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What is HTSUS and What Do These Codes Mean for Importers?

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Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes are used in the USA to identify commodities and assess duties. Learn more about them here.
June 18, 2018
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Last Modified: February 14, 2024

What is HTSUS in importing? The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) uses HTSUS codes to identify goods and determine duty rates. However, finding the right code isn’t always easy. Each commodity has its own code, and mistakes are common. Use the wrong code, and you’re in trouble. Your shipment could get delayed. You might even pay too much in duties or face fines. For importers, It’s vital to get the right code for each commodity.

Simply put, HTSUS stands for the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. HTSUS codes are 10-digit codes specific to U.S. imports and are used for tariff and product classification when importing goods.

Read on to learn more about how to find your HTSUS codes, their relationship to duty rates, and how a licensed customs broker can help you identify the correct codes for your products.

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What is an HTSUS Code?

What is HTSUS? It's a system of commodity classification codes, which are available online and via printed materials, such as the CBP documents shown here.

HTSUS codes are used by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to classify, identify, and assess duties on imported commodities. They’re derived from a shorter commodity identifier called a Harmonized System (HS) code. 

Importing can be complicated, and keeping up with all the required documentation is no small feat. The benefits of using a licensed customs broker can certainly outweigh the costs when it comes to importing for the expertise they offer in classifying a commodity in HTSUS.

Be forewarned that mistakes in classifying a commodity can wind up incurring fines from CBP. While importers are skilled at running their own business, they often lack the knowledge required to accurately classify their products. 

Every dollar counts in the import process. A licensed customs broker can help make sure that you do not overpay on imports coming through customs.

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Finding the Right HTSUS Code

To illustrate how to look up an HTSUS code, let’s say a shipment of handbags is being imported into the U.S.

In order to identify a product’s HTSUS code, you need the following.

  • The name or description of the item (handbags)
  • The item’s intended use
  • The material used to make the item 

Once you have that information, you can search for handbags using an HTS code lookup tool and find the HTSUS code and tariff classification for your handbags.

In our example, simply searching for the word “handbags” identifies a product without any need for additional information, like intended use or material. After identifying our product, we find the HTSUS code for handbags is 3926.90.3300.

To break this down further, take a look at the table below.

Importing Handbags
HTSUS Code: 3926.90.3300
Section: Plastics/Rubbers
39: Plastics and Articles Thereof
3926: Other articles of plastics and articles of other materials of headings 3901 to 3914
3926.90: Other
3926.90.33: Handbags
3926.90.3300: No further breakdown

The HTSUS code is what determines the duty rate owed on a product as it moves through U.S. customs. In the case of our handbags, the duty rate is 6.5-percent when imported from a country with which the U.S. has no trade agreement. 

If you were looking for ways to decrease your import costs, a licensed customs consultant may be able to assist in helping you find suppliers among the U.S.’s trade partners.

Duty Rates & Tariff Schedules

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Importers can also use the U.S. International Trade Commission’s Tariff Database to determine their duty rate. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) is recognized globally, and this database allows for simple HTS searches to be conducted.

In our handbag example, the duty rate was 6.5 percent. We can use this number to calculate the duties the importer will need to pay. For the purposes of this example, let’s say we’re importing $3,000 worth of handbags. The calculation would work as follows.

Transaction ValueDuty RateDuties Owed
$3,0006.5%$195

A number of changes were made to the 2018 tariff code, including adding new codes as suffixes for products like antenna parts or gift wrap ribbons. The HTSUS code, already expansive, continues to evolve as adjustments are made or items are added to the classification list.

Can Licensed Customs Brokers Assign HTSUS Codes for Imports?

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The short answer is: Yes. Licensed customs brokers can handle identifying HTSUS codes for imports. However, they don’t assign these numbers so much as determine which number matches your commodity. CBP has already decided what the HTS code for handbags is: part of the broker’s job is to find and apply that code to the correct commodities.

It is the responsibility of the importer of record (IOR) to make sure the cargo is classified correctly and assigned the right HTSUS codes. A good rule of thumb for importers is to work closely with a customs broker on documentation. A broker who also acts as the IOR takes responsibility for the accuracy of all documents in an import transaction.

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Importers Have Work to Do

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Importers need to know a number of specific details about the freight being shipped beyond its intended use upon arrival. 

This information must be included with the shipment.

  • Bill of Lading or Air Waybill: Provides shipment details, including country of origin, destination, and carrier information.
  • Commercial Invoice: Lists the purchase price, origin, and a detailed description of the goods.
  • Packing List: Details the contents of the shipment, including types of items, quantities, and packaging information.
  • Proof of Bond: This shows that a bond is in place to pay duties.
  • Entry Manifest (CBP Form 7533) or Entry/Immediate Delivery (CBP Form 3461): Required for entry of goods, detailing the cargo and its value.
  • Certificate of Origin (if applicable): Required for goods eligible for duty-free treatment.
  • Importer Security Filing (ISF): This must be submitted for ocean cargo prior to its arrival to U.S. ports.
  • Any required licenses or permits: These can be specific to the type of goods being imported, as required by various regulatory agencies.

Customs agents will have the importer provide this information and seek more specifics as needed. It’s better to start with correct information to expedite the process, rather than slowing things down if something is missing.

The process of importing can be trouble-free with a few key tips relating to HTSUS codes.

  •    Document what the goods in the shipment are made of
  •    Use resources from the CBP and other agencies to estimate costs
  •    Contact a licensed customs broker to assist

By working closely with licensed customs bond agents, importers ensure the right HTSUS code is provided for duties, taxes, and fees at the port of entry.

Importing Goods With USA Customs Clearance

Now that you know more about HTSUS codes and how to use them, you can get even more assistance by working with USA Customs Clearance. We’ll make sure you have the right codes associated with your imports so that you have a worry-free transaction.

Just like many aspects of clearing customs, HTSUS codes aren’t always straightforward. So when you need clarification on any aspect of your import, you can enjoy a consulting session with one of USA Customs Clearance’s licensed customs brokers. In 30-minute blocks of 1-on-1 time, you’ll get personalized attention where you can ask any question surrounding the shipment and clearing of customs for any type of commodity.

You can also trust us with services such as these.

So whether it’s HTSUS codes or any other aspect of clearing customs, turn to the professionals at USA Customs Clearance to lend a hand in boosting your business for success. For a free quote with no obligation to buy, contact us online or call us at (855) 912-0406.

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