United States of America: Shipping Guide and eCommerce Market Insights

Your country cheat sheet covering shipping tips, customs clearance and import duties for your eCommerce international shipping needs, eCommerce insights, and more

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The United States is home to one of the world’s biggest economies and the second largest eCommerce markets in the world. Not all eCommerce purchases in the United States is local, with around one-third of them being cross-border. This represents a great opportunity for enterprising international merchants to capitalise on, particularly if you’re based in Southeast Asia.

It’s still ideal for your shipment to sail through customs, reaching your US customers safely and on time through understanding what can and cannot be imported along with knowing any customs hurdles you should be aware of.

Country IDUS
Capital CityWashington D.C.
Official LanguageEnglish (U.S.)
CurrencyUnited States Dollar (USD)
Population Size332 million

The United States of America’s eCommerce market value is US$ 792 billion in 2020 and expected to grow to US$1.648 billion by 2020 – a more than double increase between 2020 and 2025, as estimated by eMarketer.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the changes in lifestyle necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019 and early 2020. Adapting to spending more time at home such as adapting their schooling, working life, and leisure time to at home activities along with maintaining safe social distancing were some of the main reasons for eCommerce’s massive growth in this period.

You can find more details on this as well as our references in our USA eCommerce landscape article.

This is a living page that will frequently be updated with insights about:

Sources: Digital 2021 US | eMarketer


1. The United States’ De Minimis Rate, Informal and Formal Entries

The United States’ de minimis rate is USD 800.

Goods are valued using the FOB (Free On Board) valuation method which means the value of goods not including freight, insurance or other shipping related charges. In the United States, this is known as the price paid or actually payable.

The de minimis rate, when it comes to customs clearance, refers to a specific monetary value below which an import into the country will either be duty-free or be charged less duties and taxes.

In the United States, their de minimis arrangement is referred to Section 321 of the Tariff Act of 1930. If you’re shipping with Janio your shipment will go in via Entry Type 86 customs clearance, which means that goods valued below their de minimis rate of USD 800 enters the country duty-free.

Shipments above this amount will be subject to import duties and customs taxes depending on the country of origin and the type of goods. Countries with free trade agreements with the USA get preferential rates. To see how much tariffs would be levied on your type of goods for larger shipments, you can check out the Harmonised Tariff Schedule 2020 by the US International Trade Commission.

Shipments are treated as formal or informal shipments depending on their chargeable value. The following are the types of shipments and value cut-offs:

  • Informal entry – below USD 2,500
    • Eligible for Section 321 (de minimis) entry – below USD 800
  • Formal entry – above USD 2,500

Shipments that are above USD 800 require merchandise processing fee (MPF) payments. For informal entries, the MPF amount would be:

  • USD 2 for automated entries
  • USD 6 for manual entries not prepared by Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • USD 9 for manual entries that are prepared by Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

eCommerce purchases should usually be automated entries and pay an MPF of USD 2.

Shipping partners like Janio can advise you on the kinds of documents needed for your types of shipments and also the charges that you’ll need to prepare for. It’s ideal to ship via DDP (delivery duties paid) where the duty charges are paid in advance, which can help reduce the chances of your customers getting unpleasant surprises in the form of high customs charges.

Sources: Customs and Border Protection – Customs Value | Customs and Border Protection – Entry Type 86 Frequently Asked Questions | U.S. International Trade Commission

Next: Restricted and Prohibited Goods

2. Restricted and Prohibited Goods

Below is a non-exhaustive list of items that require licenses before going through customs clearance into the United States of America, also known as restricted items:

List of items that require permission to enter the country from different government agencies

