How to Calculate Customs Charges

Customs charges are required when you import goods from outside the United States. When researching the costs associated with using parts shipped from overseas, the customs charges--the second largest part of the landed costs of an imported product--can be calculated using the information in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States developed by the U.S. International Trade Commission. The Tariff is available on line as an interactive web tool or as a printable file (see Resources)

Go to the U.S. International Trad Commission's online Harmonized Tariff Schedule interactive tool (see Resources). As of July 2010, the web tool is optimized for Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

Enter the general description of the item in the "Search" box at the top of the page and hit "Enter." A list of tariff codes ("Headings") will appear in the left panel of the page.

Select, and click on, the heading that applies to the product for which you are searching. For example, if the product you are seeking information on is a tricycle, and your initial entry in the "Search" box is "toy," the headings for various kinds of toys will appear in the left panel of the page, including the heading number for the tariff for "Tricycles, scooters, pedal cars and similar wheeled toys; dolls' carriages; dolls, other toys; reduced-scale ("scale") models and similar recreational models, working or not; puzzles of all kinds; parts and accessories thereof " If that is descriptive of the product you are importing, click on the heading number, 9503.00.00.

Read the article descriptions in the right panel of the page to find the one closest to the product you plan to import. Continuing with the tricycle example, if the description for 9503.00.00 is the item you are importing, slide the scroll bar at the bottom of the page to the right to view the general duty and any special duties. For a tricycle, the general duty is "free" and the special duty is 70 percent.

Multiply the per unit price of the item--the tricycle--by 0.70. If the tricycle costs $4, then multiply 4 by 0.70. The result, $2.80, is the duty that will be imposed on the item, if the item qualifies for that classification.


  • In addition to the online tool, the USITC Harmonized Tariff Schedule is downloadable as a PDF. The file is 3,098 pages long.



About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.