How To Import Goods From Overseas For Your Online Store

Recently, one of my readers asked for some details involving importing goods, dealing with customs and paying importation taxes. The process may seem complicated at first but isn’t really that bad once you’ve gone through the process once.

Importing your goods from overseas is the best way to obtain quality products at rock bottom prices. But as with all good things, there are several logistical issues you have to work out in order to be successful.

In this article, I’ll try to provide a brief overview of what to expect when importing goods from overseas along with some details and tips on how to get your goods shipped directly to your place of business.

freighter

Photo by Ronnie44052

What To Expect When Importing

  • Long Lead Times – Most overseas vendors won’t even begin making your products until you actually place an order and put down a small down payment to cover the cost of materials. Depending on the nature of your items, expect to wait anywhere from one to four months to get your products manufactured. Very rarely will any vendor actually carry any significant inventory so you must plan ahead. When we order the linens for our online store, the lead times are typically 3 months long so we really have to plan ahead and anticipate demand.
  • A Hefty Minimum Order – If you are ordering products to be manufactured overseas, expect to place a pretty large minimum order. Every manufacturer will have their own minimums but don’t be embarrassed to ask before ordering. If you are just starting out, take whatever you consider a large order and multiply that number by 10.
  • Payment Terms – Most if not all manufacturers expect to be paid by wire transfer. Usually, you have to put down a certain amount of money upfront to cover the initial costs and then pay the balance once the items are ready to be shipped. There are escrow services available to handle payment issues, but in general, transactions go much faster when there’s mutual trust between you and your vendor. Of course, you’ll have to establish this trust over time.
  • Quality control – Quality will be an issue in the beginning. In general, it will take several iterations in order for you to get your products exactly the way you want them.
  • Language Barriers – Many vendors in Asia will not speak English very well. But as long as you keep your communication along the lines of email, things will go much smoother. Most vendors are able to read English much better than they can understand the spoken language.

Preparing For Your Shipment

So you’ve ordered your products and they are finally ready to be shipped to you. What now? There are two main ways to get your goods into your home country, by air and by sea.

But before you initiate your shipments, make sure you ask for the following documents from your vendor. These will be required in order to clear customs.

  • A Commercial Invoice – The declared value of the items
  • A Packing List – What you are importing
  • A Detail Sheet – Outlines how the products are manufactured so customs can determine the duty classification
  • Bill of Lading

Shipping By Air

Shipping your items by air is by far the easiest option but also the most expensive. Expect to pay between 5-6x more to ship by air versus shipping by sea.

Personally, we use DHL for all of our international air shipments. Our vendors all have accounts with DHL and shipping with them is a breeze because they take care of everything.

Basically, the vendor provides DHL with all of the materials mentioned above and then DHL will transport all of your goods directly to the address that you specify. If this is your first time importing goods from overseas, you will be contacted by customs to provide your social security card or a company id number. Just have this information handy once your goods have shipped and you are all set.

DHL will also send you a bill so that you can pay any and all duties associated with your imported goods.

Shipping By Sea

Shipping by sea is a much bigger headache but totally worth it if you are importing a large volume of goods. As mentioned before you can easily save between 5-6x off of shipping by air.

The key to accepting shipments by sea is to hire a good customs agent. This is absolutely required especially if this is your first time importing by sea. Do not try and do things on your own unless you know exactly what you are doing.

This is what the customs agent will take care of for you.

  • Customs Documentation – They will take care of any and all documentation required in the entire process
  • Customs Entry – They will take care of getting your goods from the port directly to your office
  • Customs Duty – They will take care of calculating and billing you for any duties associated with your goods.
  • Customs Single Entry Bond – You are required to buy a bond that acts as insurance with Customs in the event you should default on the customs duties. Your customs agent will take care of this for you .

Of course all of these services come at a cost. For our last shipment, we paid over 300 dollars to our agent but it was worth every penny. We got our goods through customs swiftly and without hassle.

