Importing from China to the US: What You Need to Know

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Preparing to import goods from China involves a checklist of items that if not handled properly could mean shipping delays and fines. Why not work with an expert licensed customs broker to ensure importing from China is a smooth process?
June 18, 2020
Last Modified: June 19, 2024
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Despite shaky relations between the nations, China is still a popular trade partner for U.S. businesses. It isn’t easy to find new sources for over half a trillion dollars worth of goods, after all, so importers still need to have a strong grasp on the requirements of importing from China. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Section 301 tariffs have been enacted on many Chinese commodities in order to prevent dumping and other unfair business practices. 
  • The U.S. spent 20% less on Chinese imports in 2023 than it did in 2022. 
  • Despite these issues, China is still a leading source of machine parts and electrical components. 

Understanding the basic concepts associated with importing from China can help make the import process hassle-free. We’ll show you those basics and how to find out if your Chinese goods are subject to additional tariffs. 

Basics on Importing Goods From China

In the years since the COVID-19 pandemic, global health concerns have seriously impacted trade with China, creating a burden for many seeking to import goods. However, Chinese goods are still trickling into the U.S. and there are still opportunities for importers.

Some of the most in-demand goods come from China. Many international merchants seek to import everything from medical equipment to furniture and more. 

To keep trade flowing from China to the U.S., some tariffs and regulations have been lifted. Items you can import from China that are exempt from tariffs include:

  • X-ray machine parts
  • Animal feeding machinery
  • Small electric motors
  • Air purification equipment

Of course, that list represents only a fraction of possible imports. Since there are still  goods exempt from tariffs, many importers are continuing to seize the opportunity to expand their business. However, unfair trade practices on China’s part have prompted the U.S. government to dissuade importing certain goods from the Asian economic powerhouse. 

Understanding the China Section 301 Tariffs

In 2018, the Trump administration issued a series of high tariffs on Chinese goods entering the United States. Known as Section 301 tariffs, they were meant to reduce the trade deficit between the two nations, encourage U.S. domestic manufacturing, and incentivize the Chinese government to respect intellectual property rights. 

Ultimately, these tariffs have had a massive impact on the import value of products from China to the U.S. This is illustrated in the table below with information sourced from trade.gov.

An infographic titled “Value of Goods Imported From China” displaying data about the value in USD of goods imported into the United States from China from 2021 to 2023 and year-over-year percentage increase or decrease in that value. The years are presented vertically on the left side of the graphic, with the dollar value shown under the title “Value of Chinese Imports (USD)” and the percentage year-over-year change show to the right of the dollar value. The information is presented as follows:

2021: $504,286 million, 16.5% year-over-year increase.
2022: $536,307 million, 6.3% year-over-year increase.
2023: $427,229 million, 20% decrease.

After years of consistent growth, China lost its position as the number one exporter to the U.S. in 2023, being supplanted by Mexico. This is largely the result of Section 301 tariffs at work. While there’s still some value in importing certain Chinese goods, it’s never been more important for importers to understand the present and future of these tariffs. 

Over time, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released four lists of goods that would be subject to higher tariffs until further notice, encompassing almost every item that can be imported. The tariff rates applied to many of those goods will continue to increase, all the way up to 100% by 2026 in some cases. 

On the bright side, the U.S. has published several lists of goods that were excluded from those tariffs, which can be seen in these section 301 tariff exclusions. Importers that brought in excluded goods can file for a retroactive drawback claim to get refunded for the taxes they may have already paid on the import. 

For more information, make sure you check out our article on the topic: Section 301 Tariffs: A Comprehensive Guide. 

How to Import Wholesale Products From China to the U.S.

Many importers travel to China to meet with suppliers while building a wholesale business. Several regions in China specialize in the manufacturing and wholesale of specific goods, such as furniture and toys. China also has unique seasons when manufacturing and importing/exporting are in flux, like Chinese New Year.

If you are unable to travel, you might want to work with a sourcing agent. They can reach out to suppliers on your behalf. Online global sourcing is also a growing market for those importing from China. Websites like Alibaba.com make it simple to order goods from Chinese suppliers.

Related: 18 Alibaba Alternatives for Product Sourcing

Be aware of minimum order quantities (MOQ) when importing from China. Generally speaking, the less expensive an item is, the higher its MOQ will be to ensure profitable sales for manufacturers and wholesalers. 

