For Shippers, how-to-import

How to import tea, coffee and spices into the U.S?

Nothing perks up morning time like a cup of coffee. And nothing takes a boneless, skinless chicken breast to the next level like some exotic spices (or at least a little paprika). But what does it take to get our coffee and spices into the kitchen? Perhaps a little more work than you’d think.

Because there are no quotas on how much coffee, tea, and spices the United States can import, importers can pretty much import any amount of bottles, brews, or packages they’d like. Some versions of coffee, tea, or spices, will still be subject to restrictions or special duties. Examples include sauces and syrups. If an importer is unsure of whether or not the product qualifies for a special duty, they can consult an import specialist at the port of entry.

There is no special duty for tea (gone are the days of the Boston Tea Party), coffee, or spices. However, importers will need to register with the FDA because all of these things can be consumed and therefor fall under the category of food. Importers will also have to file prior notice with the FDA, which is a standard process for any food entering the US to ensure it is safe for consumers.

Labeling requirements will also have to be met. Generally, labels require information like the identity of the food, ingredients, name and address of manufacturer, and nutritional information. For more information on labeling, visit the FDA’s guide.

For the most part, tea, coffee, and spices will be duty-free. The exception comes when these are simply added to another product or dietary supplement. If you’re not sure about your product’s HTS, try searching the government data base here. Find your item’s category on the left, click on it, and you’ll be able to see the duty rates for the countries of origin in the first column on the right, if that country has “Normal Trade Relations (NTR)” with the US. Be careful to look for special sub-columns, as many countries will have special duty rates if they have trade agreements with the US. If the country does not have Normal Trade Relations with the United States, you’ll find it in the second column – some industry people refer to these countries as “Column Two” countries. Reading the HTS columns can be confusing, so the US government has written a helpful guide here. A packing list and invoice will be needed to clear customs, and should be given to you by your supplier.

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