Exporting FAQs

How do I begin an Export Business?

If you have not already established a business:

First use the local business development center established by the Small Business Administration to assist beginning entrepreneurs with the fundamentals. To contact the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), visit the SBA webpage at http://www.sba.gov/index.html. This site covers a range of topics including how to get started, developing a business plan and sources of financing, or contact: U.S. Small Business Administration,Tom Bergdoll, District Director; Phone: (208) 334-9004 Ext.325; Fax:(208) 334-9353; Email: Thomas.Bergdoll@sba.gov.

If you have already established a business and want to start exporting, contact Amy Benson at (208)364-7791.

How do I determine if my company is "export-ready"?

Examine your resources and capabilities

Formulating a solid export strategy requires a critical examiniation of the capabilities and resources of one's company, possible foreign markets and strategies for entering those markets, what steps to take and when, what will be the cost in both time and money and more.

Publications

A Basic Guide to Exporting, a publication of the U.S. Department of Commerce in cooperation with Unz & Co., Inc., describes the exporting process step-by-step, from identifying markets and developing an export strategy to doing market research, traveling overseas, finding buyers, shipping, financing, as well as federal agency export promotion services available to U.S. exporters. It is available for $14.95 from Unz & Co. by calling (800) 631-3098. Another useful resource for new exporters is the Small Business Administration (SBA) publication called Breaking Into the Trade Game. This is a step-by-step guide to the exporting process from developing an export strategy and doing market research to identifying buyers and financing. You may locate the current version on the internet at http://www.sba.gov or through your local library or local SBA office at: (208) 334-9004.

What Should I Consider When Making the Decision to Begin Exporting?

There is a range of options for becoming involved in exporting; from filling orders for domestic buyers, such as export trading companies, who then export the product, to exporting directly yourself. Regardless of which method you choose, a detailed and thorough strategy should be developed. Steps in developing such a strategy include:

  • Evaluating your product's export potential
  • Determining if you are really willing to make a commitment to international markets by evaluating whether your company is "export-ready"
  • Identifying key foreign markets for your products through market research
  • Evaluating distribution and promotional options and establishing an overseas distribution system
  • Determining export prices, payment terms, methods and techniques
  • Familiarizing yourself with shipping methods and export documentation procedures and requirements

How do I obtain market research for a specific country and/or product?

The National Trade Data Bank (NTDB) is one of the primary sources of export information from the federal government. The NTDB is a "must-have" resource, gathering international trade and economic data from over 20 different government agencies into one place. Among the over 200,000 documents, exporters can find:

  • Country Commercial Guides (CCG's) - a comprehensive view of selected country's commercial environment, including market conditions, economic situations, political environment, best export sectors, trade regulations, investment incentives, finance techniques, upcoming trade events, marketing strategies, services for exporters, business travel tips, etc. The CCG also lists important government and trade association contacts in the particular country. CCGs are available to U.S. companies free of charge at http://www.export.gov.
  • International Market Insight Reports - short profiles of specific foreign market conditions or opportunities prepared by the Dept. of Commerce's Commercial Service, the Department of State and mulitlateral development banks in overseas markets. The reports provide information on a dynamic aspect of a particular market. They may focus on specific projects, industry profiles, finance and marketing trends, regulation and import changes, trade show opportunities or government policy updates. IMIs are available to U.S. companies free of charge at http://www.export.gov.
  • Industry Sector Analysis Reports - in depth profiles of a selected industry subsector. They include an analysis of market opportunities, end users, competitors, market access, distribution channels, market barriers and financing options. The report lists several best sales prospects, trade promotion opportunities and in-country contacts. ISAs are available to U.S. companies free of charge at http://www.export.gov.
  • Trade Opportunity Program (TOP) Leads - TOP provides companies with current sales leads from foreign firms seeking to buy or represent their products or services. TOP leads are printed daily in leading commercial newspapers, such as the Journal of Commerce and are also available online through STAT-USA/Internet at http://www.stat-usa.gov.

