Import From China Business

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A practical guide for starting a small business

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USA Customs

USA Customs - Purpose & Mission

USA Customs is officially known as Customs and Border Protection.  It is one of the Department of Homeland Security's largest and most complex components.  Its mission is to keep terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S.  At the same time, it is also attempting to secure and facilitate trade and travel.  Its role is to enforce the hundreds of U.S. regulations including immigration and drug laws.

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This is a very complex assignment for the USA Customs when the United States has almost 7,000 miles of land border that is shared with Canada and Mexico.  There are also 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding the Florida peninsula and off the coast of Southern California which the USA Customs needs to manage and control.  With the assistance of the United States Coast Guard, USA Customs also protects 95,000 miles of maritime border surrounding the country.

Given the USA Customs or Customs and Border Protection’s challenging position, it may seem to be difficult to work with for the small business importer importing from China.

11 Tips on Collaborating with USA Customs

Given the Customs and Border Protection’s busy role, here are some tips to get the most out of them.

  1. Learn before you call
    Do your homework and learn as much as you can about your product before you call US Customs.  Call only for detailed questions.  The agency is not responsible for your entire education on imports.
  2. Call the right agency
    Don't call and ask questions that can only be answered by other regulatory agencies.  The US government agencies are usually distinct and separate.  For instance, if you have questions about the exotic tropic fruits that you want to import from China, then call the Department of Agriculture.
  3. Get acquainted with paperwork
    Learn about all the documents that you will need to fill out and any special requirements before you actually start importing. Trial and Error is not a good way to teach yourself the trade of importing.
  4. Know what you are doing
    The USA Customs agency has the responsibility to enforce the regulations of a number of US government agencies.  They take their responsibilities very seriously.  So know exactly what you are doing every step of the way.  Do not ask them to look the other way or give you a break because you are new and inexperienced.
  5. Use an Import Broker
    If handling paperwork or other details is not your forte, then hire an import broker to do the work for you. It can be quite worthwhile not to have to worry about this aspect of importing.
  6. Expect to be searched
    Customs inspection of imported goods is a standard practice.  So don't panic when you see them opening your packaging as if they believe that you have hidden drugs.

7.  Be friends with the commodity specialists
If you are planning to import a commodity over a period of time, make contact with the National Commodity Specialist Division within the Customs and Border Protection Branch.  Find the name and contact information for the specialist within your commodity area.  The specialists have a wealth of information that can really make it easier for you.  

8.  Get help with packing standards
Work with the Customs to develop packing standards for your commodity especially if you will be importing the same items over a long period of time. This will make it easier for you to get the goods across the border.  

9.  Be very detailed
Prepare your invoices very carefully.  Be very thorough.  Have a detail description of every item in every package.  Do not leave anything out or you could be perceived as trying to hide information.

10. Be security smart
Ensure that the shipment is secured and that your goods do not get tempered with by narcotic drug dealers.  There are dishonest traders out there trying to use you for their benefit.

11. Use technology to make importing easier
Have your entry documents electronically sent to US customs. Consider shippers that utilize Automated Manifest System or send documents through the National Customs Automation Program.

Getting goods through the US Customers can seem like a daunting task for the first time importer from China.  Follow these tips to make your tasks a little easier.