When you purchase that gorgeous wedding dress or awesome motor-cross racing jacket online, you have a very good chance of becoming an importer. So many garments and textiles are being manufactured in China and other parts of Asia these days, that it’s not only possible, but likely that your online purchase will be shipped to you from outside the country. While this is not intrinsically a bad thing, there are some things you will want to know ahead of time to make the experience as pleasant, or at least as painless, as possible.
First of all, there is a real chance you will not even KNOW you are about to become an importer, and that is something you very much can control. When you are shopping online for garments or textiles, you have every right to ask the vendor where your purchase will be coming from. You can’t always tell from the website, and the fact of the matter is, the website owner may very well be an American vendor. That doesn’t mean they won’t contact their supplier to have your goods drop-shipped from outside the U.S. So, while I know that many of us can become inclined to “impulse” buy when we see something we know we’re going to love, take a minute and ask some questions, including where your purchase is coming from.
If you find that your purchase is indeed going to be imported, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it, but there are some things you will want to know before your purchase ever hits the States. Garments and textiles are classified by U.S. Customs based on their construction and the materials they are made of. In addition, Customs will want to know the manufacturer’s name and address, and there is a very good reason for this, which I will discuss in a moment. First let’s look at the garment or textile details Customs requires for proper classification.
Customs classifies imported goods based on Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes, commonly referred to as HTS codes. I can tell you, I’ve seen the schedule book and it makes the U.S. Senate health bill look like a slim volume of verse! Anyway, with garments and textiles, the HTS code is based on the following details. Let’s look at garments to begin with.
First, what is your purchase? Is it a pair of socks? A couple of shirts? A pair of pants or a dress? Many times, foreign shippers who do not use English as their first language will invoice your goods in a generic way, and that just isn’t sufficient to get your shipment through Customs. So you want your invoice to clearly state what the goods are. Also, you will want the invoice to note the fiber content, by percentage if the fabric is a blend. Next, is the fabric of a knit or woven construction? There are different classifications for each. Are the garments for a man or a woman? Are they for a child or infant? Different classifications come into play there as well. So, those are the basic descriptions that you will want each garment to have on the invoice your shipper places on your shipment. Find out more about your invoice here.
For textiles, obviously some of those descriptions don’t apply. You will do fine if you include the fiber content, knit or woven detail, and the length and width of the textiles.
Next thing we need to look at can get a bit sticky. U.S. Customs requires all garment and textile shipments to display not just the Country Of Origin, but also the manufacturer’s company name and address, or the manufacturer’s ID, commonly referred to as the MID code. The reason this can be tricky is because your vendor, i.e. the website owner you purchased from, can sometimes be reluctant to reveal their sources. Not only that, but even though your shipment was purchased from an Australian vendor, who is to say that they didn’t purchase the goods originally from Malaysia? Now personal shipments that you bought online for your personal use may get a wave from Customs, depending on the port of entry, but you can’t be sure of that. The only thing I can suggest is that if your vendor won’t give you the MID for your shipment, work with your freight forwarder to have the vendor provide it directly to them.
Lastly, often times, purchases of garments and textiles can require a formal entry through Customs. In that case, you, as the accidental importer, might be asked for the one thing that might make you balk. That is your social security number, and often, supporting documentation to validate it. Now before you panic at that, please realize it can be a legitimate requirement. You can find out more about that at another article I wrote here.
To sum up, should you choose to purchase garments or textiles online, you will find it a much pleasanter experience if you keep these tips and tools in mind.