The United States is one of the few countries that does not require a license to import. Thousands of products are imported freely with no restrictions unless the product falls into a unique class of articles, such as firearms, human body parts, or pornographic materials. Generally, most governments require import permits and have more numerous restrictions on the items entering their country.
International businesses must determine whether the country they plan to import to requires a permit for their product, and if so, find out how to get one. Below are three ways to get started if you're planning to grow your distribution internationally.
Ask Your Supplier
Ask your supplier at the beginning of your negotiations whether or not you need an import permit for the country where you intend to import and sell your product. It's crucial you have a trustworthy relationship with your supplier. They can help your business obtain a permit if one is necessary and it's the shipper's responsibility to comply with current government regulations and applicable laws in each country.
If you fail to get a required import permit, you will not be able to bring the product into the country and your supplier won't get paid, so you both suffer the consequences.
Ask for a statement in writing from your supplier that he/she is solely responsible for ensuring that the product you're importing complies with the importing country’s laws and regulations, including Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration rules. Discover how long the import permit is valid for and read it thoroughly to ensure you understand all the conditions.
In the event you're sued because your product violated a country’s laws and regulations, the supplier should indemnify you (pay your legal defense and protect you against loss) if they provided you with written confirmation of proper permitting in advance. It's prudent to work with an experienced international lawyer who is well versed in the laws of the import country and can negotiate your supplier contract in a way that protects your business from any potential harm.
Contact UPS or FedEx for Help
Either of these two global transportation companies can ship your products to any country in the world and assist you with the necessary documentation required for the clearance and delivery of your goods in a timely fashion. In addition, they serve as your customs broker by facilitating an understanding of the laws and regulations that apply to your business, including permits, licenses, duties, and taxes.
At FedEx, you can open a free account, and then select a location by continent and country. The country then becomes your dashboard for asking questions about permitting, finding necessary documents for your international shipment, estimating duties and taxes, and reviewing country profiles. You're also given references to companies or individuals that have been denied importing privileges. The FedEx Global Trade Manager serves as your virtual one-stop international shipping center.
UPS has a similar offering with its UPS Global Trade, where you can access information on international shipping, importing and exporting, and the unique quirks of each country where you intend to import your products. In addition, they have a complete “Restricted from Import” section where you can find country-specific details on prohibited and restricted commodities as well as a checklist of other regulatory topics, including but not limited to import documentation. To access all pertinent information, you must open a free account.
Check the Local International Trade Administration Office
If you have access to the Internet, a quick search using the name of the import country along with “import permit” will provide additional information and elaborate on what UPS and FedEx offer. Ideally, such a search will return contact information for the Local International Trade Administration Office for the country where you intend to import your products.