Import duty and import taxes are far and away one of the most confusing subjects for importers to master. Import duty refers to the tax an importer must pay to the US Government in order to bring foreign products into the commerce of the United States.
Import duty can be calculated in a variety of ways, but most import duties are figured as a percentage of the declared value of the commodity. Import duty differs from product to product and is dependent on the commodity being imported, its declared value, its country of origin, and other factors like anti-dumping legislation and quota controls. Import duty values can be as low as zero or as high as 100% (or more) of the product’s declared value.
Import duty is due for payment when the goods arrive in the United States at a US Customs port with the intent to unload the goods and enter them into the commerce of the United States.
Paying the import duty is the responsibility of the importer, who is indebted to the Government of the United States for the importation of their goods. Making a payment to a third part (an agent or Customs broker) is not in itself sufficient for repayment. Importers are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the debt is settled.
Import duty payments can be made in two ways:
- Through a licensed Customs Broker (usually by check or bank draft made out to the broker, or separate checks to US Customs and the broker).
- Or directly via check or bank draft to US Customs.
The importer is obligated to pay import duty against any merchandise they’ve commissioned for import. Failure to pay can result in a lien against the merchandise, or in the case of a deceased, bankrupt or insolvent importer, a claim against their estate.
Import duty is based on the imported item’s Harmonized Tariff Schedule classification. Every item imported into the US is identified by a ten digit HTS classification that determines its rate of duty. Prior to importing an item, first locate its classification number and reference it in the tariff. If your import originates from a country with normal trade relations with the US (not Cuba, Syria, North Korea, etc.) your import duty will be listed next to the item’s classification in the first column. The import duty may be based on a percentage of the declared value, a per-unit minimum charge, its weight or mass, or a combination.
Goods may be imported to the United States subject to import restrictions. Importers of goods may be subject to tax (“customs duty” or “tariff”) on the imported value of the goods. “Imported goods are not legally entered until after the shipment has arrived within the port of entry, delivery of the merchandise has been authorized by CBP, and estimated duties have been paid.” Importation and declaration and payment of customs duties is done by the importer of record, which may be the owner of the goods, the purchaser, or a licensed customs broker.
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