After you have found the items you’d like to import, it’s time to start the process of getting your goods across the border and through customs. This involves significant legwork and planning. 

To help, USA Customs Clearance offers consulting sessions to get you in the know about what it takes to import goods from China.

Costs for Importing from China

Even though imported goods can be less expensive than domestic goods, there are some additional costs associated with bringing in goods from China. Importing costs you need to know about include:

  • Transportation Costs: It’s up to you or the seller (depending on Incoterms® used) to move your goods from China to the U.S. by sea or air.
  • Warehouse, Inspection, and Port of Entry Fees: Products imported from China are subject to inspection when crossing U.S. borders. In some cases, these inspections can cost you. 
  • Customs Broker Fees: If you work with a Licensed Customs Broker, plan on paying these fees. Brokers can help ensure all fees are paid, permits are obtained, and your goods are quickly cleared through customs.
  • Import Duties:Duties on most products are assessed based on a percentage of their overall value or volume. 

If you need help calculating the costs of importing specific goods from China, our licensed brokers can make sense of all the different factors that influence HTS classification, and can assist you in filling out all the right paperwork too. 

Do I Need a Permit to Import from China?

There is no general import permit to bring in products from China. However, certain goods do require a special permit or license prior to importing.  Different federal agencies oversee different imported products, and requirements can vary. Agencies that oversee common imports include:

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Oversees the import of all food, medication, cosmetics, some housewares and food-related items, health devices, and more. They require prior notice be given for all imported food products.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Regulates chemicals and other goods that could potentially harm the environment.
  • Department of Transportation (DOT): This department sets regulations for importing cars and motor vehicles.  
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC): Toys and children’s products are among imports regulated by this commission.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Oversees a variety of parts of the import process, including product labeling and more.
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): Oversees the import of plants, plant-products, wood, animals and more. In many cases, the USDA requires permits and more.
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB): Issues permits for importers of alcohol and tobacco products. TTB permits include the Federal Basic Permit, Certification of Label Approval (COLA), Natural Wine Certificate, and Certification of Age and Origin.

There are several Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) that importers need to be aware of in order to stay compliant. A customs broker can help you understand all the requirements that apply to your shipment, and can get in touch with all the applicable PGAs on your behalf. 

USA CUSTOMS CLEARANCE
Not Sure if Your Imported Goods Are Subject to Government Regulations? We Can Help!
Contact a U.S. Customs Expert >

What Are My Responsibilities to the U.S. Government?

Your main responsibility to the government during an import transaction is the payment of all relevant duties, tariffs, and taxes. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) lists product codes, which are used to determine the duty percentage, ensuring a level playing field in the business sectors.

For help classifying your imports, you can work with an experienced customs broker. Most brokers have imported goods into the U.S. hundreds—if not thousands—of times. They know the process inside and out, and you can count on them to answer any of your questions about tariff classification and importing in general. 

As CBP expands its efforts to enforce the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, it’s also increasingly vital for importers to trace the supply chain of any goods they purchase. Several large businesses have already received pre-audit notifications for upcoming CBP inspections based on suspicion of components as simple as silicon being sourced from the autonomous region. 

Even if your supplier isn’t 100% forthcoming about the country of origin for its goods, it’s your responsibility to avoid bringing these goods into the United States. That means you’ll face any potential consequences for violation of the UFLPA. 

If you plan on importing anything from China or a Chinese trade partner, check out our article: What Importers Need to Know About the Xinjiang Import Ban.

Do I Need a Customs Bond?

CBP mandates that you use a customs bond when your imports are valued at more than $2,500 or the imports are subject to another federal agency’s oversight. Generally speaking, if you’re importing goods for resale, you will need a bond on file with CBP. 

Related: How to Get a Customs Bond

China Import Consulting With a Licensed Customs Broker

A Licensed Customs Broker can be a great asset to you when importing from China. They will make sure that your imported goods cross borders efficiently and arrive at the port of entry in a timely manner. In addition to that, they can help you ensure that your shipment follows all customs regulations and rules when entering the country. 

