Export FAQ

Where do I get a Certificate of Free Sale?

For food items, please contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Department, at (717) 787-4248.

If your product is not under FDA or US Department of Agriculture regulations, we can issue you a Certificate of Free Sale. Information is here.

Export Licensing and Export Controls

Relatively few exports require an export license. Licenses are required in certain situations involving national security, foreign policy, short-supply, nuclear non-proliferation, missile technology, chemical and biological weapons, regional stability, crime control, or terrorist concerns. License requirements are dependent upon an item’s technical characteristics, the destination, the end-use, and the end-user, and other activities of the end-user.

The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is responsible for implementing and enforcing the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which regulate the export and re-export of most commercial items. BIS regulates “dual-use” items – items that have both commercial and military or proliferation applications – but purely commercial items without an obvious military use are also subject to the EAR. More information can be found on their website.

The EAR do not control all goods, services, and technologies. Other U.S. government agencies regulate more specialized exports. The Energy Department controls nuclear technology and technical data for nuclear power. The Treasury Department is responsible for economic and trade sanctions against targeted foreign countries and their agents, terrorists and terrorism-sponsoring organizations, and international narcotics traffickers.

The U.S. Department of State has authority over defense articles and defense services through the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

Secretary of State (Pennsylvania) Certification

For documents that need to be authenticated by the Commonwealth’s Secretary of State, contact the Certification Section in Harrisburg, at (717) 787-5280 or by email: RA-CERTIFICATIONS@pa.gov.

When do I need to File the Electronic Export Information (EEI)?

An exporter must file the EEI for shipments in the following circumstances:

  • Shipments of commodities valued over $2,500 per Schedule B number transported by any means other than the postal service.
  • Postal shipments if the entire shipment is valued over $2,500 or if it requires an export license.
  • All shipments (regardless of value) that require an export license from any government agency, or that are subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, and all shipments to certain countries that are embargoed.

There are exceptions to the list above, please check the Census website.  Learn more about the EEI and filing through Automated Export System (AES) here.

What is a Certificate of Origin?

A Certificate of Origin is a document required by certain foreign countries for tariff purposes. Customs officials use the Certificate of Origin to determine whether a preferential duty rate can be applied to the imported products, due to trade agreements or preferential trading status for the country of origin. Even if your commercial invoice includes a statement of origin, some countries require that a separate certificate be completed. You may be able to utilize a generic form, however, some countries require specific Certificates of Origin, so double check requirements and check with your importer. While some countries require certificates for all products, others may only require them for certain types of products. For example, most Middle Eastern countries require Certificates of Origin for all shipments, most Latin American and European countries only require the certificate for certain products, such as textiles, and most Asian countries do not require Certificates of Origin at all.

Basic information needed for the Certificate of Origin include a description of the goods, the origin of the goods, gross and net weight of goods, number of packages, mode of transportation, date and origin of shipment, and an address for the seller and buyer. A sample copy of the generic Certificate of Origin can be found on the US Customs and Border Protection website.

How do I know what documentation is required for my shipment?

Check with your bank’s international department

What is the difference between the Schedule B codes (for exports) and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes (for imports)?

The following information comes from the US Census Bureau and from the US International Trade Commission:

All of the imports and export codes used by the United States are based on the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS). The Harmonized Schedule (HS) is an international system used by the United States and most of our trading partners as the basis for reporting statistics as well as the collection of import duties.

The HTS assigns 6-digit codes for general categories. Countries which use the HTS are allowed to define commodities at a more detailed level than 6-digits, but all definitions must be within that 6-digit framework.

The U.S. defines products using 10-digit HTS codes. Exports codes (which the U.S. calls Schedule B) are administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. Import codes are administered by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC).

Export codes, also known as Schedule B numbers, are administered by the U.S. Census Bureau. Schedule B is the Statistical Classification of Domestic and Foreign Commodities exported from the United States. The Schedule B contains approximately 8,000 individual 10-digit commodity numbers covering everything from live animals and food products to computers and aeroplanes, including a distinction between civilian and military aeroplanes. Every item being exported from the United States falls under a particular Schedule B number.

Export Codes: Schedule B, administered by U.S. Census
Import Codes: HTS, administered by USITC

Finding your correct Schedule B code

One way to find your product’s Schedule B code is to search the Census site using keywords. Be creative in choosing key words and try several different ones.

Make sure that you are choosing the correct number, if there is any doubt, you can get an official ruling through U.S. Customs. You can also search rulings that Customs has already made.


Developed by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), INCOTERMS are a codification of rules for the interpretation of sales terms used in export/import transactions. INCOTERMS 2020 is a collection of 11 internationally used terms of sale. (Please note that FOB is one term that often causes confusion with the commonly used domestic term)

For an in-depth look at each INCO term, please see the following websites:  International Trade Admin. and International Chamber of Commerce.

