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Get Started in Shipping - Regulations for Importers and Exporters

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Get Started in Shipping - Regulations for Importers and Exporters

By NicoleD
Published: July 6, 2010 Updated: March 3, 2014

If you plan to ship your product overseas, first familiarize yourself with the regulatory requirements and industry standards that govern domestic and international shipping transactions. If you are engaging in international commerce, you should become familiar with a new set of laws and regulations that affect your business.


  • Obtain Licenses, Permits, and Documentation
    Many imported and exported products are regulated by federal agencies. To determine whether a license is needed to export a particular product or service, you must first classify the item by identifying what is called an Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) for the item. Additionally, if you import or export specific products, such as agricultural or pharmaceutical goods, you may be required to obtain licenses and permits or complete additional paperwork. For general information on export licensing and regulations, including ECCNs, visit Export.go;s Regulations and Licenses resources.

    Depending on where and how you are shipping goods, you will need to complete required import and export documentation.

  • Identify Harmonized System (HS) and Schedule B numbers
    All import and export codes used by the United States are classified according to the Harmonized System (HS). The Harmonized System assigns internationally-recognized 6-digit codes for general categories to products that are traded in the global marketplace. Then, individual countries can assign an additional four digits (known as the Schedule B) to complete a 10 digit sequence. In the US, the Schedule B system is administered by the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Exporters and importers must know their produc-s Schedule B and HS numbers to determine tariff rates and complete required shipping documents. Learn how to identify your produc-s Schedule B and HS numbers at Business.usa.gov/export.

  • Research Shipping Practices
    Shipping goods can involve one or several air, land, or sea transactions. Business.usa.gov/export recommends that small businesses analyze the cost, delivery schedule, and accessibility to your buyer when you determine a shipping method.
  • Package and Label Shipping Containers
    According to Business.usa.gov/export, businesses should keep four potential problems in mind when designing an export shipping crate: breakage, moisture, pilferage and excess weight. Tightly packing goods not only minimizes excess volume and weight, but can also help save money. Read more tips on packaging shipments for overseas transport at Business.usa.gov/export.

    Shippers must understand the importance of the accurately labeling of their goods, not only to ensure the proper handling, but to also comply with strict legal and safety standards. For details on the specific marking and labeling required when shipping cartons and containers, visit Business.usa.gov/export.

  • Insure Your Shipments
    Damaging weather conditions, rough handling by carriers, and other common hazards to cargo make insurance an important protection for shippers. Visit Business.usa.gov/export for recommendations on insuring your shipments and mitigating associated risks.
  • Understand Tariff, Tax, and Inspection Regulations
    A tariff, or duty, is a tax levied by governments on the value of imported products as assessed at the time of their importation. In addition to tariffs, sales tax and customs fees may also apply to your shipment.

    Many governments also subject imports to pre-shipment inspections (PSI) to inspect the accuracy and value of the shipping transaction. Importers are typically responsible for coordinating an inspection, exporters must ensure that their shipment is accessible for inspection upon arrival. Read more about inspection FAQs at Business.usa.gov/export.

  • Identify Financial Assistance Opportunities
    The Federal government offers a number of financial assistance programs to help businesses expand or develop an export market, or to assist businesses that have been adversely affected by import competition. Read more about export financing opportunities at Business.gov.



If You Do't Know it All, Freight Forwarders and Custom Brokers Offer Assistance
Businesses follow a similar process for domestic and international export shipping orders, but international transactions require some additional steps. For example, foreign buyers often prefer that shipments arrive at a free-trade zone, where they are exempt from import duties. To comply with export documentation and shipping requirements, many businesses seek the services of a freight forwarders and customs brokers to act as their shipping agents.

  • Freight forwarders
    An international freight forwarder advises businesses on how to move goods most efficiently from their origin to their destination.

    One of the key benefits of working with a freight forwarder is having access to their expertise of exporting regulations, including documentation requirements and transportation costs. Business.usa.gov/export explains,'whether an exporter is large or small, the weight of the cargo light or heavy, a freight forwarder can take care of cargo from'dock to door' thus freeing the exporter from dealing with many logistics-related details' Additionally, a qualified freight forwarder may have access to shipping discounts that you typically would not receive on your own. Read more about freight forwarders at Business.usa.gov/export.

You can find a freight forwarder by simply looking through your local phone directory, or by searching industry associations, like National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America.* Take care to research potential freight forwarders as you would any other supplier or service provider, and select one that is licensed by the International Air Transport Association or the Federal Maritime Commission. Business.usa.gov/export provides a list of privately operated freight forwarder businesses.


  • Customs Brokers
    A customs broker prepares all the documentation needed for importing goods, just as a freight forwarder does for exporters.

Customs brokers are licensed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service. Licensed brokers must have expertise in the entry procedures, admissibility requirements, classification, valuation, and the rates of duty and applicable taxes and fees for imported merchandise. Read more about customs brokers [PDF] at the U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection website, CBP.gov.


I's common for freight forwarders to make arrangements with customs brokers overseas to ensure that the goods comply with customs export documentation regulations.


Need help?

For further assistance, contact your local Export Assistance Center or call the Trade Information Center at 1-800-USATRAD(E).


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Do your research and find the professionals for help, which are the two methods to solve problems during the import and export process. All questions will be handled if you combine the two methods properly.

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