In our earlier USA eCommerce trends post, we covered that the USA is home to one of the largest eCommerce markets in the world, clocking in USD 744.1 billion in total B2C eCommerce revenue in 2019 alone. If you’re a cross-border eCommerce merchant, it helps to know that about a third of online shoppers in the USA shop internationally too, helped by the United States’ high de minimis rate.
But those seeking to ship to the USA – eCommerce merchants or otherwise – need to be aware of what can and cannot be shipped into the country to avoid any trouble during customs clearance.
All countries have agencies that regulate the movement of goods to protect the safety of their people or their interests. In the U.S., the U.S. Customs Border and Protection (CBP) enforces hundreds of laws on behalf of the various government agencies that regulate the movement of various types of goods into America.
To help you navigate U.S. customs, we’ve compiled a list of restricted items that may be commonly shipped but require additional clearance as well as a list of prohibited items that absolutely cannot be imported into the country.
Interested in shipping from Southeast Asia to the US? Reach out to us via the button below to discuss more with us!
In customs clearance, restricted items refer to items that are regulated by government agencies and require additional steps before they can be cleared at customs. Usually, these come in the form of meeting certain standards set by the relevant government agency and registering or getting a license from that agency before permission can be granted to import these items.
Below is a summarised list of restricted items. For a more comprehensive list, you can check out the CBP’s ‘Importing into the US’ guide.1
US imports of food, drugs, devices, and cosmetics is governed by provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The Food and Drug Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services administers this act.
This act prohibits imports of items that are adulterated, misbranded or are defective, unsafe, filthy or created in unsanitary conditions. Some of the items below will be subject to inspection by the FDA and may need one more day to factor this in. Others require FDA clearance.
Eyeglass lenses and frames must comply with FDA requirements while frames with demonstration lenses must be registered with the FDA. Prescription lenses require a separate medical device listing number.
‘Demonstration use only’ prescription lenses require one of the following:
To find more information about this, check out the FDA’s official page.3
Certain consumer electronics require clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These tend to include products that emit waves such as infrared or lasers. Examples include:
Here is the FDA’s guide on ‘How to Get Your Electronic Product on the U.S. Market’.4
Can also include ink used in pens – Requires proper certification of compliance or exemption from requirements is present
Items that contain chemicals in bulk or as part of a mixture or article containing a chemical mixture, which can include pens, fall under this category. Clearance of these types of items requires either:
The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) regulates the manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, use, or disposal of any chemical substance or mixture that could be risky to people’s health and the environment. You can check out the TSCA requirements for importing chemicals on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official page.5
Shipments of tobacco products like cigarettes are being restricted by an increasing number of states. Shipments of these products should be sent to recipients who are licensed and authorized by relevant federal, state, provincial, or local law or regulation.
Wood and wood packaging materials are subject to the Lacey Act6 and follow International Plant Protection Convention guidelines.7
Rosewood – imports of manufactured rosewood items like furniture, instruments, etc are allowed if the shipper provides a valid Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit for export from the exporter’s origin country or territory.
For the purposes of our article, we won’t cover meat products.
Certain items that are made using animal-by-products like apparel, jewellery, shoes, or belts may be prohibited from import into the US. These include:
For more info, check out the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.8
The CBP mentions that condiments, vinegars, oils, packaged spices, honey, coffee and tea can be brought into the U.S. However, bush meat made from African wildlife and almost anything continuing meat products like bouillon, soup mixes and others are not permissible.
For more details, check out the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website.9
These items under most circumstances cannot be imported into the United States. You can get more details about them at CBP’s prohibited and restricted items list.10
Getting items trapped in customs is never a fun experience. Keep all that to a minimum with Janio Asia’s customs and logistics expertise whether you’re shipping to the United States or to and throughout Southeast Asia.
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