The process for obtaining a US import-export license can be complex due to numerous compliance requirements and regulations set by the government. At Twill, we’ve made it simpler for you to understand the licensing process.
We’ve covered all aspects of how to get a US import-export license.
What is an export-import license?
How to get an import license in the USA?
Do you need an export license in the US?
What documents are required for an export-import license?
How much does an import-export license cost?
What is an Import/Export License?
An export/import license is a vital shipping document issued by the concerned government agency that authorizes the trade of certain goods across US borders.
Not all exports/imports require a license. Before shipping, check with the concerned agency for goods that require a permit/license to carry out the trade.
The issuing agency for import and export licenses varies depending on the type of goods you’re dealing in.
The export license has limited validity, typically 4 years if it’s issued by BIS.
Import License vs. Export License in the US
Let’s understand the difference between an import and export license in the US:
How to Apply for a US Import License?
Import license/permit requirement depends on several factors, like:
The actual item being imported (product or technology)
The country from which it is exported
Who are the sender and receiver
What is the port of entry in the US
What’s the intended usage of imported item
Regulations set by the concerned Partner Government Agencies (PGAs)
Here’s what an import license looks like:
Import License vs. Import Permit
Both, permit and license, are issued to allow the import of a specific category of goods to the US. While an import license is a permanent document given to the shipper (valid for a fixed period), an import permit is a temporary document (valid for a specific import only).
And now, here’s how you can apply for an import license in the US:
Step 1: Determine whether your goods require an import license
For hassle-free import certification, categorize your goods according to the correct HS code.
However, not all goods require an import license. For a detailed list of all items that require a license, refer to this CBP guide.
Common product categories that require a PGA import license include:
Agricultural goods such as dairy products
Arms, ammunition, explosives, and implements of war
💡 Note: The US exercises ‘Informed Compliance’ with respect to imports. It means the importer and CBP share responsibility for import/export rules. CBP bears the onus of clearly expressing all the regulations related to imports. While importers, on the other hand, need to be informed of and meet CBP guidelines.
Step 2: Identify the agency responsible for issuing the license
After you review CBP guidelines, determine the type/category of imported goods you’re dealing with. Then, identify the Partner Government Agency (PGA) managing that category.
Licensing agencies for some popular commodities are:
Agricultural and Food Products
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Arms & Ammunition
Radioactive Materials and Nuclear Reactors
Wildlife and Pets
Dairy Import Group, Foreign Agricultural Service, US Department of Agriculture
If you’re unable to identify the concerned agency, contact a CBP import specialist (1-877-CBP-5511). They assign an executive for each category of goods. They’ll direct you to the right agency to answer any paperwork-related questions.
⚠️ Word of Caution: CBP does not demand money for providing information over the phone. So beware of any such claims.
Step 3: Apply at the agency to secure an import license
The import license application process varies with the different agencies involved. Apply online through the concerned PGA’s website.
💡 Note: Some agencies might have specific regulations you must follow for import licenses, like quota limits, restrictions on the port of entry, and labeling or processing guidelines.
How to Apply for a US Export License?
As per the International Trade Administration (ITA), 95% of US exports don’t require an export license. So, before exporting, it’s imperative to identify goods that need one.
Here’s what an export license looks like:
Export license/permit requirement depends on several factors like:
The item being exported (product or technology)
Where it is exported
Who is the consignee
What’s the intended usage of the exported item
Here’s how you can apply for an export license in the US:
Step 1: Determine if your goods require an export license
Research the goods composition and end-use of the product you’re exporting. Based on that, see whether it falls in the licensing category.
The ITA maintains a Consolidated Screening List (CSL). You need an export license if you export to any of the parties or entities mentioned in the list.
If your exported goods fall under the jurisdiction of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), you need to obtain an export license from the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).
Step 2: Check for other license requirements
Apart from EAR, other Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) may also require a license for certain types of exported goods. For example:
The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) may have license or permit requirements for defense goods or services.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) maintains a list of people/entities subject to some trade restrictions based on foreign policies. Depending on who you export to, you may need an export license. The OFAC entities are also listed on the Consolidated Screening List.
💡 Note: Obtain the required export license from the concerned agency’s website.
Step 3: Submit your export license application
Is your company registered with BIS and has a Company Identification Number (CIN)?