NTDB documents can be accessed through STAT-USA/Internet (see above link) which is updated continuously. Customers may either subscribe to STAT-USA/Internet for $25/single use, $75/quarterly or $200/year.

In addition, many countries maintain their own web pages with business information specific to that country. For a list of foreign embassies in the United States on the web, check out http://www.embassy.org. Try linking to the country in which you are interested in doing business for more information.

How can I receive information on foreign regulations, certification requirements for my product?

  • The Country Commercial Guides (CCG's) examine each country's trade regulations and investment practices and present a comprehensive look at the commercial environment in various countries through economic, political and market analyses. Refer to Question 4 for information on obtaining a CCG.
  • Contact the Trade Information Center at 1(800) USA -TRADE. TIC trade specialists, along with some of the industry specialists in the Dept. of Commerce maintain information on foreign country regulations, standards and certification systems and/or a contact list of organizations that can help you obtain that information.
  • The National Center for Standards & Certification Information (NSCSI) of the Dept. of Commerce provides information on U.S. and foreign conformity assessment procedures and standards for non-agricultural products. The NSCSI also provides a translation service for foreign standards, for which there is a charge. NSCSI staff respond to requests for information by identifying relevant standards and/or regulations for your product. The requester is referred to the appropriate standards-developing organization or private sector organization for additional technical information and/or copies of the document. The NSCSI does not provide copies of the standards. For more information, contact NCSCI at (301) 975-4040 or visit their site at http://www.ts.nist.gov.

How do I locate trade leads for my exporting business? How do I locate potential distributors?

The Commerce Department offers many programs to assist exporters with trade leads:

  • The Central and Eastern Europe Business Information Center (CEEBIC) and the Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (BISNIS) offer trade leads for their respective regions. Both offices are part of the U.S. Department of Commerce's USA Trade Center in Washington, DC. Visit  BISNIS, or call 1-800-USA TRADE.
  • Country Directories of International Contacts provides lists by country, foreign directories of importers (showing name, address, telephone number, etc.), government agencies, trade associations and other organizations in countries where the Commercial Service maintains a presence. This list represents the primary sources of contact information that each U.S. Commercial Service post thought would be useful and does not represent an endorsement of any of the services listed. It is available on the National Trade Data Bank (see question 4 for more information on the NTDB).
  • International Partner Search is a customized search on behalf of U.S. companies seeking foreign representation. U.S. commercial officers abroad conduct the agent/distributor search based on requirements specified by the requesting firm. The search for agents and distributors takes 60-90 days and costs $600 per market. You can place an order for this service through our office at (208) 364-7791.
  • Gold Key Service is custom-tailored for U.S. companies planning on visiting a foreign country, combining orientation briefings, market research, introductions to potential partners, interpreter service for meetings and assistance in developing a marketing strategy. A Video Gold Key Service, a custom-tailored program via videoconference is also available. Contact our office at (208) 364-7791 (for more information regarding this service.
  • International Buyer Programs look for contacts at your industry's trade shows in the United States. U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service officers worldwide recruit qualified foreign buyers to attend the selected trade shows. These shows are extensively publicized through embassy and regional commercial newsletters, catalogs, foreign trade associations, chambers of commerce, travel agents, government agencies, corporations, import agents and equipment distributors in targeted markets.
  • Trade Missions - Usually focusing on one industry or service sector, trade missions provide participants with detailed marketing information, advanced planning and publicity, logistical support and pre-arranged appointments with potential buyers, government officials and others. Participants pay between $2,000 - $5,000, depending on locations and number of countries visited. Missions usually consist of 5 - 12 U.S. business executives. For more information regarding upcoming Trade Missions, contact our office at (208) 364-7791.

Is there a tariff or quota that applies to my product in a foreign country?

  • In order to determine a specific tariff, you must first classify your product according to its Harmonized System Number.
  • The Harmonized System Classification is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products. This ten digit identifying number is assigned to each product and used by customs officials around the world to determine the duties, taxes and regulations that apply to the product. The first six digits are harmonized throughout the world. The last four digits vary by country.
  • To obtain your Schedule B number, visit the U.S. Census Bureau's web site at: http://www.census.gov. The Schedule B is published on this web site, and you can classify your own product through a keyword search. Please call our office at (208)364-7791 with further questions regarding Schedule B Classification.
  • Tariff and tax information is available from the Internet, private sources and from the federal government. For official rates, it is always best to contact the country's Customs authority.
  • More information can be obtained from the document entitled Foreign Tariff, Taxes and Customs Information which contains information on the tariff services available from the federal government and from the private sector, tariff information for countries with a single tariff rate, how to use the Internet websites and how gifts are handled for several countries. This document is available at http://www.tradeinfo.doc.gov. Click on "Tariff and Tax Information".

Please note: The U.S. Government cannot provide tariff rates for products shipped from one foreign country to another. For tariff rates for importing into the United States, please contact U.S. Customs.

Where can I find statistics on U.S. Exports and Imports?

  • The Foreign Trade Division, U.S. Census Bureau - http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www. This site contains general U.S. trade information, including the current edition of the FT-900 U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services press release, with information on the trade balance, import and export totals, general commodity groupings, and country totals.
  • Office of Trade and Economic Analysis, International Trade Administration - http://www.trade.gov. Click on "ITA Trade Statistics". This site contains U.S. aggregate foreign trade data, including historical data on U.S. trade in goods and services since 1960, total exports and imports to individual countries since 1991, the current top 50 surplus and deficit countries in U.S. trade, and commodity trade by SITC code. The site also lists statistics on exports by state and metropolitan area and industry-specific data by SIC code. The Customized State Export Statistics link allows you to view the global and state pattern of exports to selected destinations.
  • Who are the United States' top 50 trading partners? Office of Trade and Economic Analysis, International Trade Administration - http://www.trade.gov. Click on "Trade Statisics".
  • Who is buying particular products from the United States? First you must know the Harmonized System (HS) or Schedule B number of the product. See question 9 for information on the HS Classification System and where to obtain this number for your product. Once you have your HS number, there are various statistical resources:
  • USA TRADE - a product of the Census Bureau and STAT-USA, a CD-ROM containing monthly export and import data on more than 17,000 commodities. The disc has data fields for 2,4,6 and 10-digit level HS Codes, Country, U.S. Customs District and four-year annual history. The fields can be easily manipulated and exported in dBase or ASCII format. An annual subscription is $650 and a single disc is available for $65.
  • Selected Commodity Subscription Service, Foreign Trade Division, U.S. Census Bureau - U.S. import and export data, in units of 1 to 10 digit HS Codes, made available on a monthly basis via mail or by download. Mailed printouts are available for $180 a year and downloaded data is available for $160 a year, for a set of 10 commodities.
  • STAT-USA Internet - http://www.stat-usa.gov also offers exports and imports by country and by 1 to 10 digit HS codes. The site is updated daily with other market research reports and trade leads. It is available by subscription for $175 a year.
  • U.S. International Trade Commission - http://www.dataweb.usitc.gov contains U.S. import and export data one product at a time or by customized list. This site is free, but requires registration.

How do I find information about a particular overseas company?

Various public and private resources have services designed to help U.S. exporters find information about overseas companies:

Public Resources

  • International Company Profile, a program offered by our office, portrays the reliability of prospective trading partners. Information provided includes type of organization, year established, size, general reputation, territory covered, sales, product lines, principal owners, financial information and trade references with recommendations from on-site U.S. commercial officers to asess suitabiltiy as a trading partner. The results of your request will take 30 - 45 days and costs $500 per report. You can place your order for this service by calling our office at (208) 364-7791 or via email at amy.benson@trade.gov.

Private corporations which maintain information on overseas companies

  • Dun & Bradstreet Information Service, provides country profiles and risk analysis, lists and publicaitons such as America's Corporate Families and International Affiliates. They also compile Economic risk and Payment Review reports available by country, region or globally. They can be reached at (800) 932-0025 or http://www.dnb.com.
  • Standard & Poor's Rating Service provides country profile reports, risk analysis, credit reports. They also compile Economic risk and Payment Review reports available by country, region or globally. They can be reached at (212) 208-1146.
  • Graydon America, Inc., provides business services in the fields of credit management and marketing information on overseas companies. They can be reached at (212) 385-3490.

