Import Licensing, Restrictions, and Prohibitions

By John J. Capela

As a general rule, the U.S. Customs Service doesn’t require an importer to have a license or permit to import goods into the U.S. However, you may be required to have a license, permit, or other certification, depending on the commodity.

The importation of certain classes of merchandise may be prohibited or restricted. These prohibitions and restrictions have been put in place by U.S. Customs and specific government agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the FDA, and so on) to protect the economy and security of the U.S., protect American consumers, and preserve plant and animal life. Some items are also subject to quantity limits on imports (called quotas) or trade agreements.

The following list provides various classes of articles for which you need a license or permit from the responsible agency. (You can find the name of the responsible agency by talking to commodity specialist teams.)

  • Agricultural products

    • Alcohol and alcoholic beverages

    • Cheese, milk, and dairy products

    • Fruits, vegetables, and nuts

    • Insects

    • Livestock and animals

    • Meat, poultry, and egg products

    • Plants and plant products

    • Seeds

    • Tobacco-related products

    • Wood packing materials

  • Arms, ammunition, and radioactive material

  • Conflict diamonds

  • Consumer products — energy conservation

    • Commercial and industrial equipment

    • Household appliances

  • Consumer products — safety

    • Art materials (which may be toxic or flammable)

    • Bicycles and bicycle helmets

    • Cigarette lighters and multipurpose lighters

    • Fireworks

    • Flammable fabrics

    • Lead paint

    • Toys and children’s articles

  • Electronic products

    • Radiation and sonic radiation-producing products

    • Radio frequency devices

  • Food, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices

  • Gold, silver, currency, and stamps

  • Pesticides and toxic and hazardous substances

  • Textile, wool, and fur products

  • Trademarks, trade names, and copyrights

  • Wildlife and pets

Products such as textiles, clothing, automobiles, boats, radios, television sets, and medical devices are subject to special standards, declarations, certifications, marking, or labeling requirements, even if restrictions and prohibitions aren’t in place. Additionally, merchandise can be inspected for fitness of use or freedom from contamination, and items can be subject to quotas.