If you’re apprehensive about sourcing inventory from overseas, you’re not alone. Many online retailers shy away from importing because of the legal liability associated with it. But by dismissing importing offhand, you’re losing out on both substantial overhead savings and access to goods that aren’t yet domestically available. The concept of “informed compliance”, according to Kelby Woodard, principal of import consulting firm TradeInnovations.com, isn’t as frightening as it sounds. It’s really just a term that means the U.S. government is legally responsible for making all necessary information on Customs regulations available to importers. And importers are, in turn, legally responsible for educating themselves on those regulations and abiding by them. Importing Resources Importing products safely, then, is just a matter of covering your bases. Your first and most important step is to do your research and find out what guidelines apply to the goods you’re bringing in. There are numerous online resources you can use to find this information: • Customs and Border Patrol’s official website, CBP.gov, provides a great deal of education regarding import regulations. • TRGDirect.com can help you learn to file your Customs entries directly. • TradeBridgeInternational.com and TradeInnovations.com focus on aiding small to mid-sized importers. A good Customs broker can also help you understand what to expect, and walk you through the various steps. While you can’t outsource your liability, you can get expert help with the process. Easy As 1 2 3M Besides doing your research, Woodard also recommends a few additional tips you can use to protect yourself and your eBiz: 1. Start close to home When you first begin importing, you may find it easier to start with a country that’s geographically close (for example, countries in Central or South America or the Caribbean basin). Often, the logistics are much simpler than those involved in importing goods from Asian or Pacific countries. Additionally, many nearby countries (like Canada and Mexico) have free trade agreements with the U.S., so your imports will be duty free. 2. Diversify As your importing grows, and you begin bringing in larger quantities of product, you may want to consider using suppliers from more than one country or area of the world. That way, if political events or quality assurance problems in one area interrupt your product supply chain, you have other sources you can fall back on. 3. Get it in writing You need to maintain thorough, accurate records, and have those documents available anytime Customs asks for them. Besides protecting your business, in a legal sense, this will also serve to expedite the process of clearing your products through Customs. A Worthwhile Venture While informed compliance may sound intimidating, you shouldn’t let it scare you away from enjoying the incredible deals importing offers. States Woodard, “You can mitigate your risks by just taking some common-sense measures. Perform your due diligence, and you’ll be fine. The benefits you’ll gain with importing more than make up for any extra efforts that you’ll put into it.”

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