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Importing Lithium Batteries: Power for a Green World 

Representation of a lithium-ion battery cell
Discover the key to successful lithium battery imports. Our article breaks down regulations and potential risks for importing lithium batteries for your benefit.
By
Natalie Kienzle
May 11, 2023
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Last Modified: May 11, 2023

Importing lithium batteries is on the rise because our world is more dependent than ever on portable power. Between electric vehicles, smartphones, and other electronics, the demand for reliable batteries has never been higher. However, importing lithium batteries into the U.S. does mean dealing with some complex regulations. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has strict rules for importing lithium batteries. Importers need to meet these regulations and check for the correct United Nations (UN) trade codes. Stay updated on the latest guidelines for packaging to avoid customs issues while still meeting safety and environmental standards. 

Getting these powerful little energy sources across borders can be a real test of endurance. Place your trust in the experts at USA Customs Clearance to see how it’s done. 

Begin Importing Lithium Batteries Into US to Meet Growing Demand

As the world shifts towards more renewable energy and eco-friendly technologies, the demand for lithium batteries has gone up. These batteries are lightweight, and they hold enough energy for use in a wide range of technologies. 

You’re tapping into a growing market and contributing to a greener world when you import lithium batteries into the United States.

Industries with a growing need for lithium batteries include:

Lithium ion batteries come in various forms, power, and sizes. Large batteries are used in EVs to increase vehicle travel miles. Small versions are used in everything from smartphones to pacemakers. 

These batteries also make it possible for people to benefit from other types of renewable energy, like solar and wind power. With lithium batteries, energy gathered from these sources can be stored for later use. 

importing lithium batteries, close up of a battery inside a device

Can I Import Lithium Batteries?

Our world has actually gotten to the point where lithium batteries are a part of everyday life. You can import lithium batteries as a standalone product or as part of another device, such as a phone

Just because they are common doesn’t mean the import process is easy. There are many regulations in terms of the import process itself, as well as the shipping methods offered for transportation. 

U.S. Regulations Around Lithium Battery Imports

Lithium batteries come with strict regulations because they can be a major safety risk if not handled correctly. Batteries can be harmful to the environment and to their immediate surroundings. 

Most U.S. regulations on lithium imports come from international standards set by the UN. More regulations and industry standards are described in 49 CFR parts 100 – 185

Based on the UN Class system, all lithium batteries are recognized as Class 9 dangerous goods. This is the same system the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency relies on when inspecting imports. 

Common dangers when importing batteries include:

  • Thermal runaway: This is when damage to the battery causes a chain reaction or short circuit that leads to overheating and even explosions.
  • Leakage: Battery electrolyte fluids can irritate the skin and eyes of anyone coming into contact with it.
  • Cargo damage: Fires caused by damaged or badly packaged batteries can destroy nearby cargo. 

International imports have to comply with a few different agencies. The exact number depends on the shipping arrangements made. Each of the agencies we list here has lithium batteries classified as a dangerous good or hazardous material. 

Before you actually arrange for import into the U.S., you need to look into regulations set by:

Aside from IATA, you also need to look at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). They’re a closely related group and tend to use the same DGR. Importing lithium batteries by air also means you need to confirm a specific UN classification number for your products.

There are six UN classification codes for lithium batteries:

  • UN3480: Lithium Ion (Li-ion) Batteries  
  • UN3481: Li-ion batteries packed with equipment
  • UN3481: Li-ion batteries contained in equipment
  • UN3090: Lithium Metal (Li-metal) Batteries
  • UN3091: Li-metal batteries packed with equipment
  • UN3091: Li-metal batteries contained in equipment

As far as marine shipping goes, major ocean carriers are starting to set their own standards. What is and isn’t allowed on board depends on the type and the age of battery.

This is especially true of EV cars. Importing a new EV isn’t likely to cause an issue, so long as other transport needs are met. Used EVs, on the other hand, are likely to be refused because of the risks associated with aged lithium cell batteries. 

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Types of Lithium Batteries and Their Import Rules

There are six classes of lithium batteries. Each type has unique regulations and restrictions based on their capacity and use. All lithium batteries imported into the U.S. need to meet UN 38.3 safety testing. 

  • Lithium-ion batteries

This type is mostly used in laptops, smartphones, and EVs. They have great energy density and a long lifespan. If you plan on importing these as a stand-alone, they can’t travel in passenger aircraft. The state of charge (SOC) also can’t be more than 30% of its max. 

  • Lithium-metal batteries

These batteries have a high power capacity but have a shorter lifespan. They are normally used in small tech, like hearing aids and watches. As a stand-alone battery or as part of a device, these are prohibited on passenger aircraft.  

