The Internet has made it easy to find and purchase items from almost anywhere in the world. However, many people are discovering that getting a foreign-bought item successfully delivered to the United States is much more complicated.
When goods move from any foreign country to the United States, they are being IMPORTED. There are specific rules and regulations that govern the act of importing – and they can be extremely complex and confusing – and costly.
That artisan cheese from Italy may be a snap to find and buy on the Internet, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection could seize your purchase because certain regulations prohibit the importation of dairy products from particular countries without a permit.
Your great auction purchase of gorgeous linen products? Depending upon the country of origin, quota restrictions could hold them up in CBP for a long time. And storage charges in such cases can be expensive.
In other words, “Buyer, Beware.” When you buy goods from foreign sources, you become the importer. And it is the importer – in this case, YOU – who is responsible for assuring that the goods comply with a variety of both state and federal government import regulations. Importing goods that are unsafe, that fail to meet health code requirements, or that violate quota restrictions could end up costing you quite a bit of money in fines and penalties. At the very least, such goods would be detained, and possibly destroyed, by CBP.
Knowing what is admissible is just part of the story. The other part is knowing how to import. Depending upon what you are importing and its value, the procedures can be very complicated.
It does not matter whether you bought the item from an established business or from an individual selling item in an online auction. If merchandise, used or new, is imported into the United States, it must clear CBP and may be subject to the payment of duty as well as to whatever rules and regulations govern the importation of that particular product into the United States.
Keep the following questions in mind before you buy something from a foreign source. The answers will have far-reaching CBP implications (explained below) that could influence your decision to buy.
- Can the goods be legally imported? Are there restrictions on, or special forms required, for your purchase’s importation?
- Are you buying the item(s) for your personal use or for commercial purposes?
- Will you be responsible for shipping costs? If so, you should discuss with the seller how your purchase will be shipped. The choices are freight, courier service, or international postal service. If you’re not careful, transportation and handling costs could far outweigh the cost of your purchase. Sometimes, the seemingly cheaper methods can be more expensive in the long run because they are more susceptible to theft, misdeliveries, and logistical problems.
- You should discuss with the seller what the exact delivery arrangements will be. If the seller does not make arrangements for postal or door-to-door delivery, you will either need to hire a customs broker to clear your goods and forward them to you, or go to the port of entry and clear them yourself.
- Can you trust the seller to provide accurate information about the item being shipped in the Customs section of the shipping documents? Giving misleading or inaccurate information about the nature of the item and its value is illegal. And it is the importer – YOU – who could face legal action and fines for this violation!
The following is a brief primer on the various factors that can impact the clearance of your goods through CBP.