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Export to the U.S.

Shipper’s Export Declaration

The most general document required by the U.S. government is the Shipper’s Export Declaration (SED). The U.S. government uses the form to compile international trade statistics. Many of the forms necessary for entry into the U.S. can be downloaded online.

Product Entry

All items entering the U.S. must clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and are subject to customs duty unless they are exempted by a pre-existing trade agreement. The U.S. CBP service, unlike many other countries, does not require an importer to possess a special license; however, the dutiable value of goods must be declared by the importer.

The importer must also provide a classification number for merchandise and goods entering the U.S. This classification can be determined in The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), issued by the U.S. International Trade Commission. The HTSUS, used by most countries, easily classifies and categorizes merchandise by product type (e.g., animal and vegetable products or textile fibers and textile products).

Imported items must enter the U.S. through a port of entry with the CBP authorization. Products cannot legally enter the U.S. market until the proper duty has been paid and forms have been completed. Many international companies hire agents to facilitate and provide assistance to foreign companies with this process.

A customs broker can also be hired to represent a company and file customs entries. A customs broker must be fully licensed by the CBP. After the goods arrive at the port, merchandise must be claimed within 15 days or it will be returned to a customs warehouse for storage. The importer is held responsible for the associated storage cost on all unclaimed merchandise. Goods not claimed within six months will be sold at an auction.

Please note, unlike goods that remained unclaimed, merchandise that was exported from the U.S, and subsequently returned to the U.S. receive preferential tariffs.

Country of Origin

Products imported to the U.S. must be labeled indicating the country of origin. Without this information, merchandise could be subject to additional duties. It is not uncommon for some products to be manufactured or assembled in more than one country. For this complexity a company should seek legal advice in order to determine the proper labeling of the goods. The Federal Trade Commission developed criteria for what merchandise can be considered “Made in the U.S.A.” Even if items are assembled in the U.S. from parts manufactured in other countries, this does not mean that the goods can be labeled “Made in the U.S.A.” For more information, consult the Federal Trade Commission website .

Export Documentation Requirements

In addition to the aforementioned Shipper’s Export Declaration, the following documents are generally required for entry:

  1. A bill of lading, airway bill, or carrier's certificate
  2. Commercial Invoice listing port of entry; country of origin; time, place, and names of buyer and seller, detailed description of merchandise, quantities in weights and measurements, price of each item, all charges and all rebates.
  3. Entry manifest (Customs Form 7533) or Entry/Immediate Delivery (Customs Form 3461) Forms can be found at the Customs Border and Protection website.
  4. Packing lists and other documents necessary to determine whether the merchandise may be admitted

There are several publications produced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that will further clarify the process of importing into the U.S.:

  • Customs Regulations of the United States: a publication which contains regulations published by U.S. Customs.
  • Customs Bulletin and Decisions: a bulletin published weekly outlining new rulings and regulations of U.S. Customs and decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the Court of International Trade.
  • Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (Annotated): a technical document which helps clarify issues of classification of imported merchandise for rates of duty and statistical purposes. This document can be obtained for free by writing to the following address:

U.S. Customs Service
P.O. Box 7407
Washington, DC 20229-0001
Tel: 202-482-6900
Website: www.cbp.gov

Restricted or Prohibited Items

Certain items may be restricted without a license or completely prohibited from entering the U.S. Restricted items include:

  • Cultural artifacts and property
  • Automobiles that do not meet the fuel-emission requirements as well as safety, bumper, and theft-prevention standards
  • Firearms
  • Certain breeds of fish and wildlife along with game and hunting trophies
  • Certain types of plants
  • Gold, medals, coins, and bullion. Gold items from Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan are completely prohibited

Certain items are completely prohibited and cannot be imported to the U.S. under any circumstances. Prohibited items include:

  • Absinthe and all other liquors or liqueurs that contain an excess of Artisia absinthium
  • Drug paraphernalia, narcotics, and drugs which potentially could be abused
  • Any merchandise from Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan
  • Items containing dog or cat fur
  • Merchandise which bear marks that are counterfeit of a federally registered trademark
  • Certain food products such as fruit, vegetables, and meat or meat products (see Food and Drug Administration for more information)


Last Updated April 18, 2014
©2014 U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council