Know the import and export laws and regulations

Knowing and following the applicable laws and regulations in the United States and where you are trading is essential to your business’ success.


U.S. Federal laws are found in the United States Code and is the searchable database of U.S. regulations. 

Stay abreast of the latest developments in trade regulation in the United States by following these websites, setting up alerts, and contacting inquiry points with questions:

You should identify the appropriate sources in your destination countries on the official government websites. World Trade Organization (WTO) notifications may help you identify sources for information or official notifications received by the U.S. government.

Exporting and importing rules

Many governments, including the United States, publish import and export information online for traders. One resource for official notified information is the WTO’s

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Country Commercial Guides also publish information on foreign country rules from labeling and marking requirements to prohibited and restricted imports.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) National Trade Estimate Report publishes information on regulations reported to be trade barriers in specific countries. While helpful, only official guidance from the export destination should be relied upon.

You can find basic information on importing to and exporting from the United States from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). For import information by sector or answers to questions about U.S. import or U.S. export regulations, contact the appropriate industry-specific CBP Center of Excellence.

Get updates on U.S. and foreign regulations

Small businesses often cite challenges related to technical regulations like product packaging, marking and labeling, and unique plant and animal health regulations. To decrease opportunities for regulations and provide comments, as well as information on new rules and how to comply, provides tools, programs, services, and educational resources about standards and conformity assessment.

The United States has inquiry points for notification of foreign technical barriers for trade (TBT) and sanitary/phytosanitary concerns (SPS) where you can direct technical inquiries on U.S. and international regulations.

Similar to when placing products on the U.S. market, when you export to foreign markets you will need to meet any technical requirements and may need to provide conformity assessment results or certifications before you can place your product on the market. Learn more about meeting foreign regulations from SBA Office of International Trade’s Learn to Trade: Product Regulations video.

U.S. small businesses and individuals can sign up for the WTO's ePing service for free, web-based email alerts for opportunities to review and comment on proposed foreign technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures that can affect your businesses and access to international markets. 

U.S. food and agricultural exporters can learn more on foreign requirements, regulations and preferences from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). FAS publishes country-specific reports, known as GAIN Reports, on food and agricultural import regulations and standards, exporter guides and other tailored reports. Food and agricultural exporters can direct country-specific questions about certifications, documentation, and registration requirements to the relevant USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) expert or the appropriate USDA State Regional Trade Group.

Research U.S. and foreign taxes

Your business structure and location will influence which taxes your business has to pay to the U.S. federal, state, and local levels. When exporting, you also need to factor in foreign taxes and fees that may apply. 

Some countries require payment of a Value Added Tax (VAT) in addition to tariffs. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) created commitments specific to express delivery services in both taxes and tariffs. Under USMCA, Canada will raise its de minimis level for the first time in decades, from C$20 to C$40 for taxes. Canada will also provide for duty free shipments up to C$150. Mexico will continue to provide USD $50 tax free de minimis and also provide duty free shipments up to the equivalent level of USD $117.

No customs duties or taxes will be assessed at the time or point of importation for express shipments valued at or below a fixed amount set out under the law, provided that the shipment does not form part of a series of shipments carried out or planned for the purpose of evading duties or taxes, that cover customs duties and taxes.

Taxes and procedures vary across markets. For example, when shipping to the European Union all exporters must register for the VAT regardless of the value of the shipment. Your local Small Business Development Center or U.S. Export Assistance Center may be able to provide general information on taxes and  tax programs  for exporters, such as Canada’s Non-Resident Importer Program. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also maintains general information on how to register your company for a Tax Identification Number or the functional equivalent in about 100 countries. We recommend that you check this information against information provided by the tax authority in the country.

The United States has tax treaties with a number of foreign countries. These reduced rates and exemptions vary among countries and specific items of income.

Duties and tariffs

Calculating the right price and being cost-competitive are important factors for international business. Use the following resources to help you determine duties and tariffs when selling overseas or bringing in inputs:

It is important to recognize that you will report your exports to the U.S. government using a Schedule B or HS code, but your destination country will have its own tariff schedule to classify goods at the foreign border. Use the Customs Info Database and FTA tariff tool to help you determine the HS code and associated tariff in a foreign market. For greater certainty, small business exporters may be able to request an advance rulings from the importing country’s customs authority for greater certainty on how your product will be classified and the associate tariff. The WTO’s TFA Database tracks countries which have notified advance ruling programs.

To determine how to classify products for import into the United States, search the latest Harmonized Tariff Schedule maintained by the U.S. International Trade Commission. Small businesses can direct questions about the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule to the appropriate USITC staff member by submitting questions on HTS Help. Additionally, CBP publishes its existing advance rulings for products which may help small businesses classify their own goods or request a binding advance ruling for imports from CBP.