Your Broker can provide a variety of services when importing from China: These might include:

  • Arrange customs clearance for imported goods at the port of entry.
  • Prepare for the release of goods
  • Work with CBP to ensure that all government duties, taxes, and fees are paid as needed.
  • Determine which permits are required to import your goods and help you with obtaining the needed permits.
  • Advise you through the import process, including determining entry options for your goods, navigating free-trade agreements, and tax or duty deferment.

Our Brokers can go over all the necessary details for your shipment and ensure it’s compliant with CBP and other regulations.

Get Help Importing From China With USA Customs Clearance

Importing from China can be a lucrative, exciting and, at times, challenging endeavor. Allow USA Customs Clearance to help manage challenging times while you enjoy the lucrative ones.

Working with our customs specialists can help ensure that you have all the proper documents in place, making your import transaction seamless and easy. 

Our comprehensive suite of importing services includes:

  • Customized consulting sessions
  • Secure customs bonds
  • New importer success bundles

Give us a call at (855) 912-0406 or contact us online to get in touch with a customs specialist who can get you the information you need right now.

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Latest comments (44)

import duty tariffs and customs cost on importing 6 coils of 26 gauge painted coil steel in a single 20 foot shipping container for forming into roofing panels.
FOB houston or all the way to Marshall TX.
cost including shipping to houston estimated at around $25,000

George Gover

I’m trying to buy a motor from Hong Kong China just one motor that’s all I need motor cost 2160 he said they can send it by Sea freight to Port…I’m in San Antonio Texas 78207 I’m not rich so I don’t know how to go about this any little advice would help thank you brother God bless you

Elwood Cane

I bought an engine and then found out how hard it is to get here. I won’t do it again unless I save at least a $1000. If you have to warranty the engine you’ll have to pay for all the import crap again which is around a grand. You have to use a broker, forms have to be filled electronically so you need them. Still not sure if EPA will let it into country being the Chinese don’t test them for emissions.

Temesgen Weldegebreal

I have LLC in Maryland and currently I am exporting educational supplies to be shipped from China to Ethiopia.
Do you I need to import to USA and reexport later to Ethiopia ? Or I can export directly from china to Ethiopia?
Do I need to declare to CBP ?
Do I need to pay tax for each export or need to pay the profit tax at the end of the year?
What documents need to keep for future income tax ?

Hi, Thanks for a very informative website.

Do I still need to pay import duties (40%) to bring HTS 9030.90.4600 products from China to the US if I’m planning to export them to Europe later?

Randy Hauck

Hi Ivan,

Regardless of the HTS, you’ll still need to pay duty upon import. If you’re looking to obtain a duty drawback refund when you export the products, you’ll need to follow specific guidelines and provide an adequate amount of documentation in order to qualify. One of our customs experts will reach out to you shortly to obtain some additional information from you and schedule a consultation with our Licensed Customs Brokers. We look forward to helping you!

Linda Johnson

I am a new Amazon FBA seller . I will be starting out selling stainless steel drink tumblers that keeps drinks hot or cold. I am sourcing from China (Alibaba) and my cost of supplies will be around $1300., not including shipping and whatever else that is involved. Is it correct that your services would only involve importing into the US? I would like to have my goods flown in only for the first order and thereafter by sea. Is this a situation you would handle?

Randy Hauck

Hi Linda,

Thank you for reaching out. We can help you with more than just importing you products. We have a partnership with a freight forwarding company that allows us to handle the entire shipping journey for your products! If you have all of the details regarding your shipment, you can request a Customs Brokerage quote from our team. This quote can include other logistics services including transportation and warehousing if you need them.

You can request a quote at the link below.

Customs Brokerage Services

Danny Miller

I am brand new at this. How many different company’s do I need to order stuff from China and feel safe doing it? I would like a chance to see about a few things for myself and resale. a few things are golf carts, pontoon boats, car and big truck tires, wheels/rims for the tires, bicycles and trikes. etc. Those are the ones I really am likely to order. Also I need to know about the shipping and clearing then to be shipped and received in my hands either at the dock, work or home.

USA Customs Clearance

Hi Danny,

We can help you understand the end-to-end process for importing from China through our import consultations. Your consult is 1-on-1 with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers and they provide you with a complete roadmap of what you’ll need to successfully import your products into the U.S. Because you’re importing from China, you’ll have some additional steps to go through. For that reason, we highly suggest consulting with our team. You can use the link below to sign up for a consultation. We look forward to helping you!

