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Identification Number used for goods importation

What is an "Importer Number?"

The importer number (requested on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entry paperwork) is usually the IRS business tax number assigned to businesses.

If you do not have an IRS business tax number, you may use your social security number in any paperwork requiring an importer number.

If you do not have either an IRS business tax number or a social security number, you may request that an importer number be assigned for you by filling out a CBP form 5106 and giving it to the CBP entry branch where you will be filing your customs entries. The regulations governing the issuance of an importer number are in 19 CFR 24.5.


Can a TIN (Tax ID Number), provided by the IRS to individuals who do not have a Social Security Number, or a Business Tax Number be used as an Importer Number?

The TIN is not a valid Importer Number. If the importer has no Business Tax Number and no Social Security Number, then a CBP assigned number should be requested. Form 5106 is the form to use for that purpose.


Do I need a license to import something?

You do not need a license to act as an importer. However, some items require a license or permit from various government agencies in order to be imported. For more complete information, please see our publication "Importing Into the U.S." The chapter on "Special Requirements" provides very complete information. (Some common items that may require licenses or permits are food products ordered from a commercial vendor, plant, animal and dairy products, prescription medications, trademarked articles such as name-brand shoes, handbags, luggage, golf clubs, toys, etc. and copyrighted material such as CDs, DVDs and tapes)

CBP paperwork does require an "importer number" as a means of identifying who the final recipient of the goods is. If you have a business tax number with the IRS, this number should be used as the importer number. If you do not have a business tax number, you may use your Social Security number.

If you do not wish to give your SSN to a shipper, and your importation is for personal use, is under $2000, and is being cleared by a Customs Broker (very common for goods shipped by courier services), please see our information about using a third party's Importer Number by typing "Social Security Number" in the word search field above.

If you have neither a business tax number nor a social security number, and you are a non-resident of the U.S., you may contact the port where your goods will enter the country and ask them to assign an importer number to you by filing a CBP Form 5106.

A license IS required to act as a Customs Broker, which is someone who clears goods through CBP on behalf of importers who do not want to handle the various technicalities that are involved in importing themselves.

If you have ordered something from an overseas seller over the Internet for your own personal use, you should also see our information on Internet Purchases.


Why is an overseas supplier requesting my social security number (SSN), tax identification number (EIN), importer or IRS number?

When goods enter the United States from overseas, it is considered an importation and must be cleared by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

When an individual or company purchases goods from an overseas supplier, CBP considers them the ultimate importer. The ultimate importer can clear the goods or have a broker clear them on their behalf.

If the supplier hires a carrier that provides door to door service, the carrier service usually has brokers in their supply chain to clear the goods on behalf of the ultimate importer. If a formal entry is required, CBP regulations require the broker to put the ultimate importer's identification number on the Entryi Summary CBP Form 7501. The ultimate importer's identification number is either the EIN/tax identification number assigned by the IRS or the importer's social security number. A formal entry is usually required for commercial importations valued at $2,000 or more.

Some commodities subject to quota or other agency requirements when imported for commercial (non personal) purposes require a formal entry no matter what the value (i.e., textiles).

If the goods are cleared informally, the Entry Summary CBP Form 7501, bond and identification number are not required. Goods are usually cleared informally when they are for personal use, under $2000 in value, and are not in commercial quantities. However, because there are no guarantees that an entry will be cleared informally, brokers find it helpful to have the ultimate importer's identification number just in case.

Because many foreign merchants are aware that CBP requires an identification number for the ultimate importer for formal entries, they will often request the purchaser's social security number to include on export documents that the broker will subsequently rely on to prepare the CBP entry.

It should be noted that paperwork for goods sent by courier service does ask for an importer number, whether the import qualifies for an informal entry or not. Courier services file CBP entries electronically, and the software system they use requires an identification number to be provided for the recipient of the goods. If an identification number is not provided, the courier service is required to file a paper entry, which is extremely time-consuming and in the world of "Overnight Delivery" not practical. The end result is that most courier services will not accept packages for international delivery to U.S. residents if a recipient's identification number is not provided by the shipper. Goods sent through the international postal service that are under $2000 in value generally do not require an importer number to be cleared through CBP.


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