There are many policy innovations and resources to help move your goods across borders faster and with more certainty, but you still must trade compliantly and follow the rules enforced by the United States and other countries. Use the following resources to help you navigate the process of transporting your products across international borders:

CBP publishes Tips for New Importers and Exporters and the Basics of Importing and Exporting, which includes all CBP duties, taxes, and fees.

Importers and exporters looking for customs assistance in the United States can contact the U.S. WTO Trade Facilitation Inquiry Point by visiting or calling 877-CBP-5511 (877-227-5511). CBP also provides Centers of Excellence Industry Specific Centers with experts at each port that can be contacted with questions.

CBP classifies imports to the United States as either informal or formal. CBP has published information about the specific steps for formal entries. Entries over $2,500 require a formal entry with a customs bond. You need to secure a single-entry or continuous bond through your customs broker or directly from a surety company. For informal entries, no bond is needed. 

The U.S. Census Bureau requires that Electronic Export Information (EEI) be filed for export shipments over $2,500 per classification number, as well as all exports of used vehicles and exports requiring a U.S. license regardless of value. To learn more about how to file your EEI, explore Census Bureau foreign trade resources including videos in English and Spanish to walk you through the steps and review EEI frequently asked questions (PDF).

Customs brokering

It is important to follow the rules of importing and exporting. Many small businesses find it helpful to employ brokers such as customs brokers (importing) or freight forwarders (exporting) to manage the process.

CBP maintains a list of licensed customs brokers for importing for each point of entry into the United States. When exporting, you can learn about the use of customs brokers in foreign markets through the WTO TFA Database.

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) publishes a list of all licensed and bonded ocean transportation intermediary (OTI) companies for exporters and their fees, (also known as tariffs). There are two primary categories of ocean shipping intermediaries, with a separate licensing process for foreign providers:

  • Ocean freight forwarders: Act on a shipper’s behalf. The receipt for the goods, known as the bill of lading, will come from another source.
  • Non-vessel-operating common carriers (NVOCCs), domestic or foreign: Purchase space on vessels, fill vacant slots in ocean shipping, and offer port-to-port services by issuing their own bill of lading

FMC offers assistance in resolving complaints and disputes, finding solutions, and seeking reparations. When considering a potential contract with an OTI, small business can also review 46 CFR 545 for information on the minimum information that should be provided regarding demurrage and detention. FMC provides a hotline staffed by experts from the Licensing, Registration and/or Proof of Financial Responsibility division that can be reached by phone at 202-523-5843 or by email at

Small businesses are ultimately responsible for the correctness of the export and import documentation filed on their behalf and should work with knowledgeable companies that are also compliant traders. If you are unlicensed and providing any of the services regulated by FMC, you do want to come into compliance. Apply for an ocean freight forwarder and/or an NVOCC license with the FMC. Get started on your application.

Inspections, licenses, and certificates

When exporting and importing, your products may be required to be inspected or obtain licenses or certificates. An overview of requirements can be found in Basic Importing and Exporting issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). To find information about specific export market requirements for inspections, licensing and certificates, we encourage you to review Commerce’s Country Commercial Guides and USDA’s GAIN reports.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of the nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. You can find overall information on importing these products through the FDA Import Program. Small businesses can direct questions to FDA’s Food and Cosmetics Information Center (FCIC) via the inquiry page webform. Questions about importing or exporting human drugs, including over the counter medication, can be directed to FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research small business and industry assistance staff.

In some markets, you may be asked for a certificate or a certificate of free sale. U.S. exporters should research in advance if any of these certificates are necessary and ensure they are completed before shipping products to certain countries. Information, including inquiry points by sector, can be found in FDA’s export certification guidance. Companies with USDA organic certifications may further benefit from organic equivalence arrangements between the United States and certain trading partners.

You should be aware that all commercial imports of food and beverage products require the filing of prior notice with FDA and, if the products contain meat, egg, milk, poultry, or other animal origin products, they may require permits, health certificates, and/or other specified certifications from the country of origin. Foreign manufacturers and/or distributors of food products must register with FDA before their goods may be admitted.

If the product you wish to import is a plant, animal, or animal product, you should consult USDA. The product may be prohibited or restricted from entering the United States. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for assuring that U.S. imported meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly labeled and packaged. FSIS also provides health certificates for export of these products. You can find more information on the FSIS Import and Export Library. To inquire about the admissibility of meats, livestock, poultry, and their products intended for resale, contact USDA's toll-free FSIS Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854).