Other private corporations which provide credit reporting services:

  • America's Business Information Association ties together credit reporting from agencies in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Mexico at (404) 933-4142.
  • J.I. International can be contacted at (860) 589-1698 or via email at jintl@connix.com.

Are there any sources of legal assistance for people who are new to exporting?

  • The Export Legal Assistance Network (ELAN), a program of the Small Business Administration (SBA), is a nationwide group of volunteer attorneys with experience in international trade who provide free initial legal consultations to small businesses on export-related law matters. They assist "new-to-exporting" firms in the planning process for an export business, explain the basic agent-distributor agreement, etc. A comprehensive list of regional coordinators who can refer you to a participating attorney can be found on the National Export Directory - the TIC's guide to federal, state and local trade offices throughout the United States. It is available at http://www.tradeinfo.doc.gov (click on the link to "Trade Offices Nationwide") or by calling 1 (800) USA-TRADE.

Where can I find a list of foreign companies in a particular industry or sector?

  • The International Partner Search, a program offered by our office, is a customized search on behalf of U.S. companies seeking foreign representation. U.S. commercial officers abroad conduct the agent/distributor search based on requirements specified by the requesting firm. The search for agents and distributors takes 60 - 90 days and costs $600 per market. You can place your order for this service by calling us at (208)364-7791
  • Trade Offices and Embassies of foreign governments help their firms export to the United States, so you may want to contact the commercial officer or the trade attaché of the country from which you would like to purchase goods. A list of foreign emabassies or trade officers in the United States is available from the Trade Information Center's web site at http://www.tradeinfo.doc.gov. Follow the link for "Trade Offices Nationwide" and then the link to "Foreign Trade Offices".
  • Foreign Trade Associations can also provide valuable information on industries and companies within your country of interest. This information can be found in the Appendix of the Country Commercial Guides (CCG's). See question #4 for information on how to obtain a CCG.

Private corporations which maintain information on overseas companies include:

  • The Directory of Major Companies, published by World Publications Service. This provides listings of the major companies around the world. They can be reached at (800) 507-4383.
  • Foreign Trade Register, published by Thomas Register. This provides listings of foreign manufacturers worldwide. They can be reached at (800) 699-9822 or internet: http://www.thomasregister.com
  • Kompass International Trade Directories provide references to a country's industry and contain product and service classifications. They provide directories for individual countries, product references and executives names in over 60 countries. They can be reached via internet at http://www.kompass.com.

Where can I find information on trade sanctions?

  • The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Dept. of Treasury - administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries, terrorism sponsoring organizations and international narcotics traffickers based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. OFAC acts under Presidential wartime and national emergency powers, as well as authority granted by specific legislation, to impose controls on transactions and freeze foreign assets under U.S. jurisdiction. Many of the sanctions are based on United Nations and other international mandates, are multilateral in scope, and involve close cooperation with allied governments.
  • For information, please contact : Office of Foreign Assets Control; U.S. Dept. of Treasury; Washington, DC 20220; Phone: (202) 622-2490; Toll Free: (800) 540-6322.
  • Much of the information available from OFAC can be accessed on its Internet site: http://www.treas.gov/ofac and its Fax-on-Demand service. The automated Fax-on-Demand service is free and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by dialing (202) 622-0077 from any touch tone phone and following voice prompts. OFAC documents kept up to date on the system include all those available on the web site as well as notices, such as General Notice No. 1, licensing guidelines, and copies of Federal Register notices (often including notices filed, but not yet printed in the Federal Register, such as the North Korean census requirement). The "Index of Available Documents" is date-specific.

Do you have lists of American manufacturers & suppliers; importers & exporters?

