Importing Goods into the U.S.

The following is a general overview of certain key issues for non-U.S. businesses to consider prior to entering the U.S. marketplace through importing goods. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list of the legal requirements to which non-U.S. businesses may be subject, nor does it attempt to provide a comprehensive discussion of each law or issue addressed. Non-U.S. businesses should seek the advice of qualified legal counsel prior to entering into any transaction structured to gain access to the U.S. marketplace through importing goods.

Entry of Goods

Generally, when goods are imported into the United States (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) they are subject to certain formalities involving U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In almost all cases, the goods are required to be "entered" or declared to CBP and are subject to detention and examination by CBP officers to ensure compliance with all laws and regulations enforced or administered by CBP.

The entry law (19 U.S.C. § 1484) limits the right to make entry to the "owner or purchaser" of imported merchandise or to a licensed customs broker who has been appointed by the owner, purchaser or consignee of the goods. Only licensed customs brokers may actually prepare and file entry documentation on behalf of others.

The entry process usually involves two steps: (1) the timely filing of an entry customs form as well as a commercial invoice and such other documentation as is necessary to determine merchandise admissibility; and (2) the timely completion and submission of a follow-up entry summary form with estimated duties. All goods imported into the United States are subject to duty or duty-free entry in accordance with their classification under the applicable items in the harmonized tariff schedule.

FDA Considerations

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mission and role is to protect consumers’ health and safety. All food, drugs, biologics, cosmetics, medical devices and electronic products that emit radiation as defined by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FD&C) and related acts are subject to examination by the FDA when they are being imported or offered for import into the United States.

All imported goods are required to meet the same standards as domestic goods. Imported drugs and devices must be safe and effective; cosmetics must be safe and made from approved ingredients; radiation emitting devices must meet established standards; and all products must contain informative and accurate labeling in English. In addition to the required entry forms, certain products require specific information to be presented to the FDA at the time of importation.

Prohibited and Restricted Items

Items that may pose a threat to the health or safety of individuals or harm the United States political interests are prohibited or restricted. Prohibited items are illegal and are by no means allowed into the United States. Restricted items are those that may be brought into the U.S. but require a special permit or license.

Restricted Items

  • Cultural artifacts and property
  • Automobiles imported into the United States must meet the fuel-emission requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the safety, bumper, and theft-prevention standards of the Department of Transportation (DOT)
  • Fish and wildlife (some items are prohibited)
  • Game and hunting trophies
  • Plants (some are prohibited)
  • Gold coins, medals and bullion (gold items originating in Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia and Sudan are prohibited)

Prohibited Items

  • The importation of absinthe and any other liquors or liqueurs that contain an excess of Artemisia absinthium is prohibited.
  • Articles bearing marks that are counterfeit of a federally registered trademark are subject to seizure and forfeiture. Articles bearing marks that are confusingly similar to a registered trademark and gray market articles (goods bearing genuine marks not intended for importation into the United States) may be subject to detention and seizure.
  • It is illegal in the United States to import, export, distribute, transport, manufacture or sell products containing dog or cat fur in the United States.
  • It is illegal to bring drug paraphernalia into the U.S. unless they have been prescribed for authentic medical conditions.
  • Certain food products such as fruit, vegetables, meat or meat products
  • Narcotics and certain other drugs with a potential for abuse
  • Merchandise from any of the following countries: Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia and Sudan.