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) oversees U.S. regulations on fruit, vegetable, animal, and animal product imports to prevent the inadvertent introduction of harmful organisms and diseases. APHIS publishes guidance on sanitary/phytosanitary measures relating to both importing and exporting to assist with compliance and provides export certificates to assist U.S. exporters as appropriate and upon request. Find contact points for APHIS.

For information on requirements related to the environmental protection, such as for chemicals, vehicles and engines, pesticides, you will want to consult the EPA Requirements for Importers and Exporters.

Exporters and importers may face additional permit requirements potentially if the products are listed under regulations such as those related to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These permits and certificates (PDF) are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For information on safety requirements for consumer goods, you will want to consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Some markets, including the United States, require import licenses for specific products. You can find information on import licensing regimes of WTO members on the Import Licensing Practice by Members page at

Export controls and sanctions

The United States imposes export controls and sanctions to protect national security interests and promote foreign policy objectives. When exporting goods internationally, you should determine what authorization is required for your export either through the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Department of Commerce. You also need to consider if there are sanctions on the countries, entities or individuals involved in any part of your transaction.

The Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) administers the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) process that controls items, information, or activities that could be used for threatening foreign military purposes, whether actual products (defense articles) or assistance (defense services). Review the U.S. Munitions List first to determine if you must be registered and apply for an export license under ITAR. For questions about the ITAR controlled products and relevant license renewals, contact the U.S. Department of State’s DDTC Response Team at 202-663-1282 and by email at

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) administers and enforces the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which primarily regulate the export and reexport of dual-use items (items with both commercial and military applications) and less sensitive military items (commodities, software, and technology). Watch “Export Controls: A Quick Start Guide” for an overview of BIS and how to determine if you need an export license. Review the EAR to determine if your product is subject to the EAR and requires BIS authorization prior to export.  You will need to know the Export Control Classification Number (ECCN), country of destination, end user(s) and end use of your product to determine if you need an export license from BIS.  You may request BIS to determine the ECCN of your product using the Simplified Network Application Process Redesign (SNAP-R) web portal.  Once you know your ECCN, you may use the Commerce Country Chart to determine if you require an export license based on the ECCN and country of destination.

BIS has a webpage for small business with links to useful resources, training videos, and a contact form for further assistance. BIS’s compliance page offers guidance on how to set up an export compliance program (ECP), due diligence best practices, and information related to identifying red flags.  You may also submit your ECP to BIS for review at no cost.

BIS offers free counseling on export controls via phone at 202-482-4811 (open Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm ET) or 949-660-0144 (open Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm PT). BIS also offers on-demand information for specific issues, such as exporting to Russia or Belarus and tips on how to avoid dealing with unauthorized parties.

To learn more about export controls, please review SBA Office of International Trade’s Learn to Trade: Understanding Export Controls webinar.

When selling or investing internationally, you must also comply with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions programs. These programs cover countries and foreign nationals restricted for foreign policy and national security goals. On OFAC’s website, you can find information on country specific sanctions programs. Small businesses can find information on TSRA licenses to provide agricultural or medical products or devices to OFAC Destinations. Questions on Treasury Department’s sanction programs can be directed by email to and via the OFAC Hotline at 202-622-2480.

Use the consolidated screening list to screen the parties to your export transaction (e.g., purchasers, intermediate consignees (such as forwarding agents), ultimate consignees, end-users). The consolidated screening list includes names of individuals and entities for which the U.S. Departments of Commerce, State, and the Treasury maintain restrictions on certain exports, re-exports, or transfers of items.

It is important to note that certain foreign investments and domestic real estate transactions can be subject to inspections by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Research foreign labor laws

If you conduct business abroad, you should be aware of the foreign labor laws that might apply to you in addition to the U.S. rules for hiring and managing employees

There may be specific rules regarding business visitors in addition to hiring. For example, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement includes a mechanism for temporary entry of certain businesspersons between the countries. Learn more about the Temporary Work Visa under NAFTA program in the United States.

Trade enforcement

Legal disputes are common when selling internationally. Take the necessary steps to protect your business when issues arise by educating yourself with the following resources:

Additionally, small businesses importing can direct questions about anti-dumping and countervailing duties to Enforcement and Compliance Communications at 202-482-0063 and

Ombudsman services

SBA’s National Ombudsman helps U.S. small businesses when they experience excessive or unfair U.S. federal regulatory enforcement actions, including when engaging in international trade.  If you believe you qualify for assistance, submit a comment and supporting documentation to the SBA National Ombudsman.

Office of International Trade Hotline

Contact the Office of International Trade Hotline

For additional help, please contact SBA’s Office of International Trade Hotline: 855-722-4877 or

Last updated February 1, 2024