Yes: Great, you can directly apply for an export license through the Simplified Network Application Processing (SNAP-R) portal by BIS.
No: Don’t worry, you can register your company and obtain the CIN online. Then, proceed with the SNAP-R portal to apply for a license.
Documents Required For Import-Export License USA
Some essential documents required for obtaining an import-export license in the USA include:
Employer Identification Number (EIN): Obtained from the IRS
Dun and Bradstreet Number (D-U-N-S): A unique 9-digit identification number assigned to businesses by Dun and Bradstreet (D&B); government agencies recognize it as a standard identifier for a specific business entity
Incorporation or business registration documents: Proof that your business is legally registered and operating in the USA
Product information: Such as Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes and country of origin for the products you plan to import/export
End-use statement: A statement outlining the intended use of the imported or exported goods
Broker's license: If you use a customs broker for your imports/exports, they need to have a valid customs broker license
Power of attorney: If you plan to authorize someone else to act on your behalf during the licensing process
Other shipping documents include the bill of lading, commercial invoice, inspection certificate, CBP entry form, and relevant certificates from relevant Partner Government Agencies (PGAs).
💡 Note: Depending on the type of goods being imported or exported and the regulations of the country of destination, additional documentation may be required. It's always best to check with the concerned authorities to ensure that you have all the necessary documents before starting the process.
Why is the Import-Export License Important?
What is the purpose of an import license?
Protects domestic businesses from unfair foreign competition by implementing certain restrictions on incoming goods
Forecasts entry of prohibited or unsafe items into the country
Limits the outflow of currency from the country
Provides importers with legal remedies against disputes or any losses incurred during the transaction
Ensures potentially volatile or dangerous substances or services are handled carefully on entry
What is the purpose of an export license?
Helps the government track the nature and quantity of goods moving out of the country
Allows businesses to expand to new markets with strict trade restrictions
Ensures that potentially hazardous or sensitive materials are adequately managed during exit.
Cost of Import/Export License in the USA
You generally don’t need to pay any fees to get an import/export license in the USA.
The procedure for obtaining a trade permit depends on the agency you are dealing with. For imports, most PGAs only require you to complete the necessary forms and adhere to their trade guidelines. For exports, BIS doesn’t need you to pay for a license.
However, some agencies, such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), have a permit fee for import/export (I/E) licenses. If you import or export wildlife goods, you need to pay USD 100 for a new permit or renewal of an old license; and USD 50 for permit amendments.
As the world’s leading importer, the United States accounted for 43% of the total imports in December 2022 alone. It is also among the leading exporters of fuel, petroleum, aircraft parts, and automotive products.
Obtaining trade permits and licenses in the US, thus, is a top priority for logistics businesses operating globally. The process can be complex and time-consuming, but essential for ensuring compliance with trade laws and regulations.
Work with an experienced professional or logistics partner to navigate the licensing process and stay informed about any changes in trade policies.
Need someone to guide you through the import/export process and handle your import/export and customs requirements? Talk to our customs clearance experts at Twill.
Export Import License: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the validity of an import/export license?
The validity of an export-import license in the US depends on the issuing agency. Generally, BIS-issued licenses are valid for up to 4 years unless requested otherwise.
2. How long does it take to process my import/export license application?
Licenses are typically issued in 30-60 days when filed online through an agency portal. Items pertaining to national security, biological threat, or the like take longer to process. So, it’s best to start your application process before time to avoid delaying your shipment.
3. Are import/export licenses different for different products in the US?
Yes, different types of products require licenses from different agencies. For importers, you can refer to CBP guidelines to find the licensing agency. For exports, ITA provides resources on licensing authorities and processes.
4. Who handles the import and export regulations in the United States?
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) handles US import regulations. Export regulations fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) or the US The Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC).
5. How much is an import-export license in the USA?
Import-Export licenses in the US are generally free of cost. However, some agencies may require a nominal fee to issue or renew the permit.
6. What types of goods require an import license?
Certain agricultural products, arms & ammunition, radioactive material, commercial equipment, and such require an import license. You can find the complete list on the CBP website.
7. What types of goods require an export license?
Dual-use items that fall under EAR jurisdiction or items such as arms & ammunition that are governed by International Trafficking in Arms Regulations (ITAR) require export licenses. Certain nuclear materials or food products also need export licenses.