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What to know before importing to United States

What should I consider before importing something?

Requirements for importing specific commodities depend on a wide variety of criteria. Some information, such as whether an item is subject to quota restrictions, eligible for reduced rates of duty, or restricted from entry because they originate in an embargoed country, can be determined only if you know the item's Harmonized Tariff Schedule classification number. Determining an item's HTS number can be extremely complicated. Please see our information under Duty Rates in the Trade - Trade Programs section of our Web site.

Other requirements depend on other agencies' safety, energy efficiency, health, etc. standards. Many of the items governed by these various rules cannot be imported without a permit from the related agency. See the chapter on Special Requirements in our publication "Importing Into the U.S." for more information.

Another thing to consider is marking of county of origin. Everything imported for use in the U.S. must be marked with the country of origin, but some things are very hard, or impossible, to mark, such as diamonds, flowers, or water. See our publication "Marking of Country of Origin" for more information about marking.

Finally, the distribution of many trademarked and copyrighted items in this country is restricted by contractual agreements that give exclusive rights to specific companies or individuals to distribute the product in this country. If you attempt to import a product covered by such an agreement, it could be seized at the border. For more information please see our information on Intellectual Property Rights.

We have attempted to give some thumbnail guidelines about things to consider in this Q&A format. However, circumstances change every day, and it is advisable to call your local port for specific guidance in importing your particular commodity. We also advise you to review our series of Informed Compliance Publications. They provide very detailed guidance on importing a variety of items, only some of which are listed in the FAQ category for Requirements for Importing Certain Goods.


How do I import wood into the United States?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the importation of wood and wood products. APHIS requires wood and wood products to undergo certain phytosanitary procedures prior to importation in order to eliminate the risk of introducing non-native pests and diseases into the United States.

There are two treatment options for wood and wood products. Heat treatment involves the use of a kiln dryer or dry heat, such as a microwave energy dryer. Chemical treatment involves the use of a surface pesticide, preservative, or methyl bromide fumigation.

Wood products from China that contain bark are subject to additional APHIS restrictions.

A Timber and Timber Products Import Permit (PPQ form 585) must accompany each wood shipment. The permit will list the required treatment. To apply for an import permit, visit aphis.usda.gov

Both exporters and importers face additional requirements if the wood is listed under regulations pertinent to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Timber species listed under CITES regulations require some or all of the following prior to entry into the U.S.:

  • A general permit (valid for two years) issued by USDA
  • Certificates issued by the CITES representative organization in the exporting country stating that the product will not be detrimental to the survival of that species and that the specimen was not obtained in contravention of the laws of that country for the protection of fauna and flora
  • Certificates issued by the CITES representative organization in the United States
  • Arrival at a U.S. port of entry authorized to accept shipments of CITES-listed species.
  • A listing of the timber species can be found at: Certified Wood Organization.


Can I get general information on entering pets and/or wildlife into the United States?

Travelers frequently inquire about taking their pets with them to the United States. All such imports are subject to health, quarantine, agriculture, or wildlife requirements and prohibitions. Pets taken out of the United States and returned are subject to the same requirements as those entering for the first time. You may also contact Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services' National Center for Import and Export (NCIS) for more information (301) 734-3277/8364.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Public Health Service requires that pet dogs and cats brought into this country be examined at the first port of entry for evidence of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. A valid rabies (also known as rage) vaccination certificate must accompany dogs coming from areas not free of rabies. There is no requirement for a rabies vaccination certificate for domestic cats. Dogs from countries with screwworm must have additional paperwork. Service dogs do not require any additional paperwork, although it is recommended to contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the airline you are traveling with (if traveling by air) for their requirements.

Certain imports of rodents are prohibited. For instance, the recent outbreak of monkeypox in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control, banned ALL personal and commercial imports of rodents, such as squirrels, dormice's, rats, porcupines, and mice from Africa. Presently rodents from other countries have not been banned. For updates, on the ban, you should contact the CDC at 1-800-232-4636.

There are no Centers for Disease Control or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) restrictions or requirements for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and ferrets, brought in as pets, as long as they appear to be in good health, they may enter the U.S. If they do not appear to be in goods health, they will be subject to quarantine at the owner's expense. Hedgehogs can only be entered in designated ports, and are prohibited if from New Zealand

Turtles are subject to certain restrictions, and monkeys may not be imported as pets under any circumstances, please see our Q&A for turtles and monkeys.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned with the importation, trade, sale, and taking of wildlife and with protecting endangered plant and animal species. Some wildlife species of dogs, cats, turtles, reptiles, and birds, although imported as pets, may be listed as endangered. Endangered and threatened animal and plant wildlife, migratory birds, marine mammals, and certain injurious wildlife may not be imported without special federal permits.