Licensed Customs Broker Consulting

Someone I know is importing beauty accessories,like brushes,pillow cases, items are in boxes printed with their logo on them. They don’t have a ‘Made in China’s label on them. They resell on line. What are the PENALTIES without a ‘Made in China’ label?

USA Customs Clearance

Hi Danny,

The violation you described here can come with some serious consequences. Per CBP, goods that don’t comply with CBP’s marking of country of origin rules can be exported, destroyed, or be imposed additional duties. In this situation, we would advise that the products be sourced from a more reputable supplier that already complies with CBP’s marking guidelines.

Lilian P.

Hi,
I’m trying to import EVA foam from China around 180 small sheets . I asked to send by air and they will deliver to my door. They said shipping fee does not include customs or tariffs.
How do I pay for that?
Thanks,
Lilian

Randy Hauck

Hi Lillian,

Customs duties and fees can be prepaid by the shipper or paid by the recipient of the goods. Typically, this is determined by the Incoterms of the shipment. For example, in a DDP (Delivered Duty Paid) shipment, the supplier covers the import duties and fees for the recipient. It would be best to confirm with your supplier in China what the Incoterms of your shipment are going to be.

If you still need help, you can schedule a consulting session with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers and we’ll guide you through the process!

Randy Hauck

Hi Mike,

The customs fees will depend on a number of factors including the value of the engine and its’ country of origin. One of our customs experts will reach out to you shortly to obtain additional information from you so that we can provide you with a quote. We look forward to helping you.

Randy Hauck

Hi Rodolfo,

You’ll need to have some standard import documents prepared and completed ahead of your photo booth’s arrival. The link below contains a detailed list of these required documents. If your product is a commercial import that’s being used for your business or intended for resale, our Customs Brokers can clear and import for you.

Documents to Clear Customs

I’m looking into importing a few diesel engines from china. The freight will be included in the sale price to my nearest US port. What amount of additional fees and taxes should I expect to pay?

Hi Luke,

The amount of duties and fees that you’ll pay will depend on the value of the engines, as well as the specific HTSUS that’s assigned to them. Additionally, depending on the Incoterms that you agree on with your supplier, they may cover the costs of import duties.

One of our import experts will reach out to you shortly gather additional information and provide further assistance.

ATEFEH DERAKHSHANFAR

Hello,
I am going to import silverware set from China. Does it need to get FDA prior notice or confirmation on it?
Could you also please advise if importation from China to the USA is going smoothly now a days?
Thanks for your advice.

Randy Hauck

Hi Atefeh,

Your silverware may or may not be subject to FDA requirements. It depends on the specific HS code that CBP assigns to your products. Also, because of the situation regarding section 301 tariffs on many products from China, there is still increased scrutiny on goods coming from there.

We responded privately and provided you with additional information regarding your import. We look forward to working with you.

Randy Hauck

Hi Ness,

When importing goods for commercial purposes, you’ll need to have a customs bond to cover your import shipments. Face masks are also regulated by the FDA. Many businesses have had their face mask imports seized recently for not being in compliance with the necessary regulations. Before importing your masks, we recommened working with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers. They’ll provide you with everything you need to legally import your masks.

Utilize our Licensed Customs Broker consulting to get the help and answers you need. We look forward to working with you

Biju Joseph

Hello there,
I would like to import a 400 cc 4 seater UTV from China through a Chinese supplier through Alibaba.com. to Jacksonville seaport. How much would it cost me to get it cleared through customs paying all the duties and fees.
Thanks

comments@usacustomsclearance.com

Hello Mr. Kendall, – thank you for your inquiry. We wanted to let you know that we replied to your question by email. If you have any questions, please let us know.

I do like that you said that there are Chinese suppliers that specialize in manufacturing items in bulk to make sure that you’ll be able to purchase in wholesales. My husband and I wanted to own a furniture store in the future. What we want is to reduce our capital cost in sourcing our products without cutting the number of items that we need, so we’ll make sure to consider China sourcing.

USA Customs Clearance
315 NE 14th St #4122
Ocala, FL 34470
(855) 912-0406
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