The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency issues import licenses to businesses that bring physical goods into the country. The exact licensing requirements depend on the type of goods being imported. For example, you can import petroleum products with only an import authorization, but an import license is required for food products that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Import tariffs are still charged on any item you have shipped into the U.S., even if no license is needed to receive the items.

Step 1.

Request an employer identification number from the IRS if you will be importing goods under a company name. This will be the importer number you will use on your license applications. If you will be operating as an individual, you can use your Social Security number as your importer number. You can also fill out U.S. Customs and Border Protection Form 5106 to request a new importer number if you do not have a Social Security number or employer identification number.

Step 2.

Purchase a surety bond if you are importing goods with a high dollar value. Surety bonds act as insurance if a problem occurs during shipment. Instead of losing the entire amount of your goods, you would only be out the amount of the bond premium. Make sure the bond limit is set high enough to cover the actual value of replacing the items. If it is not, you will still be responsible for any losses over the amount of the bond.

Step 3.

Contact the consulate from the shipping country to find out if the country is in good trade standing with the U.S. If it is not, you may be not be eligible to apply for an import license until the issues between the countries are resolved. Even if the country remains in good standing, it may impose its own requirements that you must fulfill before the goods will be released to your shipper.

Step 4.

Decide on a port of entry for your goods. The U.S. has more than 300 ports of entry from which you can choose. The import tariffs may be different for each port, so you may be able to save money by having your goods shipped to another location.

Step 5.

Contact the appropriate regulatory agency for the type of goods you will be importing. There is no catch-all regulatory agency that handles all federal import licenses. You must apply for an import license directly from the agency that handles each type of goods. For example, if you wanted to import a food product, you would request a license from the Food and Drug Administration.


You can also hire a customs brokerage service to take care of the licensing requirements for you. This is especially helpful if this is your first time applying for an import license and you are not familiar with the process. The expertise of an established customs broker can often be worth the added fees.