Non-endangered or injurious species of Aquarium fish may generally be imported for personal use through authorized Fish and Wildlife ports of entry, commercial importers must obtain FWS permits. For more information, please call 1-800-344-WILD or visit their Web site.

Game birds and animals, other than protected species, that are legally taken by United States residents in Canada or Mexico may be imported for non-commercial purposes at any Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry and declared on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Form 3-177.

Game and trophies from other countries must enter through a designated Fish and Wildlife port of entry. Game must be accompanied by a valid hunting license, tags, stamps, and by an export document from the country where taken, if such is required. Only United States residents may import game free of duty and may only import migratory game birds that they themselves have legally killed. The Fish and Wildlife Service has regulations regarding the number and species of migratory game birds that may be imported from Canada, Mexico, and other countries. Hunters should familiarize themselves with the restrictions on migratory game birds taken legally during open season in other countries.

If you know the species you wish to import is protected by a treaty or is considered injurious, please contact the FWS management authority directly at 1-800-358-2104.

Because highly pathogenic bird flu is currently making inroads into many countries where hunters might be hunting fowl, we suggest you go to the Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service's Animal Health Monitoring and Surveillance page to learn about recent disease conditions and import restrictions for birds.

For more information visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Import/Export Forms and Permits.


Can an importer obtain a license to import steel products subject to the steel 201 remedy, or do they have to go through a Customs Broker?

An importer does not have to go through a Customs broker to obtain a license to import steel products subject to the steel 201 remedy. Background information on the steel 201 remedy is available at the U.S. International Trade Commission Web site.

Importers that opt to use a Customs broker to file their entry with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) who then can register with the Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration (ITA) and apply for a license, to avoid being charged additional fees by the Customs broker. The importer can have the broker file their paperwork, and provide them with the license number assigned by the ITA. The broker will need the license number to transmit the required entry documents to Customs, specified in our publication Importing into the United States. The importer must register with the ITA prior to applying for a license. The importer can register and apply online.

There is specific information regarding the shipment that must be provided to the ITA in order to obtain the license (i.e. country of origin, Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes, etc.). The importer may have to consult with the broker to obtain information to input in the fields on the application. Be aware, some of the fields are mandatory and some are optional. For instance, the field requesting the HTS code is mandatory and the field requesting the entry number is optional. Importers that have the entry number prior to applying for the license opt to put the entry number in the field for tracking purposes.

An importer only has to register with the ITA one time. However, they are required to obtain a license for every shipment of steel products subject to ITA licensing requirements. CBP will not release a shipment of steel products subject to the steel 201 remedy without authorization from the ITA.

If you require assistance or clarification on how to register or fill out the license application, contact the ITA at (202) 482-3791.


How do I import alcohol for my personal use?

Shipping alcoholic beverages by mail is prohibited by U.S. postal laws. The importer or traveler must be 21 to bring alcoholic beverages into the United States.

If alcoholic beverages are mailed to you, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) could detain them at the mail entry branch where they arrive and you will have to make arrangements for the shipment to be picked up in person (you may send a letter to the Port Director authorizing someone to act on your behalf - on a one-time basis).

Shipping alcoholic beverages through a courier is permitted, however, duty will be collected on the entire shipment (there is no duty exemption for alcohol not accompanying a traveler), and the courier will probably charge handling and Customs Broker fees that could significantly raise the cost of the shipment.

Please be aware that State ABC laws govern how much alcohol a person may import into their state without a license and those laws are enforced by CBP. You must check with the state ABC board where your shipment will enter the country to determine their limits.

There is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol someone may import into the U.S. for personal use, however, large quantities might raise the suspicion that the importation is for commercial purposes, and a CBP Officer could require you to obtain an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) import license before releasing it.

If you intend to have a large quantity shipped to you for personal use, we suggest you contact the entry branch of the port where your shipment will be entering the country to discuss your situation in advance.

Duty rates on alcoholic beverages are based on the percent of alcohol per liter in the product - not on units of packaging such as per bottle/case. Duty on wine and beer is generally low, $1-2 per liter, while fortified wines and spirits are considerably higher. Duty rates can be obtained in Chapter 22 "Beverages, Spirits and Vinegar," in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule.

Federal IRS Excise tax is also collected.

If you intend to bring in a wine collection as part of your household/personal effects, you will be subject to these same regulations.

*Military and Government Personnel are exempt from duty on liquor and cigarettes, but not IRS tax.


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