Vietnam has become a major U.S. trading partner and an important source of clothing, shoes, furniture, agricultural goods and machinery. If your goal is to import goods from Vietnam, you have to cover several important bases before the freight arrives in your warehouse. Above all, ensure that you're complying with export-import laws on both sides of the Pacific and that all duties and tariffs are paid.

Verify Legalities Regarding Vietnam Products

Ensure that you are importing goods in compliance with Vietnam trade policies and U.S. law. Vietnam bans the export of arms and ammunition, relics, natural woods, wild animals, toxic chemicals and certain technologies, such as encoding software used by the government. An up-to-date list of banned exports can be found at various government and private websites, including the authoritative Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency.

Arrange for Customs Clearance

Arrange for clearance of your goods through Vietnamese customs. Government agents employed at international ports such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are responsible for verifying that all taxes and duties have been paid, that the goods may be legally exported and that all paperwork — packing lists, invoices, bills of lading and labeling —meets the legal requirements. Many importers employ the services of a customs clearance agent in Vietnam to handle this often intricate and tedious task.

Secure Knowledgeable Shipping Agents 

Engage a shipping agent with knowledge of how to import from Vietnam if you are dealing in bulk products or large quantities of goods. Knowledgeable local agents will perform a wide range of useful services for U.S.-based importers. They can reserve space aboard ships, handle transshipment of goods through a Vietnamese port — by truck or railcar to the dock — and negotiate freight and loading and unloading charges.

Shipping agents and customs agents perform very different and vital services; a shipping agent may not offer expertise in customs legalities, for example, and a customs agent won't normally engage cargo transportation.

Learn About U.S. Customs and Tariffs on Vietnam Products

Prepare U.S. customs licensing paperwork if it is necessary for your imports. These documents are available online in English and Vietnamese. Then, calculate your tariff payments. Any required paperwork must be presented at the port of entry by the importer or his agent.

Vietnamese goods now enjoy "nondiscriminatory" tariff rates levied by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Services. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule lays out these rates in detail; under the category "Live Animals," for example, horses and cattle are free of import duty, while chickens run 9 cents a head and goats 68 cents each. Your freight may qualify for a preferential tariff rate by the terms of a trade agreement; check the Customs and Border Protection website for current information.