Basics of Importing

What are imports? 


Imports are defined as both the action of bringing goods into a country or customs territory, and the actual goods themselves. For example, imports are goods or services that buyers in one country purchase from sellers in another country.


Domestic businesses bring in imports from overseas for many purposes, for example, to access new products that are not available in their home country, or to reduce manufacturing costs.


Imports are delivered in many ways. They can be shipped by air, sea or road freight, sent by postal/mail services, or even hand-carried in personal luggage on a plane.


The cross-border aspect of international trade means that importing businesses are sometimes required to obtain licenses or permits to clear imports through customs, and to comply with safety standards.


Resources that can help businesses get started with importing include local chambers of commerce, industry associations, and trade agencies. Businesses can also access the Global Trade Helpdesk, an online portal that provides information on trade requirements, procedures and relevant business partners.


What should I consider before importing? 


Before importing goods from overseas, business owners should consider a number of factors. The importing process can be expensive, due to the need for transportation, insurance, foreign exchange, and other steps.


For example, some or all of the import process will require the importing company to contract third party service suppliers such as:

  • customs brokers,
  • currency dealers,
  • translators,
  • freight forwarders


Businesses need to incorporate these cost considerations in their cash flows, and in addition, consider supplier reliability. Businesses should identify dependable and reliable suppliers that can provide the necessary services while also fulfilling quantity, quality, and regulatory requirements.


What are the key practical steps for importing? 


Before importing, businesses should check the steps required and any relevant prohibitions or import procedures for the item being considered. Practical steps that importing businesses may consider include:

  • Finding a foreign supplier: One way to start is by consulting with your local chamber of commerce, trade agencies, and business network about possible suppliers. You can also identify potential trade partners and business contacts at trade fairs and events organized by business support organizations. Online marketplaces are also an important way to connect importers and exporters. TheTrade4MSME guide on Selling Abroad Online also provides additional information.
  • Reviewing import conditions, duties, and compliance requirements: Duties are tariffs applied to the planned imports the Trade4MSME guide on How do I determine my product’s HS code contains more detailed information on how various products may attract different rates of duty. Compliance requirements include:
    • health
    • safety
    • environmental
    • technical regulations that certify products and help standardize certain products within a country.
    • registration and marketing rules for engaging in the importing process also need to be considered.
  • Organizing sales by defining contractual liabilities with foreign suppliers for the delivery and insurance of imports: In the case of importing goods, contracts can also specify transport and shipment conditions see the Trade4MSME guide on Logistics for more information.
  • Preparing all required paperwork for the border: This may include:
    • presenting a customs declaration to the national customs authority,
    • preparing a commercial invoice,
    • insurance and transport documents,
    • certificate of origin,
    • import license, or other documentation.


Links to Supporting Information


Global Trade Helpdesk a multi-agency initiative jointly led by ITC, UNCTAD, and the WTO Global Trade Helpdesk


Canadian Small Business Development Center – Guide to Imports Importing Guide


European Commission Guide to Imports – Checklist of 4 Steps to Import a Product  Guide for import of goods | Access2Markets


Trade4MSMEs guide Selling Abroad Online


Trade4MSMEs guide How Do I Determine My Product’s HS Code?


Trade4MSMEs guide Logistics

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