Our office does not have comprehensive lists such as these, but can direct you to helpful resources such as:

  • The U.S. Exporter's Yellow Pages™ produced by Global Publishers in cooperation with the International Trade Administration's Office of Export Trading Company Affairs, is an annual directory of United States companies involved in international business. This free publication features over 20,000 U.S. export service providers, trading companies and manufacturers that have registered their export interests through the other Export Assistance Centers located nationwide. The U.S. Exporters' Yellow Pages™ is available at http://www.myexports.com and in hard copy through local Department of Commerce District Office.

Industry associations generally have directories of their members. The following publications (available in many local libraries) contain lists of industry trade associations:

  • Encyclopedia of Associations
  • National and Professional Associations of the United States

Additional private publications which list U.S. manufacturers and suppliers include:

  • Register of American Manufacturers published by Thomas Register at http://www.thomasregister.com or by phone at (212)695-0500.
  • Harris Manufactuing Directory published by Harris Publishing at (800) 888-5900.

Other relevant publications include:

  • American Export Register published by Thomas International Publishing at (212) 629-1174
  • Directory of Leading Export Management Companies published by Bergano Book Company at (203) 254-2054
  • Directory of U.S. Importers and Exporters published by the Journal of Commerce (800) 222-0356 ext. 6698
  • Directory of American Firms Operating in Foreign Countries published by Uniworld Business Publications at (212) 496-2448 or http://www.uniworldbp.com

Do I need an export license to ship my product to a particular market? How do I get a license?

Most goods do not need an export license. Licenses are generally required for high tech or strategic goods and for goods shipped to certain countries where national security or foreign policy controls are important. The Dept. of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) administers export licenses and regulations. The Export Administration Regulations (EAR) require a license for certain activities and items, e.g. commodities, software and technology; if one of ten general prohibitions applies and the export or re-export is not eligible for a license exception. Any exporter can visit http://www.bis.doc.gov to further assess the need for a license.

How can I get information on importing products into the United States?

  • The U.S. government does not offer import promotion programs such as those available to U.S. exporters. However, there are alternative sources of information.
  • For information on the procedures to import products in the United States, the publication, Importing into the United States: A Guide for Commercial Importers, may be ordered from the Government Printing Office (GPO). The publication stock number is 048-002-00132-1 and may be ordered by contacting the GPO at (202) 512-1800 or online at http://www.gpo.gov.
  • Foreign governments help their firms export to the United States, so you may want to contact the commercial officer or trade attaché of the country from which you would like to purchase goods. A list of foreign embassies or trade offices in the United States is available from the TIC web site at http://www.tradeinfo.doc.gov Follow the link for "Trade Offices Nationwide" and then the link for "Foreign Trade Offices".

How can I find out about investment practices in a certain country?

  • Country Commercial Guides (CCG's) examine each country's trade regulations and investment practices, and present a comprehensive look at the commercial environment in various countries through economic, political and market analyses. See question "How do I obtain market research for a specific country and/or product" for information on obtaining CCG's.
  • Country Reports on Economic Policy and Trade Practices are available on the NTDB for those countries that do not have a CCG. These reports describe in detail the trade and investment climate in each country. The Country Reports, along with CCG's and Country Background Notes are available in the State Department home page at http://www.state.gov (under "Business Services").

Does the Federal Government have any programs to help advertise my products overseas?

  • Commercial News USA - a catalog published 10 times a year to promote U.S. products and services in overseas markets. it is disseminated to business readers worldwide via U.S. embassies and consulates and international electronic bulletin boards; selected portions are also reprinted in certain newsletters. Exporters can advertise U.S. made products or services in Commercial News USA by visiting the internet at http://www.export.gov/cnusa/ or contacting our office at (208)364-7791.
  • International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) - U.S. exporters can also advertise through the IBB which is part of the United States Information Agency. IBB is the umbrella organization which includes Voice of America, Worldnet TV and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Voice of America broadcasts almost 700 hours of programming to an estimated audience of 86 million each week. They can peg a company's ads to different language broadcasts about a particular subject, (e.g. science information and technology, health and medicine) or target the ads to a specific region or country. For additional information, please contact the IBB by calling (202) 260-9052 EST.