How to Get a License for an Import-Export Business

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How to Get a License for an Import-Export Business

You’ve got a brilliant idea that you know is going to sell. The problem is that you need to convert this idea into a practical reality. That can be complicated, especially if you’re hoping to import and export items.

The first step must be to create a business plan. You’re going to need to know the costs involved, your expected returns, and your potential profit. You can use this information to assess whether you need financial backing and, if so, how much you’re going to need.

A well-presented business plan is going to help you get the start-up finance you need.

This also nicely links into your second step, setting up your company structure. It is imperative that you know the right entity to use from the start; this will make your life simpler later when you’re focusing on building a successful import/export business.

With the basics in place and suppliers sourced, you’re going to want to start trading. However, this means you need to get yourself an import-export license. Fortunately, this is not as difficult as it sounds.


The first thing to note is that, for many goods, you won’t need a license to import them into the country. But, that doesn’t mean you should assume this is the case!

It’s a good idea to check the federal agency requirements, you can do this here. You’ll find a list of items that do require licensing or a permit. You’ll also find some excellent guidelines to help you get the necessary license.

It is also a good idea to identify where your goods will be arriving in the country. You’ll then be able to verify the procedure in place at that port or airport. Knowing what to expect will make it much easier to collect your goods.

It should be noted that even if you don’t require a license you will need to fill out goods entry forms; within 15 days of them arriving in the country.

For this you’ll need an importer number, this is actually your IRS business registration number. If you are operating as a sole trader you’ll need to use your social security number instead.


You may be surprised to find that most items to be exported also don’t need a license. However, sending them is easy, making sure they arrive safely is more complicated.

For this, you’ll need to check the regulations of the destination country. Every country has its own rules and regulations, some have heavy penalties if you don’t observe their regulations.

You should make sure you have all the paperwork in place before you dispatch any goods. This will prevent your goods from being held up or even confiscated at the port of arrival; something that will definitely be detrimental to your business!

You probably won’t need a license but you do need to check before you start trading, the last thing you need to be worrying about with a new business is customer satisfaction regarding the arrival of their goods.

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John is a serial entrepreneur and writer who is passionate about helping small businesses launch and grow. His work has been featured in Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.