Dozen Tips for Starting an Import / Export Business

Thinking of starting an import / export business? Jennifer Hensel, a Certified Import / Export Trade Specialist, offers the following tips to get started:

1. Many countries have opened offices (consulates or embassies) in foreign countries to facilitate the export of their goods. Consulates provide you with industry guides and more. Embassies are located in the capital of the country, and consulates are located in different cities. In many cases, the embassy website will contain catalogs and listings of manufacturers, as well as an email link that you can use to search

2. To import goods, contact that country’s consulate located in your country. If you are not sure what products another country needs, you can get catalogs and manufacturer lists.

3. Check with your country’s tax department for registration numbers or other procedures you must follow. For example, if you are Canadian, you will need a registration number issued by the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency (CATA). When you inform the CCTA of your import or export plans, they will expand your service number. This number is used in all related documents.

4. Find out about licensing requirements, if any. In many countries, there are no licensing requirements for most products. However, if you import or export high-risk items (pharmaceuticals, alcoholic beverages, chemicals, weapons, certain foods and certain items of clothing), you may need a license. “I strongly encourage people to start with low-risk products that are easy to trade and have fewer hurdles like gift items and consumer goods,” Hensel said. “Certain industries, such as dairy, are protected by lobbying groups in some countries. You will face quotas and restrictions. “

5. Embargoes are trade barriers set against other countries. For example, many countries have imposed embargoes against Cuba. First, check with your government to determine if there are restrictions or embargoes on the country you are considering. Then contact the consulate or embassy of that country to find out if there are any restrictions on goods from your country.

6. Participate in local trade councils (or chambers of commerce if there is no local chamber of commerce). In addition to the web, you have access to research libraries and other resources that offer good trading information.

7. Use the services of customs brokers. “Small businesses trying to get their own paperwork can face delays at the border. If you make a mistake, you can be fined, ”Hensel said. “The services of an individual broker justify the commission you paid.”

8. When exporting, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all shipping and customs clearance solution that will work in every situation. Each deal is individual. Each company and each set of products will require a different set of services or combination of services. One of the possibilities is to use the services of a freight forwarder. Freight forwarders arrange delivery and customs for goods traveling to other countries. “You have to buy these services and do research,” Hensel explained. “Ask a lot of questions. It’s no different than buying furniture. You go shopping first. “

9. Check the Incoterms posted on the website of the International Chamber of Commerce ( Incoterms are standard trade definitions that define the shipping and payment responsibilities of each party. The two participating companies are negotiating Incoterms for each transaction. The best known Incoterms terms include EXW (Ex works), FOB (Free on Board), CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight), DDU (Delivered Duty Unpaid) and CPT (Carriage Paid To). “You are negotiating in accordance with Incoterms,” Hensel said. “You decide who pays for shipping, who pays for insurance, etc.”

10. Consult your bank for letters of credit, the most common form of payment for international trade. With a letter of credit, you minimize your risk, because banks guarantee the delivery of goods before the exchange of money. The Letter of Credit for the Importer reduces the risk of payment in advance for goods or payment for goods that do not match the description of the goods in the Letter. As an exporter, you have the buyer’s bank guarantee that you will receive payment, provided that you ship the goods as specified within the agreed time frame.

11. Participate in sales representatives. Check with your trade council or local chamber of commerce to see what’s in stock.

12. Finally, search the Internet for information on international trade. Many websites offer a wide range of information that you can access for free, including the Henzel website (

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