  • Health and Beauty
    • Nutritional and Dietary Supplements 
    • Medicine and Drugs
    • Cosmetics
    • Dental Instruments (including toothbrushes)
    • Veterinary Products (including pet medicine or vitamins, dental instruments, etc)
    • Medical Items and Pharmaceuticals
  • Contact Lenses and Eye Wear
  • Consumer Electronics
    • CD-ROMs, CD Players
    • Computers with CD/DVD drives
    • Microwave Ovens
    • Televisions with cathode ray tubes
    • Infrared Products
    • Batteries and Products with Batteries
  • Chemicals 
  • Tobacco Products

Prohibited items that cannot be imported into the market:

List of items that are denied entry into the USA under any circumstance

  • Drugs and Medicine prohibited by the FDA
  • Distilled spirit absinthe (except certain diluted brands)
  • Merchandise from embargoed countries
  • Items made with Dog and Cat Fur
  • Counterfeit Trademark and Copyrighted Articles

Some Items are also tougher to import via B2C into America, including:

  • Live goods
  • Perishable goods (foodstuff e.g. meat, fish, vegetables, fruits)
  • All liquids
  • Vaporisers and shisha molasses
  • Chemicals and Biologicals (bacterial cultures, excretions, fungi, arthropods, mollusks, viruses, or vectors for research, biological or pharmaceutical use, alcohol/absinthe, soil)
  • Narcotics and psychotropic substances, drug paraphernalia, controlled substances
  • Coins, bank notes and other valuables, such as gold
  • Weapons/ Firearms
  • Tea

This list may change depending on government regulations. Visit the official customs page for the latest information.

You can get more information on the USA’s restricted and prohibited items and get their references here.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Next: Required Customs Documents

3. Required Customs Documents

Documents required by the United States of America’s Customs Border and Protection customs clearance include:

Packing ListGives product details, shipment volume in KG or CBM, and serves as a checklist to ensure shipment has been packed correctly or not.
Commercial InvoiceGives total shipment value usually in US dollar. Helps to determine the import duties and taxes, and eligibility of shipment.

In addition to the above, to clear customs for import into the United States via Type 86 clearance, your shipping partner would generally be able to help you with the following documents:

  • Airway Bill (Master Airway Bill and House Airway Bill)*
  • Section 321 Type 86 eCommerce Manifest*
  • Cargo Manifest*
  • Certificate of origin (if needed)
  • Insurance policy (if needed)
  • Other relevant permits, licenses, and certificates depending on items shipped (needed for bulk imports)

These provide the basics of how you can get your products through U.S. customs. For a fuller guide on how you can clear United States customs, you might want to check out:

Source: Customs and Border Protection – Entry Type 86 Frequently Asked Questions 

Next: Section 2: How to Ship to United States in 6 Steps


Shipping from one country to another, be it an eCommerce delivery or a full container moved via sea freight follows a general set of steps:

You can click on any of the links above to find out more about each step

steps in cross border shipping


Next: 1. First Mile Delivery in the Origin Country

First-mile Delivery in the Origin Country

The first-mile stage in international shipping refers to the first stage of the shipping supply chain, where it either leaves the merchant’s address, be it a storefront, office, or warehouse. Prior to your goods leaving your storage facility, the product has to be packaged and labelled appropriately to facilitate smooth cross border shipping.

Great preparation can help minimise the chances of your shipment going missing or getting damaged during delivery. Generally, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Engage the right shipping partner
  • Packaging your products
  • Choosing the right service levels
  • Providing shipping details
  • Printing and attaching shipping labels and documents to your package(s)
  • Hand over shipment to carriers

If you’d like a more in-depth to each of these steps, you can find more at this preparation guide for merchants.

You can also find out more about what the first mile entails in our first-mile article.


Next: Origin Country Customs Clearance

Origin Country Customs Clearance

As your shipment arrives at the origin country’s port or airport, the parcel would need to be cleared by local customs for export. This is where the customs officers will inspect the parcel’s contents and shipping documents and determine if it’s exportable from Singapore. If you’re planning to ship with B2B, you may want to check if you need to produce specific customs documentation for export on your local customs websites. You can find a list of these on our Customs Clearance in SEA resource page.


