bonds for just $245. You can purchase the bond directly on our website and complete the easy, hassle-free bond application. Upon completion of the application, you can receive same-day approval and your bond can be active in as little as 48 hours.
When you’re ready to take the next step in importing food products to the U.S., we’re here to help you. Our Licensed Customs Brokers have extensive knowledge and experience in importing food products to the U.S. From meat and eggs to fresh fruit and vegetables and everything in between, we’ve done it all. We’ll manage the entire import process for you, ensuring that your shipment is compliant and all details are processed efficiently and accurately.
In addition to our customs brokerage services, we can help you with your other critical supply chain needs. Thanks to our partnership with our sister company, R+L Global Logistics, we’re also able to help you with the following:
We make it possible for you to get all of your logistics and supply chain needs taken care of with one provider.
Schedule your customs consulting session or request a customs brokerage quote today and get the expert support you need.