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Selling Imported Goods within the U.S.: Get Started with this Small Business Checklist

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Selling Imported Goods within the U.S.: Get Started with this Small Business Checklist

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 23, 2010 Updated: March 3, 2014

Selling imported goods within the U.S. can be a lucrative business opportunity. High demand imported products such as artisan crafts, furniture and even food and beverage products such as olive oils, wine, etc. represent a significant market opportunity for savvy business owners. Margins of up to 700% can be lucrative indeed.

If you are interested in importing and selling overseas goods into the U.S. market - whether you are actually based in the U.S. or not - you will need to do your research regarding both the country of export and the country of import (the United States).

Here are some business and regulatory tips to guide you through the process of selling imported goods in the U.S.

Before you Do Anything - Check Import Rejection Laws and Trade Barriers

In addition to determining the market opportunity for a particular product or range of imported products, be sure to check U.S. trade barriers and local in-country laws to be certain that you can actually export your chosen goods out of the country of origin into the U.S.

While the U.S. is very import friendly, it does have stringent safety and quality controls that don't exist outside its borders. Likewise, foreign nations sometimes restrict the export of religious ornaments, rare or protected goods. For example, certain animal by-products such as furs and ivory as well as fake designer goods are banned or are governed by export restrictions.

Read about import goods rejections and trade barriers on Business.usa.gov/export here. If you wish to import or sell agricultural products into the U.S., the Food Safety and Inspection Service provides a checklist and other information to help you comply with the laws that govern the import of meat, poultry and egg products.

For more information about trade agreements, refer to this guide on Business.gov.

Formally Set up Your Own Business

Consider formalizing your business entity before you start pursuing importing opportunities and engage in any regulatory practices. Read these 10 Steps to Starting a Business for a step-by-step guide to the planning, financial and legal steps involved in starting a business.

If you are a foreign national and plan to import and do business in the U.S., read Starting a Business in the U.S. as a Foreign National for guidance on tax and legal obligations.

Build Relationships and Network on the Ground in the Export Country

As with all wholesale procurement, you will want to meet and greet with the producer or distributor of the product(s) you will be selling. Try to establish whether the company you are dealing with has export experience, and request references. Refer to these resources for Doing Business Abroad to ensure your business travel is well planned.

Consider Hiring a Customs Broker

Many people who are in the business of importing goods into the U.S. choose to utilize a customs broker to help facilitate the laws and regulations that apply to your business, including licenses, taxes, duty fees, etc. A customs broker prepares all the documentation needed for importing goods, just as a freight forwarder does for exporters. You can read more about customs brokers here. You can also search for a certified customs broker at the *National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America.

Check Whether you Require a License or Permit to Import Certain Goods

Many imported and exported products are regulated by federal agencies. If you import or export any of the types of products listed by the government here, you may be required to obtain specific licenses and permits or complete additional paperwork (the link also provides information on how to get the appropriate licenses and permits). A customs broker can also help with this aspect of importing goods.

Selling Imported Goods - Retail and Distribution Options

How will you sell your imported wares? There are a number of options from re-selling your products to niche independent stores to selling direct at fairs, festivals and markets (get tips on starting and operating a concession stand in these two posts - part 1 and part 2). You can also set up your own retail store. Read How to Start a Retail Business - A Step-by-Step Guide for more information.

Online retailing or "e-tailing" is a useful option if you happen to be based outside the U.S. and wish to sell to the U.S. market. But be sure to set up your site using a U.S. domain and host it on a U.S server. Read Starting and Growing an Online Business: An Entrepreneur's Checklist for tips about starting an online business operation.

Additional Resources

*Note: Link directs reader to non-government Web site.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

thank you
This is great guidance for me.I feel happy to read this instruction since this is given from a authorised source. Great resource for small business owners.
Hi, I found the information very helpful but I still have some questions, more specifically regarding selling items online without having to registering a company therefore not establishing a presence. I would really appreciate your input. Regards.
In the UK there is a very good clearance site that I have come across, it sells UK bankrupt stock and there very happy to export to the US, the site is www.wholesaleclearance.co.uk. I hope this is some help.
These are great tips. For entrepreneus who want to import from China, here are some more tips on establising contacts in that country.  There are 3 broad methods to reach out to potential suppliers: PresourcingPreselective SourcingNonselective Sourcing Method
These are great tips. For entrepreneus who want to import from China, here are some more tips on establising contacts in that country.  There are 3 broad methods to reach out to potential suppliers: PresourcingPreselective SourcingNonselective Sourcing Method
Is this a good time, with the dollar so weak for someone to start an import business? And what countries would be the best to work with?larryyouhuge 
Is this a good time, with the dollar so weak for someone to start an import business? And what countries would be the best to work with?larryyouhuge 
I wish to import CCTV Products products direct from china, How do I register my own brand name and logo Steve Maitland
ccscameras - You can read up about intellectual property laws here, but I suggest that you consider hiring a customs broker to walk you through the process.

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