Getting a Grip on US customs

As a first time international buyer, you may overlook US customs. Communication is so comfortable with your manufacturer that you feel like you have a great grasp on the order. You certainly wouldn't expect to be left in the dark for something as important as: 'your items have been refused entry' or 'the customs tax on this container of sneakers is 48%'. However, from the viewpoint of the manufacturer, once the order has left their hands, their job is done. Keep reading to get a handle on what you need to know.

How much duty / tax will my order incur? 

In many cases, your supplier will tell you what customs category your product falls under. Ask them what HTS code they use. 
Pro tip: If the duty on their HTS code is high, it's worth double checking for yourself on the HTS website if perhaps your product could fit under a different category. 

What documents will I need?

This depends on what shipping method you choose. Click here for more info on shipping options.

For ocean shipments you'll need: 
1. Commercial Invoice - ask the supplier
2. Bill of Lading - ask the supplier
3. Importer Security Filing Information (ISF) - ask the supplier
4. Arrival notice - ask the freight forwarder

For air shipments you will need:
1. Commercial Invoice - ask the supplier
2. Airway Bill - ask the freight forwarder

Do I need a customs broker?

In short, yes, yes you do. Customs brokers will do all the heavy lifting once your shipment arrives. After you've found a local one that you like, you can ask them to estimate the costs involved in your order, including Merchandise Processing Fees, Harbor Maintenance Fees, etc...). 
Pro tip: You can also ask them to quote for a delivery to your warehouse as they usually have good relationships with ground transportation companies.

Unless your order is under $2,500, you will need a customs bond. Customs brokers can help you get one, either a single entry or a continuous entry bond to cover future shipments over the course of a year. You'll have to provide verification of your tax ID number and identity, and sign a Power of Attorney to allow them to purchase the bond on your behalf.

What else do I need to do?

Hand in all the documents to your customs broker and follow their guidance in regards to your specific order. Depending on location, size of the order and the contents, your customs broker will let you know if you need anything else. The sooner that you get in touch with a customs broker, the better off you'll be.