Importing to the USA basics
An individual may make his/her own Customs clearance of goods imported for personal use or business. All merchandise coming into the United States must clear Customs and is subject to a Customs duty unless specifically exempted by law. Clearance involves a number of steps: entry, inspection, appraisement, classification and liquidation.
The U.S. Customs Service does not require an importer to have a license or permit. Other agencies may require a permit, license, or other certification, depending on what is being imported. Customs entry forms do ask for your importer number. This is either your IRS business registration number, or if your business is not registered with the IRS or you do not have a business, your social security number. The importer must declare the dutiable value of merchandise. The final appraisement is fixed by Customs. Several appraisement methods are used to arrive at this value. The transaction value serves as the primary basis of appraisement. Transaction value is the price actually paid or payable by the buyer to the seller for the goods imported. Other factors may also add to the dutiable value of merchandise, such as packing costs, selling commissions, royalty or licensing fees, etc. When the transaction value cannot be determined, then the value of the imported goods being appraised is the transaction value of identical merchandise. If merchandise identical to the imported goods cannot be found or an acceptable transaction value for such merchandise does not exist, then the value is the transaction value of similar merchandise. Similar merchandise means merchandise that is produced in the same country and by the same person as the merchandise being appraised. It must be commercially interchangeable with the merchandise being appraised. The identical or similar merchandise must have been exported to the United States at or about the same time the merchandise being appraised is exported to the United States. The importer must determine the classification number of the merchandise being imported.
The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), issued by the United States International Trade Commission, prescribes the classification of merchandise by type of product; e.g., animal and vegetable products, textile fibers and textile products. The importer must pay estimated duties and processing fees if applicable. Customs makes the final determination of the correct rate of duty. The duty rate of an item is tied to its classification number. The HTSUS provides several rates of duty for each item: general rates for countries with which we maintain normal trade relations (NTR); special rates for special programs (free, or lower than the rates currently accorded NTR countries); and column 2 rates for imports not eligible for either general or special rates. Customs duties are generally assessed at ad valorem rates, a percentage of which is applied to the dutiable value of the imported goods. Some articles, however, are dutiable at a specific rate (so much per piece, liter, kilo, etc); others at a compound rate of duty (i.e., combination of both ad valorem and specific rates). If formal entry is required – the importer may have to post a surety bond. It is the importers responsibility to ensure that his or her goods being imported meet admissibility requirements – such as proper marking, safety standards, etc. – and that the proper permits, if required, have been obtained in advance of the goods arriving in the United States.