Country of Origin Marking Requirements

Below please find the official “country of origin” marking requirements from U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Country-Of-Origin Marking:
U.S. customs laws require that each article produced abroad and imported into the United States be marked with the English name of the country of origin to indicate to the ultimate purchaser in the United States what country the article was manufactured or produced in. These laws also require that marking be located in a conspicuous place as legibly, indelibly and permanently as the nature of the article permits. Articles that are otherwise specifically exempted from individual marking are also an exception to this rule. These exceptions are discussed below.

Markings Required:

  • If the article or its container, when the container and not the article must be marked ¾ is not properly marked at the time of importation, a marking duty equal to 10 percent of the article’s customs value will be assessed unless the article is exported, destroyed or properly marked under CBP supervision before the entry is liquidated. Although it may not be possible to identify the ultimate purchaser in every transaction, broadly stated, the “ultimate purchaser” may be defined as the last person in the United States who will receive the article in the form in which it was imported. Generally speaking, when an article is imported into and used in the United States to manufacture another article with a different name, character or usage than the imported article, the manufacturer is the ultimate purchaser. If an article is to be sold at retail in its imported form, the retail customer is the ultimate purchaser. A person who subjects an imported article to a process that results in the article’s substantial transformation is the ultimate purchaser, but if that process is only minor and leaves the identity of the imported article intact, the processor of the article will not be regarded as the ultimate purchaser.
  • When an article or its container is required to be marked with the country of origin, the marking is considered sufficiently permanent if it will remain on the article or container until it reaches the ultimate purchaser.
  • When an imported article is normally combined with another article after importation but before delivery to the ultimate purchaser, and the imported article’s country of origin is located so that it is visible after combining, the marking must include, in addition to the country of origin, words or symbols clearly showing that the origin indicated is that of the imported article, and not of any other article with which it has been combined. For example, if marked bottles, drums, or other containers are imported empty to be filled in the United States, they shall be marked with such words as “Bottle (or drum or container) made in (name of country).” Labels and similar articles marked so that the name of the article’s country of origin is visible after it is affixed to another article in this country shall be marked with additional descriptive words such as “label made (or printed) in (name of country)” or words of equivalent meaning.
  • In cases where the words “United States” or “American” or the letters “U.S.A.” or any variation of such words or letters, or the name of any city or locality in the United States, or the name of any foreign country or locality in which the article was not manufactured or produced, appear on an imported article or container, and those words, letters, or names may mislead or deceive the ultimate purchaser about the article’s actual country of the origin, there shall also appear, legibly, permanently and in close proximity to such words, letters or name, the name of the country of origin preceded by “made in,” “product of,” or other words of similar meaning.

If marked articles are to be repacked in the United States after release from CBP custody, importers must certify on entry that they will not obscure the marking on properly marked articles if the article is repacked, or that they will mark the repacked container. If an importer does not repack, but resells to a repacker, the importer must notify the repacker about marking requirements. Failure to comply with these certification requirements may subject importers to penalties and/or additional duties.

For a list of articles that are not required to be marked to indicate country of origin, as well as a listing of exceptions please check the CPB website.

Unless an article being shipped to the United States is specifically named on the CPB list, it would be advisable for an exporter to obtain advice from CBP before concluding that it is exempted from marking. If articles on the foregoing list are repacked in the United States, the new packages must be labeled to indicate the country of origin of the articles they contain. Importers must certify on entry that if they repackage, they will properly mark the repackaged containers. If they do not package, but resell to repackagers, they must notify repackagers about these marking requirements. Failure to comply with these certification requirements may subject importers to penalties and marking duties.

Export Control Classification Number – ECCN

An ECCN is a 5 character, alphanumeric reference number used by the US Commerce Department to classify products on the Commerce Control List for export control purposes. The most current version of an alphabetized listing of controlled items can be found here.

If you go to this site, you will also find each category as a separate chapter, like nuclear materials, electronics, computers etc.

The guidelines for requesting the commodity classification number are on the BIS website.

What if your product is stuck in customs?

Find out as quickly as possible what caused the delay with the import of your product. Goods that are delayed by customs are not stored for free and demurrage charges are usually paid by the seller or exporter.

Most Common Problems:
· Misclassification
· Improper documentation
· Higher duties than expected
· Labeling issues
· Import/packaging regulations of the receiving country

Next Steps:
· Get in touch with the buyer/importer. Chances are they are more familiar with the local practices and can find out what needs to be done.
· Talk to your shipping company.
· Contact the US Commercial Service office in the receiving country. (see export.gov for a listing)
· Contact the foreign customs’ office.

United States’ Free Trade Agreements

The United States has free trade agreements in force with 17 countries. The most current list of trade agreements, their status, and the full text for each agreement can be found on the website of the United States Trade Representative.

These are: