Importing Goods/Equipment from Foreign Suppliers

Importing goods from abroad can be a complex process.   Whenever you import something into the U.S. from abroad, you are conducting “customs business” that will involve the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. You will likely also need a freight forwarded to handle the shipping and a Custom’s Broker to facilitate processing entry paperwork with U.S. Customs.  Importing laws and regulations, such as customs duties, tariffs, and the logistics of getting your goods cleared for entry by U.S. Customs may require thorough familiarity with compliance requirements and proper planning before proceeding with your transaction.  Planning even may be necessary during the proposal phase of your activity.

Certain goods may require a U.S. government license or permit to import such as chemicals, plant, animal, dairy, prescription, pathogens, toxins, certain munitions, etc. Other Government agencies such as APHIS, the FDA, CDC or ATF may be involved in import permitting.

Importation of artifacts/cultural property requires compliance with U.S. laws, and may require specific import permission from the country of origin.

Goods may also be subject to a tariff that you will have to pay to U.S. Customs. Tariffs vary for goods depending upon the country of origin and the exact technical features of the goods. Certain types of scientific instruments or apparatus that are subject to a tariff may be eligible for duty-free entry, so long as proper U.S. Customs paperwork is filed and approved.

Because of the complexity of importing goods, it is advised that you contact the Office of Export Controls Compliance well in advance of your proposed transaction to discuss logistics.  You can also visit the U.S. Customs Basic Importing and Exporting website, or read the official Commercial Importer Guide.


  1. Obtain formal pricing from the foreign manufacturer/supplier that itemizes each item and contains a sufficient description.  Shipping, tariffs and U.S. Customs fees may not be included in an international vendor quote.
  2. Obtain product brochures, as these may be necessary for U.S. Customs.
  3. Request the manufacturer/supplier provide point to point shipping from the foreign point of origin to the final UCF destination. If this is not possible, the Custom’s Broker can arrange shipping using some alternate freight forwarder.
  4. Obtain the harmonized Tariff Code (HTN) of the goods you are purchasing, or review HTSUS list and self-classify the goods.  Each HTN indicates applicable tariffs, if any.
  5. If your goods are listed under HTN 9810.00.60 they may be eligible for duty-free entry if the equipment is for educational or scientific purposes.  Note that you must obtain a U.S. government issues waiver using form ITA-338P.
  6. Obtain a Custom’s Broker quote to facilitate other anticipated expenses associated with your import.

Duty Free Entry of Scientific Instruments and Apparatus

UNESCO experts meeting in Florence (It. Firenze), Italy in the early 1950s adopted the terms of an international agreement to promote international understanding and peace by lowering barriers to the exchange of cultural, scientific and educational materials, most importantly by waiving tariffs on such materials. The agreement covers diverse categories: books and other printed materials, art and museum pieces, tourism materials, audiovisual materials and the like. Annex D of the agreement covers scientific instruments and apparatus. The agreement is known as the Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials.

The United States became a full party to the agreement when it enacted implementing legislation in 1966. The legislation provides that Annex D scientific instruments may be entered free of duty into the United States only if the Secretary of Commerce first finds that a scientifically equivalent instrument is not being manufactured domestically.

Public and certain non-profit organizations, including higher-educational institutions, may apply for duty free entry of certain instruments under subheading 9810.00.60 of the HTSUS in accordance with the Florence Agreement.  Filing the application for duty free entry with U.S. Customs should be made well in advance of purchasing the goods (60 days). The completed and approved Form ITA-338P should be provided to the Customs Broker to be lodged simultaneously with U.S. Customs at the time of filing the entry of the equipment within the U.S.

The Form ITA-338P should be mailed to:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Attention: Entry Process and Duty Refunds Branch
Washington, DC 20229

A completed form will be stamped by Customs Headquarters with a 5 digit Docket Number, signed and dated.  A bond will still be necessary. Additional information can be found in 15 CFR 301, or by contacting the Chief of the Special Classification and Marketing Branch, U.S. Customs Services Headquarters at 202-572-8810.

Additional information is available online at:
The Florence Agreement Regulations, 15 CFR 301, including application instructions to complete the form ITA-338P are available at: