Importing Is Not For Dummies

John Goodrich | August 14, 2011 | Import Basics
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Learning the regulations and the commercial competencies to be a successful importer is truly not for dummies. It also is not rocket science. With a little research and reading any smart person can learn how to do it.

Cargo_ship_at_port_with_sunsetFollowing is an excerpt from an email exchange I had with a reader of this column.
Dear John:
I read your recent article. Once again it was clever, witty and succinct. I appreciate your knack of delivering dry information in a concise, easy-to-read format.
I wonder if you could do me a favor and point me towards a simple central source for learning how to import from abroad to the U.S. for resale. I'm looking for a step-by-step, easy to understand source akin to "Importing for Dummies."
Douglas U.M. Bower, esq.
I knew it! First they oil you up with praise and then they want free consulting. Such is my life! I responded nevertheless.
Dear D.U.M.B.e.:
Thanks for the email and the effusive, well-deserved praise. I am pretty wonderful, aren't I? (This is only one of the reasons I am self-employed.)
There are a couple of resources that come to mind that introduce importing to the uninitiated. Consider the following:
  1. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued a free publication entitled Importing Into the United States. As you might imagine, this 211 page book is ego- or should I say Customs-centric focusing on the regulations and mechanics of the U.S. customs entry process. It does, however, break down the basics of the regulations.

  2. CBP also has an area on its website entitled "Tips for New Importers and Exporters." This site helps put some of the regulatory requirements into perspective.

  3. I've written an introductory book, How to Become an Importer.   It is a 75-page pamphlet that speaks to the broader importer issues of contracting terms, payment methods, logistics, as well as the customs entry process. I wrote the book with a former boss in mind. He was no dummy but was simply unaware of, and therefore underestimated, the complexities and elegance of the importing process.

    Each section of the book lays out critical steps in importing and challenges the reader to think about the direction they will take with their import program. I've also written a much longer tome (411 pages) that delves more deeply into the U.S. importing process.

  4. A quick search of uncovered an actual book entitled Import/Export for Dummies. I've not read the book, so I cannot offer a recommendation. A brief review of its table of contents shows it to be comprehensive with a focus on the purchasing and marketing sides of importing and exporting. At 360 pages it may be more than the simple source you are seeking.
Consider this as well. New importers face the challenge of understanding the myriad of regulations imposed on imported products from other government agencies. CBP is merely the "beat cop" assigned to enforce the regulations for about 40 other agencies. CBP summarizes its other agency responsibilities at its website. Do your research on those agency websites as well.
Best of luck to you!
Dear John:
So what you are saying is there is no single source?
OK, Doug, you busted me. You asked a simple question, and I gave the consultant's shotgun response of options.
Here is the concise answer: No, there is not a single source of simple step-by-step instructions for importing into the United States.
Now for the long answer. And there shouldn't be! Importing is not for dummies. It is far too complex to be boiled down into a step-by-step list. There are several reasons for this.
Each Supply Chain Is Unique
Each import supply chain is different requiring different solutions and business processes. I suppose those steps could be simplified and put into a generic checklist of sorts, but such a list would be a broad outline that would be almost meaningless. It would read something like this:
  1. Find a vendor and select a product
  2. Place a purchase order
  3. Pay the vendor
  4. Ship the product
  5. Clear U.S. Customs
  6. Take delivery
Each one of those simple steps involves a universe of complex details, options and decisions. The sources I mentioned in my first message to you give an insight into those complex details. As we delve into the details we would find that importers have their own methodologies that work for them.
Importing Is Not Linear
Consider also that importing is not a wholly linear process that lends itself to a step-by-step process. Like any business activity there is an order to things, and there is cause and effect. Because of the number of players involved in any import transaction several activities occur concurrently. I am an extremely linear (rigid?) thinker, yet I tend to look at importing as more like juggling.
Try this exercise. Attempt to flow-chart your import program in one simple line. It is highly unlikely you will be able to do so. It is more likely your page will resemble an electrical diagram than it does a supply chain flow.
It Takes Brain Power
Customs law requires importers to be informed of the regulations and to exercise a hyper due-diligence standard known as reasonable care in complying with them. There is no step-by-step instruction manual or third party service provider that can take on that responsibility for you.
We are dealing with U.S. Government regulation. When has that ever been simple? Any "how to" book by its nature will have to gloss over some of the details. At some point importers must dive into the source documents.
Get Reading!
I don’t mean to beat you up. As a newcomer to the trade I realize you came to me for advice. You somehow seem to have developed the perception that importing can be simplified into a step-by-step checklist. I am trying to challenge that impression.
I stand by my original response and advise you to explore the sites and publications I first recommended. These are introductory and are the first ball you may wish to throw in the air as you learn to juggle the various disciplines of commercial importing.
Learning the regulations and the commercial competencies to be a successful importer is truly not for dummies. It also is not rocket science. With a little research and reading any smart person can learn how to do it.
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