You've come up with an idea for a new product, developed a prototype and found a supplier to manufacture the product. Now that your product is made, how do you bring it back to the U.S. from its country of assembly?
There are two basic ways to handle international shipping: by plane (which is faster, but costlier) or by sea (which costs less, but takes longer). If you're shipping bulky products, shipping by sea is probably your best option.
No matter which method you choose, be sure you understand the lead time (how long it will take from placing your order, to receiving your shipment) so you can plan your inventory appropriately.
To facilitate smooth import of your products into the United States, it's important to work closely with your supplier. Here are some of the factors you'll need to consider.
Packing: Make sure goods are packaged appropriately for the shipping method and distance they'll travel, taking into consideration whether they are breakable or crushable, how they'll be stored and moved, whether they will sit in the hot sun on a loading dock, etc. Packages must also be marked appropriately with the necessary information to ensure they arrive at their destination, are properly handled and can be tracked at every step of the journey.
Documentation: It's important to have the necessary documents ready from the shipper in order for your shipment to get through customs. The documentation you'll need includes:
1. A Commercial Invoice - this is the bill of sale or agreement between you and the supplier that shows what you are buying.
2. A Customs Invoice - this is basically a more detailed version of your commercial invoice. It describes the product and includes sales price, quantity, payment method, terms of delivery, and freight, insurance and packing costs. Customs agents will use this document to figure out the customs import value when the shipment arrives at its destination.
3. A Packing List–This should match the invoices. It explains what is being shipped so that shipping companies can check to make sure they're shipping the correct product and quantity.
Depending on what you are importing, there may be other paperwork required. The Customs Border Patrol has a detailed guide for commercial importers.
Need help wading through the myriad of details about importing? While your suppliers may have a shipping carrier they prefer to work with, depending on the product and the size of the shipment, you may want to choose your own transportation company, such as UPS, FedEx or DHL. These companies generally have logistics experts available to help you with the shipping process.
You can also hire a customs broker to get your goods through customs. Licensed by the Treasury Department, customs brokers advise importers on all the technical aspects of importing. They can prepare documents and file them for you, get any bonds that are needed, pay import duties and have the goods shipped from the port or airport of arrival to your location.
Another option to simplify the importing process is to find a manufacturer that offers a complete package from "factory to door," sometimes called a "Free on Board" or FOB package. These manufacturers not only make the product and package it for shipment, but also arrange for shipping, handle getting the product through U.S. customs upon arrival, and even ship the product to your location. Many of Alibaba's Gold Suppliers offer FOB packages.