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Introduction to the Import Process by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

This video can also be found on CBP website.

The Basics:

Importer of Record (IOR): The individual or company responsible for fulfilling all requirements and formalities of importing goods into a country. This is also the party who is responsible for confirming the product eligibility and Customs Laws and Regulations and assumes legal liability for the imported goods, including Customs duties, tariffs, and fees.


Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) Code: A standardized classification system used to identify and classify traded goods. HS codes are internationally recognized and facilitate customs clearance by providing a uniform method of identifying products. 


Customs Duties: Taxes or fees imposed on imported goods by the U.S. government. These duties are intended to protect domestic industries and generate revenue for the government.


Customs Valuation: The process of determining the value of imported goods for the purpose of calculating customs duties and taxes. Customs valuation methods can include transaction value, deductive value, computed value, or other acceptable methods.


Import Tariff: A schedule of rates or charges imposed on imported goods based on their classification or HTS code. Indeed, Section 232 and Section 301 tariffs are among the most popular import tariffs currently in effect. Here's a brief description of each:

  • Section 232 Tariffs: Under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the U.S. Department of Commerce has the authority to investigate whether certain imports threaten national security. In recent years, Section 232 tariffs were imposed on steel and aluminum products imported into the United States. The goal of these tariffs is to protect the domestic steel and aluminum industries by making imports more expensive. 

  • Section 301 Tariffs: Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 empowers the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to act against unfair trade practices by other countries. In recent times, the U.S. has imposed Section 301 tariffs on a range of products imported from China. These tariffs are response to concerns over intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers, and other trade practices deemed harmful to U.S. businesses.


Both Section 232 and Section 301 tariffs have generated significant attention and impact on global trade. It's important for importers and businesses involved in industries affected by these tariffs to stay updated on any changes, exemptions, or exclusions that may be implemented.


Country of Origin: The country where the goods were produced, manufactured, or substantially transformed. The country of origin is essential for determining eligibility for preferential trade agreements, such as free trade agreements.


Import License: A document or permit required for specific products before goods can be imported legally.


Customs Broker: An individual or company licensed to assist with the customs clearance process by preparing and submitting necessary documentation, calculating duties and taxes, and ensuring compliance with customs regulations.

Bill of Lading: is a legal document which contains all information about the shipment. This is issued by the Carrier or the NVOCC.

Shipper: The origin company overseas who is shipping the product. This is different than “Manufacturer”. The same company can sometimes be both Shipper and Manufacturer, double check to make sure.


Manufacturer: This is the party that produce the final product. (Note: as of March 2023, all China Manufacturers must provide a valid postal code for Customs entry filing.)

Consignee: This refers to the individual or entity that has been designated as the recipient of the imported goods. They are usually the party to whom the goods are delivered upon arrival in the U.S.


Ultimate Consignee: This refers to the final party within the U.S. that will ultimately receive the imported goods. This is distinct from the consignee mentioned above, which may refer to an intermediary or initial recipient of the goods. The ultimate consignee is typically the end-user or the entity that has arranged for the goods to be shipped to their location.

Notify Party: Any third-party who are associated with this shipment (i.e. Customs Broker)

Vessel/Voyage: Vessel Name and Voyage number for ocean freight. 


Airline/Flight #: Airline and flight information for air freight.

Port of Loading: Origin Port

Port of Discharge: Destination Port

Final Destination: Final delivery location, this can be the IOR, Consignee or Ultimate Consignee.

Steamship Line/Carrier (VOCC – Vessel Operating Common Carrier): The company who owns and operates the ships that brings the containers into the country.

​Freight Forwarder (NVOCC – Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier): A freight forwarder is a third-party company or an individual that facilitates the transportation and logistics of goods from one location to another. They act as intermediaries between the shipper (or exporter) and various transportation carriers, such as airlines, shipping lines, trucking companies, or railroads.


FOB Term: Free on Board

Most common term used. It means the shipper (seller), pays for all associated charges at origin excluding Freight. It includes, but not limited to: local drayage, export customs clearance at origin, warehouse charges and port fees. Most exporters shipping via FOB includes all the FOB charges in the final product pricing.

Ex-Work Term: Unlike FOB, Ex-W is where the buyer (the importer) pays for everything.

DDP Term (Destination Duty Paid): Shipper pays for everything, including destination Duty.

DDU Term (Destination Duty Unpaid): Shipper pays for everything, except destination Duty.


Markings: Country of Origin Marking on the articles of imported goods

Quantity: Total quantity of the shipment

Description: Name of the commodity

Weight: Total weight of the shipment

CBM: Total cubic meter of the shipment

FCL & LCL: FCL vs. LCL - What's the difference?

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