Next: Freight or Mid-mile to the United States

Freight or Mid-mile to the United States

When it comes to freight options, shipping your goods to the United States can generally be done in two ways – air freight and sea freight. For instance, if you are shipping with Janio from Singapore to the United States, your shipment will land at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

Costs will be based on the greater between volumetric weight and actual weight.

Volumetric Weight Formula

For merchants shipping B2C parcels, air freight is the faster option, especially if you don’t have a consistent order volume and need your parcels to reach the destination country quickly.

On the other hand, sea freight is generally more cost-effective for shipping in bulk. However, it is slightly slower than air freight. When managing your inventory, you’ll need to take into account the estimated delivery date so that you can plan out your supply chain accordingly.

Next: Required Customs Documents

Customs Clearance in the United States

Once your item arrives at your arranged port or airport in the United States of America, your shipment will be transported into a customs warehouse for clearance. This is where the customs officers will inspect your parcel and shipping documents and determine if your product is allowed to enter the United States.

If you’re shipping B2C to the United States with Janio, you’ll be using Section 321 Type 86 clearance which caters well to eCommerce shipments into the United States below USD 800 per shipment per person.

To clear customs for import into the United States via Type 86 clearance, you or your shipping partner would generally need to provide the following documents:

  • Commercial Invoice
  • Packing List*
  • Airway Bill (Master Airway Bill and House Airway Bill)*
  • Section 321 Type 86 eCommerce Manifest*
  • Cargo Manifest*
  • Certificate of origin (if needed)
  • Insurance policy (if needed)
  • Other relevant permits, licenses, and certificates depending on items shipped (if needed)

*handled by shipping partners like Janio

While the list of documents may look big, you only need to provide sufficient information for just the commercial invoice if you’re shipping with Janio. With Janio, you can key in all the required information for the commercial invoice, such as the item description, item quantity, weight, dimensions, and the like in our merchant portal, which will help ensure you’ve not missed any required data. Documents such as the airway bills, packing list, Section 321 Type 86 eCommerce manifest, cargo manifest will be arranged by Janio and our partners.

More information about this is available in this guide’s customs clearance section.


Next: Distribution and Last Mile in the United States

Distribution and Last Mile in the United States

Now that your shipment has reached a distribution centre it will be sorted based on your consignee’s destination. If your order’s destination is reachable by land transport, it will immediately be shipped there. If the destination is in a further part of the country, your shipment will take an additional domestic line-haul flight to an airport closer to the destination before the above happens.

The last mile delivery leg of the journey is where your parcel will be sent from the destination warehouse or distribution centre to your consignee’s address. During the last mile delivery stage, your logistics service provider will make multiple trips to ensure that your shipment is received by your consignee.

To get more details on how shipping from Southeast Asia to the USA works, check out our full guide on how shipping from Singapore to the USA works.


Our next section covers the United States’ eCommerce insights to power your online promotions and campaigns.

Next: Find out more What’s Driving the United States’ eCommerce Market?


Why the U.S.? Key stats of the U.S’s eCommerce market

Quick Statistics on USA’s eCommerce Market:

  • Population – 332.0 million people
  • Total Consumer spending
    • USD 12.5 trillion in 2020 vs USD 13 trillion in 2019
  • B2C eCommerce Sales Total Revenue
    • USD 792 billion in 2020,
  • Internet Usage Statistics (as % of USA population)
    • Internet Penetration – 90%
    • eCommerce Penetration – 77%
    • Social Media Penetration – 72.3%
  • De Minimis Rate – USD 800

Major Factors Driving eCommerce In the United States of America:

COVID-19 accelerated eCommerce adoption beyond lockdowns

  • Online sales jumped from US$ 598 billion in 2019 to US$ 861 billion in 2020 according to Digital Commerce 360
  • The height of the lockdown and shelter-at-home was between March and April 2020.
  • McKinsey found that 70 – 80% of American shoppers who tried a new shopping behaviour intended to continue it beyond the pandemic.

