One of the most costly mishaps an exporter can face is to get their goods to the destination and realize that something was overlooked. Either they made a mistake, the deal was structured incorrectly, or responsibility was overlooked.
Often, this happens because sellers get seduced by the thought of a sale and put on blinders for the realities of it. Unfortunately, they end up in a difficult and costly situation because they didn’t think about what steps needed to be taken.
We spoke with EJ Clyman, business development manager at Apex Logistics International, to find out how exporters can avoid this situation by identifying import country requirements. Here’s what he shared.
A Look at Import Country Requirements
Import country regulations vary widely from country to country. Just as exporters in the U.S. are subject to the nuance of U.S. regulations, countries across the world have varying requirements for importing—many of which begin on the originating side. Requirements extend to shipping (hazmat, dangerous goods, routing, etc.), customs, and beyond, and at customs, different agencies require different things.
How to Identify Import Country Requirements
Fortunately there are a number of different resources exporters can use to identify import requirements in the countries to which they ship. We identify several of these below:
The Export.gov website is an amazing resource for finding people who can help you with import country requirements. It’s also a virtual home base for resources from across the U.S. government that assist American businesses and exporters in planning their international sales strategies.
The U.S. Commercial Service
The U.S. Commercial Service and Export Assistance Centers are priceless resources for companies of every size. They offer a lot of no-cost information and advice and can stand behind you as you begin exporting. The Commercial Service also has offices overseas that can help you find information about destination countries. You can find your local Export Assistance Center or search for international locations using their search tool.
State Export Trade Offices
Your state may also have trade offices that can help you identify specific requirements for the countries you’re interested in exporting to.
Your Freight Forwarder
After you review the resources listed above, a good freight forwarding partner will have their offices overseas contact the seller’s client and vet them out. Freight forwarders are “boots on the ground” across the world. They offer a line of communication and local experts who know the culture, language and process and can get you information quickly.
A trusted freight forwarder can also confirm what you may or may not know about the client and country and make sure details about the shipment are not overlooked.
Chambers of Commerce and Trade Mission Websites
Chambers of commerce and foreign trade mission websites in partner countries can direct you to official channels for import requirements and be excellent sources for networking.
Foreign Embassies or Consulates
Robert Feke, senior director at Kentetsu World Express (USA), sent me an email after this blog post was first published with a few more suggestions for identifying import requirements. His first suggestion is to check with the foreign embassy or consulate of the country where you will be sending the items. You'll find a complete list of foreign embassies in the U.S. on the State Department website.
Your Customer or Customer's Broker
Feke also suggested asking the ultimate consignee or their broker for their documentation and other import requirements. This should really be the first place you go for this information, since the importer will typically know what they need. In fact, in the blog post, Without an International Sales Contract, You're Setting Yourself Up for Failure, I identified documentation as one of the key items that should be addressed in your sales contracts.
Export Compliance Software
Shipping Solutions Professional export documentation and compliance software includes an Export Compliance Module that features a Document Determination Wizard. Using data compiled by in-country professionals, the Wizard identifies the standard documents required for the entire export journey including what's required by U.S. and foreign customs.
Register for a free online demo of the Shipping Solutions software to see how the Export Compliance Module works.
A Note of Caution
Before you start Googling, keep in mind that there is a ton of information on the internet, but much of it is noise. Before you trust a site you’ve searched, make sure you vet out the source. You don’t want to trust outdated, incorrect sites.
The Consequences of Ignoring Import Country Requirements
Not Getting Paid
If a transaction can’t be completed, a sale can’t be completed, and the seller won’t get paid.
Being Out of Compliance
If you ignore and are out of compliance with U.S. regulations, you may face harsh fines and penalties from the U.S. government. This is the same for your destination country. You could subject your own company or clients to fees or liabilities with their own government. By following import country requirements, you reduce your risk profile altogether.
By knowing where to look for information about import country requirements, you can be proactive about making sure your exports arrive on time—and you’ll get paid more quickly.
This article was first published in October 2016 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.