To give you an idea of the savings, our last shipment would have cost 1600 dollars by air, but by sea it only cost us 250 + 300 = 550 dollars. Overall, we saved about 3x. The tradeoff was that it took over 3 weeks to receive our shipment as opposed 4 days by air.

Do you have additional questions? Feel free to drop me a line or check out some of my other articles on product sourcing.

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35 thoughts on “How To Import Goods From Overseas For Your Online Store”

  1. Russel says:

    I really enjoy reading your online blog about starting your own online store, but I am most fascinated that you write an article about the need for a ‘contact area’- and i can’t find one on MWQHJ.com!

    Yes please, I would like to see your store.

    Keep up the good work. Your writing skills are impeccable.

    Russ

  2. Steven says:

    Great read. If shipping by seas, how do you go about getting the product from the port to my business. Is that something the customs agent handles?

    1. @Steven
      Usually you can have your customs agent handle this. Most of the ones I spoke with handle the delivery which is worth paying for.

  3. john says:

    very informative article.
    i am in the process of importing from thailand to uk for the first time.
    my seller in thailand seems to think he can send via shipping direct to my door and i just settle the bill.
    this surely cany be true can it,as who would clear uk customs?
    what should i be expected to pay: vat 17.5% duty 4% agents fees,admin etc?
    having difficulty rounding it up to an accurate figure.
    by the way,the shipment will be 200 pairs of trousers so weight/size shouldnt be an issue.
    thanks for any advice

  4. Hi–Your article on how to import from overseas was VERY helpful. I’m in the process and glad that I found your site! How do I get a customs agent? I have an amount worth about $7,500 coming into the US. Thx!

  5. Brian says:

    I have the same issue as john. A company in china claims they can ship my order for $450 all the way to my door. Can this be trusted, or will it be caught up in customs and then I get a non-expected bill? They never told me I needed to do anything on my end.

  6. Billy says:

    hI
    i AM LIVING IN CYPRUS AND THINKING OF STARTING A BUSINESS I HAVE GOT A COMPANY TO SUPPLY ME WITH GOODS (BUILDING MATERAILS)BUT I WAS TOLD I NEED A IMPORT LICENSE IS THIS CORRECT
    PS GOODS COMEING FROM UK

  7. Juan says:

    I found the “customs agent” part confusing, maybe it was just me. But after much searching I believe the best term to use is customs broker, if I am not mistaken. Seemed to bring up plenty of results and options for me on google. Just in case any of you were thrown of by that. Regardless though, thank for the information. Very useful like the rest of your articles.

    1. @Juan
      Yes you are correct. I use the terms customs broker and customs agent interchangeably. Sorry for the confusion

  8. Francis says:

    Hi, thanks for the information. But I’d like to know, is it possible for me to buy goods and ship by sea, but the goods I buy are not in a big volume?

    1. Mandy Ke says:

      It is not a good bargain to ship the small volume by sea. Cos you need to pay the custom clearance/sheet which might called you some money.

  9. Maureen Lischke says:

    I want to import scarves from Peru for resale at my store. I have the manufacturer. They will be shipped by air. Do I have to have an import license or can I just place the order and pay the duty?

    1. You will need an import license. Basically if you are just ordering samples or goods for personal use then you don’t need a license however as soon as you start importing for the purpose of resale you need to be registered with your country. Hope this helps

  10. Aaron says:

    I wanted to know your contact Info. Like a phone number and an Email address.

  11. Brian says:

    I found a resource page which publishes the 20 most popular products which buyers have searched and inquired for. And also the data is actually updated monthly.

    I thought it’s really a very good resource because the data shows what kind of products are buyers looking for! Here’s the link: http://www.globalsources.com/ST/20-Most-Popular-Products.html

    Let me know if it’s of any use. Thanks!