Shoppers show signs of pent up demand, but Delta variant fears and drying stimulus cause some concern

    • 2021 was initially seeing a retail recovery which was attributed to stimulus payouts and increasing vaccination numbers
    • However, this hit a snag around August 2021 with rising COVID cases due to the spread of the Delta variant

    Younger shoppers lead the way in eCommerce purchases and buy based on purpose-alignment and value for money

    • Many US shoppers switch brands in search of better value for money, purpose-alignment, quality and novelty
    • Younger shoppers and more affluent shoppers were showing more interest in non-essential products like fashion

    One-third of US shoppers purchase cross-border and many US shoppers trust global or local brands

    • Two of the most popular markets that US shoppers buy from include China and the United Kingdom
    • One of the primary drivers for US shoppers purchasing cross-border is better prices

    Key shopping events were increasingly moving online

    • 2020’s Black Friday weekend shattered online sales records
    • Offline stores were quieter, with many brick and mortar stores seeing far less foot traffic during the weekend

    We dive much deeper into these four factors in both our downloadable United States eCommerce guide and also our overview on the U.S.’s eCommerce drivers.


    Next: United States 2021 eCommerce Consumer Snapshot



    Brookings | JP Morgan | Digital Commerce 360 | Practical eCommerce | Oberlo | Digital 2021 U.S | Digital Commerce 360 | McKinsey Consumer Sentiment in the US during the coronavirus crisis | McKinsey – The great consumer shift: Ten charts that show how US shopping behavior is changing

    United States 2021 eCommerce Consumer Snapshot

    Snapshot of United States Online Shopper Insights - number of online shoppers, US$ 1,686 average annual spend, why they switch brands and pent up demand from younger and more affluent consumers

    Top Reasons for  United States Consumers To Switch Brands

    McKinsey held a survey to find out United States shoppers’ top reasons for brand switching behaviour. These reasons were then combined into an overarching reason as covered below:


    Value’s reasons included better value, better prices or promotions, better shipping and delivery cost and larger package sizes. Considering the United States’ current uncertain economic climate as of Q3 2021, there are likely more consumers who are tightening their belts. Around 40 per cent of US consumers have cut back on spending on nonessentials, and are just focusing on basic necessities like groceries and household supplies.

    On the other hand, searching for good deals is also a key reason why US shoppers buy from overseas too., Around a third of US eCommerce purchases are cross-border (US$ 270.1 billion out of US$ 795 billion). The top 2 countries they buy from are China (49%) and the United Kingdom (12%). Just like back in Southeast Asia, price competitiveness is one avenue to factor into your US eCommerce campaigns.


    Purpose Alignment or Purpose Driven

    Purpose driven reasons include buying products that are more sustainable or better for the environment, buying from a company that shares their values, and buying from a company that treats its employees well.

    In terms of sustainability, Forbes found that online searches for “sustainable fashion” tripled between 2016 and 2019 which they credited to Millennial and Gen Z consumers. The demand for more sustainable options led to established brands adapting their products to include waterless products, upcycling, carbon neutrality or refillable packaging solutions, Mintel reports.

    The State of Fashion 2021 mentions that “54 per cent of consumers believe brands ‘have an important role to play in social conversations about issues like #MeToo and race relations’…66 per cent of consumers would stop or significantly reduce shopping at a brand if they found it was not treating its employees or suppliers’ employees fairly.”


    Quality and Novelty

    The final two reasons above include the following statements: Better quality, products that are natural or organic and trying products they’ve never tried before or going for changes from their normal routine.

    Putting it all together, what this means for merchants is that there are multiple ways you can position your products depending on who you’re targeting. Price competition is good for the mass market, but you may also be able to attract other audiences by catering to their sense of purpose, sustainability or just pitching yourself as an interesting alternative.

