Importing and exporting procedures are the grease that keeps the wheels of the global economy turning smoothly.
Each country has a specific procedural process for the goods it exports as well as those that are received on its shores. When the system works, international trade flows freely. When it doesn't, international businesses experience problems, delays, and bottlenecks.
In the U.S., imports are regulated by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP). Reorganized after 9/11, this agency's primary mission is to restrict the importation of shipments that pose a threat to American citizens. Although the collection of import duties also falls under their purview, CBP is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, the largest law enforcement agency in the U.S. Suffice it to say that CBP doesn't mess around – they take import procedures very seriously. And that means import businesses need to take those procedures seriously, too.
The rules for the entry of goods into the U.S. can be complicated, especially if the products being imported are perishable foods, alcohol, or other special category items. But in general, here's what to expect when you import foreign goods for domestic markets.
Entry of Goods Overview
The entry process for imported goods can be broken down into four stages: (1) Goods arrive at a U.S. port, (2) Entry documents filed, goods are inspected by CBP, (3) Duties are paid or surety bond is posted, (4) Goods are released to importer. Sounds easy, right? Not necessarily. Some types of cargo (e.g. agricultural goods) are subject to additional regulations and most cargo requires the timely completion of "formal entry" documents. To avoid delays, many importers hire customs brokers who specialize in clearing imports through the entry process.
Tips for Importers
- The Automated Commercial System (ACS) lets carriers, brokers, and importers file entry documents electronically. Although you can still file documents manually, ACS reduces delays from days to hours.
- Entry documents must be filed within 15 days of the cargo's arrival at a U.S. port. Any cargo that has not been formally entered within 15 days is warehoused at your expense; if you don't pick it up within six months, your merchandise will be sold at auction.
- There are a handful of mandatory documents that are required for the entry of goods into the U.S. Research CBP requirements before your cargo arrives to avoid unnecessary delays.
- The entry process isn't exclusively about inspecting imported cargo. Don't forget to make arrangements for a surety bond to cover tariffs and duties. A customs broker can be invaluable for accurately classifying your goods according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) so you can avoid overpayment.