    Regards,
    Brian

  12. Laila Khalid says:

    Hi,

    I am importing items for the first time. Your article helped me more than anything else I’ve read. A quick question, should I be scared of only custom duties? Or are there other hidden charges I’m not aware of.

  13. curtis patterson says:

    hi very good information my question is what if any paper work do you need to get from the supplier to get started and also how do go about doing everything possible to make sure they are on the up and up

  14. Robert says:

    Hi If I am importing products from South America would my customs agent be in South America or in Canada? The products are being imported to Canada.

    Thanks this blog was a great read.

    Robert

  15. Ali says:

    Hello,

    Thanks for the good info, i have a question, does the 300$ you paid to the agent include agent fees? or is it 300$ for the paper work only, and the agent you hired should he be in the same country you import from, or the country you live in? or it doesnt matter?

    Thanks

  16. Edward Richtin says:

    Excellent read! I have been searching for useful information to begin my own import process and am glad I came across this post. Another link I found on how to import from china which may be useful is here: http://www.howtoimportkit.com/is-my-supplier-from-china-is-a-scammer/

    A piece on how to tell if a Chinese factory / supplier is a scammer or not.

    I look forward to reading your other posts on importing and on the online store Steve! Thanks for writing!

  17. It’s easy to handling small quantity importing issue.
    Can simply ship via fedex, ups, dhl.
    You will get goods in hands.

  18. Hello,

    I don’t know how old this forum is but I am starting a company that will import goods, but I will have small quantities. I actually will be going overseas to bring them back or to personally ship them while I am there. I will be bringing them from France. Do I need a broker for this? The amount of purchase would be around $500-$1,000. Thank you for any assistance you can give.

    1. Anouk says:

      Hi Katrina,

      You don’t need a broker to import goods, but make sure you are aware of the documentation you will need in order to import your goods. If the quantity is very small (eg: a few samples) you can declare then as personal goods.

      If you ask your vendor to provide a certificate of origin, for some goods you can claim a preferential duty.

      I import from Canada and we use the B3 form for commercial goods but I don’t know about the U.S.

      Good luck !

      1. Thank you for responding. The small amount will not be samples, they will actually be product. I buy from local street markets in Paris and will get receipts but there is not a vendor, per say. Do you have any suggestions regarding exporting after already paying the market price? I negotiate and get great deals. Thanks again.

      2. Anouk says:

        You just need to keep all your receipts and declare your purchases at your arrival when you go through customs. They will charge you taxes/duties that you must pay. A broker is useful if you import goods by sea which I think it’s not your case for now.

        I clicked on your link, I think you have a really nice niche! Parlez-vous assez bien le français pour négocier avec les vendeurs?

  19. Oui, je parle français (J’ai un diplôme en français) et je suis allé au marché et négocié à plusieurs reprises d’acheter pour moi-même. J’ai aussi beaucoup d’amis là aussi si j’ai besoin d’aide. Merci pour votre aide.

    1. Anouk says:

      De rien :-)

  20. Nancy Escarzaga says:

    Hi, I want to import some goods from Sud America, I have a work permit, TN visa and I live in Michigan, can I import with my name or SSN even if I am an alien? do I need to creat a company with the IRS? I have my regular job but i want to start my own business aside. thaks a lot !!

  21. Kieana Butts says:

    Hi i will like to know do i need my license to start a online business? N if i do how do i go about getting them? Where over seas should i buy baby clothes,purse, shoes, dishes at

  22. Silviya k says:

    Hi,
    Im trying to start importing goods from China to US but still dont know how will work. Im trying to order few samples from each vendors by air to test it out but dont know how to deal with custom as i dont have license yet as i dont know how will work and dont need to make this investment yet. My question is to anybody who can give an experienced advice. If i claim as personal use goods what do i tell the vendors to do and to provide…how does it work..im not sure how to proceed wo any surprises later?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Anouk says:

      You don’t need a license to import samples. It’s just a regular shipping.

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