    Next: Popular eCommerce Product Categories in the United States




    McKinsey – Consumer sentiment in the US during the coronavirus crisis | McKinsey – The great consumer shift: Ten charts that show how US shopping behavior is changing | Paypal | Beroe | Practical eCommerce | Forbes | Mintel | USA Today

    Popular eCommerce Product Categories in the United States

    2020 saw lockdowns initiated across the United States around Q2 2021, with the height of it taking place between late March and early April. These restrictions included “shelter-at-home” orders or similar initiatives to minimise social activity and reduce COVID-19 infections.

    This increased need to adapt to life at home informed most people’s purchase decisions. With work from home arrangements showing signs of persisting after the lockdowns, some of the changes discussed below might stay for the foreseeable future.

    These are the product categories that McKinsey noted saw sustained growth throughout 2020, which means that their growth didn’t slow down for the whole year:

    • Software and Electronics
    • Cosmetics
    • Sporting Apparel
    • Home
    • Pets

    You can find a more detailed breakdown of what drove the purchases of these items in the United States in our post on United States eCommerce Consumers.

    Next: Major Online Sales Events in the United States


    Primary Sources: USA Today | McKinsey – Consumer sentiment in the US during the coronavirus crisis

    Major Online Sales Events in the United States of America

    Black Friday and Cyber Monday are known as being the biggest shopping days in the United States. Frenzied shoppers flooding into stores or fighting each other for amazing deals tend to be part of the experience each year.

    If you have established a consumer foothold in the USA, chances are you are already preparing for the “U.S. cyber five” weekend, which saw massive online channel growth relative to quieter offline sales. With the current COVID case uncertainty in Q3 2021, there is a decent chance that this shopping period will also take place largely online.

    In 2021, Thanksgiving weekend falls from 25th November to 29th November. 2022’s Thanksgiving weekend falls on the 24th This weekend is known as the “U.S. cyber five” which consist of:

    Event Name2021 Dates2022 Dates
    Thanksgiving Day25th Nov 202124th Nov 2022
    Black Friday26th Nov 202126th Nov 2022
    Small Business Saturday27th Nov 202127th Nov 2022
    Sunday28th Nov 202128th Nov 2022
    Cyber Monday29th Nov 202129th Nov 2022


    Next: Section 4: Public Holidays and Top Import and Export Countries


    Non-working days in 2021

    Saturday, Sunday and public holidays are non-working days. Please expect shipment delays on these days.

    List of public holidays:

    2021 DateHoliday
    Jan 01New Year’s Day
    Jan 18Martin Luther King Jr. Day
    Feb 15President’s Day
    May 31Memorial Day
    Jun 18Juneteenth (in lieu)
    Jun 18Juneteenth (in lieu)
    Jul 04Independence Day
    Jul 05Independence Day (in lieu)
    Sep 06Labor Day
    Oct 11US Indigenous People’s Day
    Oct 11Columbus Day
    Nov 11Veterans Day
    Nov 25 – 26Thanksgiving
    Dec 24Christmas Day (in lieu)
    Dec 25Christmas Day
    Dec 27Christmas Day (in lieu)
    Dec 30New Year’s Day Holiday
    Dec 31New Year’s Day (in lieu)
    2022 DateHoliday
    Jan 01New Year’s Day
    Jan 17Martin Luther King Jr. Day
    Feb 21President’s Day
    May 30Memorial Day
    Jun 19Juneteenth (in lieu)
    Jun 20Juneteenth (in lieu)
    Jul 04Independence Day
    Sep 05Labor Day
    Oct 10US Indigenous People’s Day
    Oct 10Columbus Day
    Nov 11Veterans Day
    Nov 24 – 25Thanksgiving
    Dec 25Christmas Day
    Dec 26Christmas Day (in lieu)


    The United States’ Top Import and Export Partners

    5United Kingdom



    Sources: Office Holidays (2021) | Office Holidays (2022) | World Bank (2021)

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