Importing products from China to America

If you're new to importing, Amazon FBA, or white-labeling, then you're in luck! Below is a simple guide for learning how to import products (white-labeled or otherwise) into America. By reading this, I hope to save you and your company time, stress, and money. Learn from my mistakes!

Opening notes

  • Fair warning: this article is a bit dry and technical 
  • This post is NOT a comprehensive guide to importing
  • For my example, I am exporting from China and importing to America
  • I took a relatively hands-off approach. So, while the article is widely applicable, it doesn't dive into the intricacies of international shipping.

cargo ship leaving portImporting: The shipping headache

International shipping is a gift that just keeps on giving. A more relevant metaphor is a box that always has another box inside. It's like cardboard Matryoshka dolls!

On the surface, shipping seems straightforward. "How much will it cost to send my product from A to B? Ok, done."

If only it were that simple! There are 5 main reasons that importing isn't so simple: 

  1. Amazon has all sorts of requirements for carton sizes
    • Example: no box side can exceed 25"
  2. Amazon has all sorts of requirements for importing directly to their warehouses
    • Example: Amazon can be the Ultimate Consignee but not the Importer of Record 
  3. Amazon has all sorts of requirements for how less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments be handled 
    • Example: your freight forwarder must schedule an appointment with Amazon prior to arrival 
  4. Freight forwarding options (and where your liability starts for each forwarding option) 
    • The pros and cons of EXW vs. FOB vs. DDB etc (see link above for differences)
  5. Coordination and communication
    • It's unlikely that the factory knows all this information
    • The requirements must be clearly communicated to the factory and freight forwarders
    • The process needs to be coordinated between the factory, the freight forwarders, Customs, and Amazon, or else your products might be rejected anywhere along the route and sent back to China. Bye bye, $2,000!

How to import products

I'll try to briefly summarize the steps you can take on importing your first product.

Note: the number of steps you must handle depends on the forwarding method you chose. I don't want to mess up my first few imports, so I'm taking a relatively hands-off approach. For more specific and thorough information, Google will be your ultimate savior. 

  1. Know Amazon's requirements
  2. Communicate these requirements to your factory
  3. Make sure they can handle it
  4. If they can, find out how many cartons and pallets your factory will use
  5. Convey this information to your freight forwarder
    • At the same time, ask the factory to get a quote from their preferred freight forwarder
    • Make sure to ask the forwarding method (EXW, FOB, DDP, etc)
    • Keep track of all this info 
  6. Compare freight forwarders
    • Remember: compare forwarder 1's FOB to forwarder 2's FOB, NOT to forwarder 2's DDP
  7. Decide whether you want to use the factory's forwarder or your own 
  8. Make sure you have all the paperwork for Customs in order (example: your company or forwarder has a bond)
    • Depending on the forwarding method, make sure you know what will happen when your product arrives at Customs 
    • This is where your level of involvement can change dramatically. For example:
      • With DDP, you're paying your forwarder to handle basically everything
      • With FOB, you resume responsibility the moment your products are at the port in CHINA (not America)
      • With CFR, you jump in when the shipment arrives in America
    • Example of differences
      • If you're doing a more hands-on approach (like FOB), you must alert Customs that your product is coming "at least 24 hours PRIOR to the vessel’s departure from origin through Importer Security Filing (ISF)"
      • If you're doing a more hands-off approach (like DDP), you do nothing
  9. Make sure you have an appointment set up with Amazon 
    1. Depending on your forwarder, you may or may not do this part on your own 

Closing notes

  • It's VERY important to know what method your forwarder is using. Not only will it affect your shipping price, but it will affect your level of involvement. 
  • There are MANY potential steps missing from this article
    • Example: if you chose FOB, this article doesn't tell you how to handle your freight once it arrives in America
  • I'll continually update this article as I learn more 

By this time in July, I hope that my products are already on a cargo ship bound for America! Check back on August 1st to see how the project is progressing. Think you'll forget? Sign up to receive 1 short weekly update!


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Posted in Business/FBA.

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