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Basics of Importing

What are imports?

Imports are inputs of goods or services that buyers in one country purchase from sellers abroad. Domestic businesses bring imports from overseas for many purposes, such as the need to access new products that are not available at home, or to reduce their manufacturing costs. Imports are delivered in many ways – they can be shipped, sent by email, or even hand-carried in personal luggage on a plane. The cross-border feature of imports can often require importing businesses to obtain licenses or permits to clear imports through customs and comply with safety and information standards. 

Resources to get started with importing often 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 partners. 

What should I consider before importing? 

Besides market research, importing companies need to look at supplier reliability, cash flow, and other factors. Businesses should identify reliable suppliers that can provide the necessary inputs while fulfilling quantity, quality, and regulatory requirements. The importing process can be costly, given the need for transportation, insurance, foreign exchange, and other steps. Businesses need to incorporate these cost considerations in their cash flows, which can be complicated. To handle some import requirements, companies may need to contract service suppliers such as customs brokers, currency dealers, or translators. They also need to analyze if imports will meet domestic demand at a market price that generates desired profits. 

For examples of step-by-step importing guides, please see the Small Business Development Center of Canada’s Guide and the EU’s Checklist of 4 Steps to Import a Product.   

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: 

  1. Finding a foreign supplier: One way to start is by consulting with your local chamber of commerce, trade agencies, and 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 (see guide on selling abroad online).
  2. Reviewing import conditions, duties, and compliance requirements: Duties are tariffs applied to the intended imports (see guide on how do I determine my product’s HS code). Compliance requirements are often health, safety, environmental and 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.
  3. 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 guide on logistics).
  4. Preparing all required paperwork for the border: This may include presenting a customs declaration to the national customs authority, along with preparing a commercial invoice, transport documents, certificate of origin, import license, or other documentation.

Where can I learn more?