Importing merchandise to the United States can be a challenging process. There are many requirements, restrictions, and regulations to follow, and it can be confusing. Import rules dictate that your company must have an established business or some other type of legal entity (IOR) to take responsibility for all transactions. But, how does it work? We answer that question in this post.

What is an importer of record?

The importer of record is a legal entity charged with ensuring compliance to state and federal laws during the import process. This role was established to ensure payment of tariffs and duties and improve import regulation for security purposes.

What does the IOR do?


According to federal law, the Importer of Record must ensure goods entering the united states do so legally. This involves making sure that they pay tariffs, duties, and fees, and that they are appropriately documented and valued.

Note: The entity listed to pay tariffs and duties may not be the one that actually makes the transaction. Depending on your circumstances, the final payment terms between the buyer and shipper may differ from what's stated officially in the documentation.


The importer of record must be transparent. It should provide all relevant documentation during the initial import assessment process. The entity should also designate a Power of Attorney (POA) if its representatives aren't present on-site during the import process (the POA has the legal authority to act on the IOR's behalf).

The customs and border patrol agency typically prefer self-regulation for IORs. This is usually achieved through self-assessment programs, extensive training, and self-auditing programs. However, the body can and will enforce mandatory compliance protocols if it discovers any irregularities during the import process.

It is also important to mention that several U.S. agencies have the legal authority to deny the entry of any imported merchandise. They include:

·         The Environmental Protection Agency

·         The Consumer Product Safety Commission.

·         The Food and Drug Administration.

 It is the Importer of Record's responsibility to ensure compliance with these authorities if necessary as well.

Note: Although the Importer of Record takes ownership of the merchandise at the time of importation, this authority may be transferred after the merchandise is accepted at a distribution center.

Responsibilities with inbound goods

The IOR has to provide an accurate description of the products entering the country.  Its typically accomplished through the ten-digit code Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS). It's an extension of the six-figure international H.S. code system that helps determine how much to pay for customs duties.

Declaring customs value

The Importer of Record must declare accurate shipment values. Although it may seem simple, as it is often the price listed on the commercial invoice, things can get complicated. For example, customs may require the inclusion of selling commissions and other licensing or royalty fees to the invoice value. 

Pro tip

Undervaluing your shipment to avoid large duty payments is never a good or indeed a legal strategy. Besides the ethical violations involved, when the authorities learn of your misdeeds, you'll face:

·         Inspection fees and costs for storage and transportation, which may significantly increase the cost of your shipment

·         Fines and penalties for all under valuations made over the last five years.

·         Criminal charges and bans from further importing.

To avoid any trouble, ensure the following:

·         The documentation is written in English, and it correctly describes your merchandise in simple language.

·         There are adequate details about your product's composition and its purpose.

·         Your documents don’t have abbreviations and technical jargon.

·         You clearly state the country of origin.

·         Your documentation accurately states the value of the merchandise.

Understanding product specifics

The IOR must familiarize itself with the products entering the country. This is important because it helps prevent intellectual property infringements.

Intellectual property covers inventions, artistic and literary works, and designs, mages, and names used in commerce. If your product breaches I.P. regulations, customs officials may seize your consignment.

Pro tip

If you're planning to import trademarked goods or packaging materials, ensure the marks are genuine, that they haven’t been counterfeited, and that you have formal consent from the trademark owner.

If you're worried that a product may be fake, check that the supplier has a trademark holder's license to sell or manufacture products with their branding.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of license do I need to import into the United States?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not require you to have a permit or license. However, other agencies may require a certificate, permit, or license, depending on the imported merchandise. The Customs border protection agency operates in an administrative role for these and other organizations, so you may want to reach out to them for more details.


Contact Blackthorne – for any USA IOR questions or shipments.

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