  • Lithium-polymer (Li-Po) batteries:

These batteries are used with devices like drones, RC toys, and some types of smartphone. While not as likely to overheat, they don’t have quite the same staying power and are more expensive to produce. 

  • Lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries:

The newest generation EV vehicles are moving from Li-ion batteries to LFPs, including the major American manufacturer, Tesla. The batteries cost less to make and can be kept at a 100% charge without affecting long-term performance. 

  • Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LCO) batteries

LCOs used to be very common in small electronics. At the moment, they are losing ground to other types of lithium batteries because of the rising cost of cobalt and a shorter lifespan. 

  • Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO) batteries:

If you plan on importing batteries that can be used at higher temperatures, an LMO is the way to go. Although they don’t last long, they are the top choice for cordless power tools and some hybrid cars. 

Knowing the differences between these battery types is helpful because they impact the import process and applicable regulations. Modern uses of batteries keep evolving, and so will the regulations surrounding them. 

rows of batteries positive side up

How Do You Import Lithium Ion Batteries?

Even if your goal isn’t to import lithium batteries themselves, you might find yourself reviewing these regulations anyway. As mentioned, a growing number of electronic devices use some form of lithium battery. This includes everything from basic disposables to rechargeable units.  

In either case, it means importers need to be aware of any extra documents or safety issues involved. To keep it easy, let’s break it down into a set of standard steps. 

Steps to importing lithium batteries:

  1. Pick a battery supplier:

This should be someone with a solid reputation and quality standards. Manufacturers and suppliers need to meet the international and U.S. shipping and import standards.

  1. Find necessary import permits and licenses:

There are thousands of uses for imported lithium batteries. There are also hundreds of imported products that come with lithium batteries. At the moment, the U.S. does not require importers to have a license specific to battery imports

Most lithium battery regulation has to do with the shipping process. If you are planning on importing for export, you’ll want to check in with local governments for legal matters. 

There is also a chance you need a license for the product using the battery rather than for the battery itself. This makes the next step very important. 

  1. Determine the product’s correct Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code:

This is what your import duties and taxes are based on. The wrong HTS code classification can cause your batteries to get held up in Customs. These holds usually result in a variety of additional fees. 

Penalties often take the form of:

  • Inspection charges
  • Re-classification fees
  • Product storage

At the end of the process, you can pay thousands in penalties and have it eat entirely into any profit you were hoping to make. Having a customs consultant review and confirm your HTS codes is the best way to avoid this problem. 

  1. Use the services of a customs broker to file import documentation:

Basic import documents include the Bill of Lading (BoL) and the commercial invoice. Regardless of commodity, these are needed. Other documents you might need will depend on how you ship lithium batteries into the country. 

Additional documents a customs broker can help you organize and file include: 

  • Packing list
  • Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
  • Dangerous Goods Declaration
  • Certificate of Conformity 
  • Certificate of Origin
  • Importer Security Filing (ISF)
  • Air Waybill

Just like with HTS codes, it’s important that all documents be checked for accuracy. The faster you can get your products to market, the better things will go for your business. 

  1. Purchase the appropriate Customs Bond:

A customs bond is going to make sure you pay the right amount in import duties and fees. It’s also a requirement for lithium batteries because they’re a regulated commodity.  There are different types of bonds based on how often you plan on importing and what you have planned once goods arrive. 

  1. Coordinate customs clearance and delivery: 

Your broker needs to know when your batteries are scheduled to arrive for processing and inspection. An exact timeline helps brokers make sure all paperwork is filed at the right time and to the right agencies. If you’ve been working with a freight forwarder for shipping arrangements, they should be in touch with your brokerage team as well. 

Ensuring Compliance With Partner Government Agencies

We’ve already mentioned that lithium batteries are considered a hazardous material by partner government agencies (PGA) associated with shipping. The DOT through the PHMSA, and ICAO are hard at work passing regulations and standards to make sure batteries are shipped safely. 

If you want your imports to make it to market once they’ve arrived, additional PGA requirements need to be met. 

The main agencies to check with are:

  • The Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Consequences for not meeting PGA standards can be severe and end up damaging your business long term. 

  • Financial penalties for non-compliance
  • Seizure and destruction of imported goods
  • Delays at port for re-inspection
  • Re-export for non-compliant goods
  • Criminal charges
  • Loss of business trust with partners and customers

By staying compliant, you save yourself from legal and financial troubles. Find out more in our importer’s guide to partner government agencies. 

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CPSC Safety Standards and Labels

For products going to market in the U.S., compliance with CPSC labeling and packaging is a must. Providing proof of quality and safety is the responsibility of the importer. This is one of the reasons you need to have care when choosing a supplier or manufacturer to work with. 

