How to Import Products Into the U.S.

 No matter how much a nation can produce on its own, there is really no country on the globe today that can be totally self-sufficient - at least not without suffering a severely high cost. For that reason, it is important for all countries to import at least some amount of goods and services.

The goods and services that are brought into a country will typically be either essential for economic well-being, or highly attractive to the nation's consumers, while at the same time not available in that particular country's domestic market.

How to Import Products Into the USWith that in mind, being in the business of importing and exporting can be quite lucrative - provided that you are working within the proper parameters. Prior to importing goods into any country, though, it is essential to do your research in terms of what you are – and are not – allowed to ship, as well as how it can best be done. In fact, when importing and exporting goods and services, there are numerous procedures that must be followed – and if they are not, it is possible that you and your company could face substantial fines and other related penalties.

For example, when importing into the U.S., it is important to check United States trade barriers, as well as local laws in order to be sure that you will be able to import certain types of goods into the country. While the U.S. can be extremely import-friendly, there are also a number of both safety and quality controls that are in place.

Likewise, you will also need to be aware that other nations may restrict, or even ban, the export of various goods such as rare or protected goods, religious ornaments, animal by-products (such as ivory and fur), and pirated designer goods.

You can obtain more information regarding what is and is not acceptable with regard to U.S. trade on the United States Small Business Administration website's Importing Goods page at

Determining the Right Product to Offer

When you are importing goods into the U.S., the next step you need to take is to select the product that you will import. Oftentimes, importers will make their decision based on price alone. This, however, can lead to very poor results.

Therefore, there are some important guidelines that you should follow when selecting the most appropriate product for importing. These include:

  • Product Features– When choosing a product, consider whether its features make it unique or just another commodity. Keep in mind that if the product is just like many other items that consumers can choose from, you will either need to compete on low price, or you won’t sell very many items. In either of these cases, your prospect of making a large profit isn’t very good. Therefore, be sure that the product you choose stands out in your potential customers’ eyes.
  • Cost to Ship– You should also consider how much the product will cost to ship. If the item is large, oddly shaped, or heavy, it is likely that the cost to ship it may eat into any potential profit that you would gain. With this in mind, be sure that the item you choose is easy – and inexpensive – to ship.
  • Likeability– The item that you settle on should also be something that customers will want to buy. Here again, if the item doesn’t stand out in some way, it is likely that you may be stuck with a great deal of unsold inventory. This is not a good way to earn a profit.

At this time, some of the top products that are imported into the U.S. include:

  • Apparel - Apparel imports can vary widely, and they can be as cheap as just a few dollars, on up to many hundreds of dollars (or more). China is the primary source of United States apparel imports. Some of the other nations that import apparel into the U.S. include Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.
  • Footwear - Footwear can also cost consumers just a little, or quite a lot. This will depend on the brand, the material, and the markup. China also is a top importer of footwear into the United States. Some of the other countries that also import footwear to the U.S. include Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico.
  • Furniture - Furniture is quite a bit more expensive than apparel and shoes. The markup on furniture is quite high, too. As with apparel and shoes, China is a key importer of furniture into the U.S., too. Other countries that send furniture into the U.S. include Vietnam, Canada, and Mexico.
  • Kitchen and household appliances - Kitchen and household appliances can have a relatively wide range. For example, a small coffee maker may sell for under $20 in the U.S., while a high-end washer and dryer can sell for several hundred dollars, or even over $1,000. Some of the primary importers of kitchen and household appliances into the United States include China, Mexico, South Korea, and Canada.
  • Automobiles - Imported automobiles are certainly the most expensive item in this list - and when it comes to the autos that are offered in the United States, imports are oftentimes more pricey than the models that are manufactured within the country. Automobiles that are imported into the U.S. primarily come from Canada, Japan, Germany, and Mexico.

Find Your Ideal Product Supplier(s)

Finding your ideal product supplier (or suppliers) is also an essential part of importing products into the U.S. The act of locating suppliers has become easier over the past several years due in large part to the Internet. Suppliers can now be found by using online outsourcing directories, as well as via professional sourcing lists.

Once you have come up with an ample list of potential product suppliers, you should contact each one and ask specific questions. This will help you in narrowing down the list to determine which of the suppliers will be right for what it is that you are looking for.

Some of the pertinent information that you will need includes:

  • Experience– One of the most important pieces of information you will need about the supplier is its experience with producing the product. This will also include details on the quality of the product.
  • Location– You will want to obtain the physical address of the product manufacturer. If the company does not providgem stonee you with this, consider it a red flag and move on to another company immediately.
  • Product– Related to the experience and quality of the product will be the ability of the supplier to provide you with product samples. This will allow you to get a first-hand look at the actual item and to test it out just as a paying customer would do.
  • Reputation– It is always a good idea to use a reputable supplier for your product manufacturer. You can get an idea of the company’s reputation by asking the company to provide you with client references and testimonials.
  • Licensing– You will also want to ensure that any supplier you do business with is in compliance and properly licensed in all applicable areas.

Once you have determined – and verified – all of the information that you need from potential suppliers, you will be ready to choose the best one to work with. Upon choosing a supplier to work with, you should move forward and negotiate a deal.

Locate Resellers in the United States

Now that you have a product manufacturer in place for importing a product to the U.S., you will need to locate resellers in the U.S. to sell that product. Although doing so can be somewhat time-consuming, it can also increase your odds of success a great deal.

It is important to set up agreements with resellers by getting a signed contract with them. Once this has been accomplished, you can start to order a product from the supplier. It is likely that the product manufacturer will have a minimum order amount. Therefore, be sure that your resellers will be able to sell at least that much prior to placing your first order.

In getting the product into the U.S., you will also want to ensure that you are able to get the items through U.S. Customers. Typically, the U.S. Customer and Border Protection can be of assistance should you need additional information.

Working with a licensed customs broker can be helpful to your overall import plan. These are typically either private individuals or businesses that are licensed and regulated - and who have empowered the United States Customs and Border Protection to help both importers and exporters to meet their Federal import requirements.

Customs brokers work with importers in a similar fashion to how freight forwarders work with exporters. Therefore, a customs broker can help you in preparing the necessary documents and submissions that are needed when importing goods into the United States - which can in turn help to ensure that the paperwork is accurate and complete.

A customs broker can also help you to ensure that the payment of tax, duties, and excises are calculated properly. They can also work with facilitating the necessary communication between the U.S. government and your company. For this, they will typically charge a fee. It can be well worth it, though, in order to ensure that the transaction goes through in the proper manner.

Once the items have arrived in the United States, they should be taken to the appropriate resellers where they will be ready for sale to their end buyers.

There are many products that are regulated by the federal agencies. Some of these products may require either a specific license or permit and/or they may need you to complete additional paperwork in order to be in compliance.     Therefore, be sure that you know what type of documentation the products you are importing into the U.S. will require prior to moving forward.

Additional Resources

For importers who want additional information, the United States government offers seminars and advice to small businesses. These resources include the following:

  • International Trade Administration (ITA) Services - The International Trade Administration (ITA) Services import services includes counselling, as well as a program/partner search for those who are interested in learning more about importing products into the United States. One of the key missions of the ITA is to help ensure that foreign governments honour their commitments under their international trade agreements.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Contacts - The United States Customs and Border Protection also assists with international trade, as well as with trade relations.
  • SCORE - SCORE, the counsellors to America's Small Business, provides both live and online workshops and advice from more than 12,000 volunteer counsellors across the United States.