An import license is a document that the U.S. government issues to give you permission to import certain goods into the country. Import licensing systems are governed by administrative agencies. Like other business compliance issues, import licensing is a very complex area of law that often times requires the knowledge and experience of a seasoned international law attorney to fully understand. It doesn’t take an attorney, however, to understand when you need to get an import license in the first place.
You don’t necessarily need an import license to act as an importer. But some goods require a license or permit from various government agencies in order to be imported.
You likely need an import license if you plan to import.
If you wish to import malt beverages (beer), distilled spirits, or wine containing 7% alcohol or more, you must first obtain an import license.
2. Tobacco-Related Products
Importers of cigars, cigarettes, pip tobacco, loose tobacco, and even smokeless tobacco (like snuff) must obtain an import permit. This is an important business compliance requirement that can result in significant fees and penalties if you fail to meet it.
Most imported cheeses require an import license and are subject to quotas. This means even if you obtain an import license, you may be limited in how much cheese you can import per year.
4. Plants and Plant Products
These include fruits, vegetables, seeds, sugarcane, plants, cut flowers, and more. If you are purchasing these general types of goods from an international source, you need an import license. You should also double check to see if the specific type of plant or plant product you are importing has additional restrictions. For example, some endangered species of plants are prohibited altogether.
5. Pets and Wildlife
If you wish to import a live pet into the United States, you are subject to a long list of restrictions, prohibitions, and permits by several government agencies. If the animal you wish to import is not prohibited, it may require a designated-port-permit, which restricts which ports you can have it delivered to. It may also require an import permit by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and in some cases an export license from the exporting nation’s wildlife authority.