There are a number of common safety testing agencies that suppliers can provide safety certifications through:

  • Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
  • Society of Automotive & Aerospace Engineers (SAE International)

The UL, IEC, and IEEE are the most common safety agencies used for batteries in standard consumer products. These would be things such as toys, phones, and other simple electronics. If you are looking into importing batteries for industrial use, like for use in EV cars, safety certifications through SAE International are better. 

By the time an imported battery is up for CPSC approval, it should have already been through a number of safety tests. The final items to check would be any labeling requirements. 

Most label needs are met through international shipping standards. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to double-check with the CPSC for specific details. This would be the case for any batteries intended for use in children’s products. 

EPA Transport and Disposal Guidelines

Finally, there is the EPA. This agency doesn’t regulate the import of lithium batteries so much as provide safety guidelines how to transport and dispose of them. With new products, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. 

In the event something happens to your products during transport, you do need to follow EPA guidelines to make sure any remaining materials are disposed of the right way. 

The Role of an Importer Of Record (IOR) in Lithium Battery Imports

An IOR is responsible for making sure that a shipment complies with all laws and regulations when entering the United States. Becoming an IOR also means you are one step closer to managing your own import and export business

Completing the registration means you have the authority to take care of the major requirements we’ve already outlined. 

  1. Obtaining necessary permits and licenses.
  2. Paying import duties, taxes, and fees.
  3. Arranging the classification of goods 
  4. Completing and submitting the required documents.

You don’t need to be a customs broker to become a registered IOR. In fact, the best IORs know that working with an experienced brokerage service is one of the easiest ways to find success with regulated commodities like batteries. It gives you access to insider knowledge that makes the import process simple and reduces potential risks.

Worker soldering a circuit link on a battery attachment.

Where Does the US Get Lithium Batteries From?

Lithium batteries are made in several countries. At this time, China is the leading producer of lithium batteries worldwide. However, most of the U.S. supply is imported from Singapore. 

Regionally, the manufacturing centers in Asia produce the majority of the world’s battery supplies. However, manufacturing in Europe is also on the rise. This is especially true in countries with strong automotive sectors like Germany

Top Lithium Battery Suppliers to the US 

Country2021 Import ValueYoY Value Growth
Singapore$83.7 million$12.9 million
China$66 million$12.2 million
Japan$39.4 million$6.34 million
Israel$29.9 million$8.57 million
Vietnam$17.3 million$11.5 million
Source: OEC

As a new importer, you want to look at sources that not only have a good selection of suppliers, but are poised to ramp up production in the future. Nations like Vietnam, for example, grew their lithium battery export value over 150% in just one year.

Factors Affecting the Global Supply Chain of Lithium Batteries

When you plan on importing lithium batteries, it’s necessary to look at factors other than supply, especially when planning for the future. 

It’s also important to consider things such as:

  • Resource availability: Countries need to have access to raw materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. It’s best to check that manufacturing resources in place. 
  • Labor costs: These can include operating costs for mining, workforce labor, and more.  Lower costs can help battery-producing countries offer more competitive pricing.
  • Geopolitical dynamics: Sometimes the best place to get products from just doesn't work out. Political and economic factors impact trade relationships for good and bad. 

For example, despite China’s status as the number one producer of lithium batteries, it isn’t the top U.S. supplier. Political and trade concerns resulted in Section 301 tariffs that have made large scale imports more challenging. Since then, businesses have been looking at other countries. Other places may not produce as much, but they also don’t cost as much to import. 

Importing Lithium Batteries from China

Despite a less than ideal trade climate between the U.S. and China, it remains one of the top sources for hundreds of products. If you’ve found a Chinese battery supplier or manufacturer with a solid product you just can’t pass up, there are ways to import it while still making a profit. 

The biggest hurdles to overcome when importing lithium batteries, or any product, from China are:

Make sure to consider your suppliers carefully and keep a reasonable end goal in mind. 

For more information, check out our article, “Import Costs from China: Duties, Taxes, and Other Fees.”

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Accelerate Your Import Power With USA Customs Clearance

Dealing with the challenges of importing lithium batteries to the U.S. is easier with the right partner. With USA Customs Clearance by your side, you'll have the support to power through any obstacles and help your business succeed. 

Our experienced brokerage team specializes in providing tailored solutions for products coming in from around the world. 

Take the first step towards a hassle-free importing by partnering with USA Customs Clearance. To learn more about our services and receive a risk-free quote, call us today at (855) 912-0406. Let us power your journey towards importing success.

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