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How to get an import & export license

Updated March 23, 2017

The import/export business is a potentially profitable business model. Your success in this particular business venture will depend on your strict adherence to the rules and regulations of the trade guidelines of your own country, as well as those of the countries with whom you plan to do business. Depending on what you plan to import or export, you may need a license from the relevant government agency. There are certain steps that should be taken in order to secure the correct license.

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  1. Research the products that you wish to import or export as many products do not require a license for this. Contact the local Chamber of Commerce for your state to determine if your products require an import or export license.

  2. Contact your consulate or embassy in the countries with whom you wish to trade. These institutions can offer valuable insight and information regarding the trading platform of their host countries.

  3. Obtain a registration number. Your business structure and location will determine if you need a registration number, or if you can use your business tax ID number. Contact the Bureau of Industry and Security of the Department of Commerce (BIS) office in Washington DC at (202) 482-4811 to determine if you need the number.

  4. Apply for a letter of credit from a bank. When trading internationally, a letter of credit is the most used form of payment. It considerably reduces the risk of non-payment and non-delivery, and is looked upon favourably by the trading community.

  5. Apply for an export license. If the products you plan to export require a license, you can obtain an application by calling the BIS Western Regional Office at (949) 660-0144, or use the online submission process (SNAP-R) at www.bis.doc.gov.

  6. Apply for an import license. If needed, this license can be acquired from the government agency that deals with your product specifically. For example, you will need a license from the US Fish and Wildlife Service if you intend to import wildlife, and a different license from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to import alcohol. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to determine the relevant agency for your products.

  7. Hire a customs broker. For a fee, a customs broker can quickly determine if you need a license to import or export your products and can expedite the process saving you time and money.

  8. Tip

    It is always a good idea to speak with someone from the relevant agency in person to ensure that all the rules are being followed.


    Each state and county may have a specific set of requirements for the importation and exportation of products, so always check to ensure compliance and to avoid fees and penalties.

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Things You'll Need

  • Long distance telephone service
  • Fax line
  • Internet access

About the Author

An avid technology enthusiast, Steve Gregory has been writing professionally since 2002. With more than 10 years of experience as a network administrator, Gregory holds an Information Management certificate from the University of Maryland and is pursuing MCSE certification. His work has appeared in numerous online publications, including Chron and GlobalPost.

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