Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of international business can I start?

That’s the $1,000,000 question! Our best advice is to start with what you already know! If you’re a great mechanic, you could look at an auto parts distribution business. On the other hand, if you have experience running a business in Brazil, you might start a company to assist U.S. businesses with entering the Brazilian market. To get ideas of what countries need, try the Market Research Library at and look for the Country Commercial Guide (CCG) which will list the best prospects for US exporters to that country. Once you’ve decided on a country and product, come see us!

I‘m not sure if I’m ready to export or import right now, can you still assist me?

Our office focuses on entrepreneurs and business owners who are currently seeking to export or have import opportunities. If you’re not quite ready to go global, you can always visit one of the SBDCs in our network that is closest to you for assistance with domestic business issues. We all operate under the same model of no-cost counseling and affordable training. Once you’re ready to export or import, the SBDC will refer you to us or you can contact us directly.

You mentioned products, but my business is a service, what assistance can you provide?

If you have a service business such as translation, training, or consulting business, in many ways it’s a lot easier to get started with exporting. The main concerns you may have are getting paid and finding customers. The same resources available to companies exporting products are also available to you.

My business is online only, what do I need to know about international trade?

All the same rules and regulations apply whether your business is online or brick and mortar. If you are planning on purchasing items online from overseas, U.S. Customs has a publication you should review. If you are selling abroad, you should be aware that your buyer may have to pay import duties or VAT (value added sales taxes) on internet purchases, so you want to be sure that you make arrangements for who will be responsible for those charges ahead of time.

What documents do I need to export or import?

There are several documents that may be required for your import or export shipment. The most common documents are a packing list, commercial invoice, bill of lading and certificate of origin. There are other specialized documents which may be required depending on your product and the country of origin of the goods.

What is HS product classification?

The HS or, harmonized schedule, is a classification system used internationally by customs officials to identify products and assess import duties and taxes. While the first 6 digits are the same or “harmonized” internationally, the U.S. uses 10 digits. This number is required to be listed on certain import and export documents. To get an idea of the classification of your product you can use classification search engines. See here for exports and here for imports. Give us a call if you have questions about documentation requirements for your product.

My U.S. supplier’s prices are too high. Do you have a list of international suppliers?

No. Because our office is funded by the US government, our main focus is to help businesses export U.S. made products abroad, so we don’t maintain or vet foreign supplier lists. That said, we do subscribe to Import Genius which tracks US ocean imports. From that source, we can determine the names of companies that supply US companies with certain products.

Do I need a license to export and/or import?

While many other countries require a company to obtain a license in order to start exporting or importing, in the U.S. a license is not required. BUT (there’s always a catch!) there are some products which require you to obtain a license prior to you selling them abroad. Additionally, some products for import are subject to quota which may affect your ability to bring them into the U.S. We’re happy to help you determine if you product requires a license or is subject to a quota. The U.S. government considers exporting and importing to be a privilege (not a right!) extended to US citizens and legal residents.

Can I get a grant to support my international business?

We get this question on a daily basis and unfortunately the answer is no. There are however, loans specifically geared to help exporters, BUT you must be in business for at least 12 months and have the financial statements (in addition to good credit and collateral) to support the loan request. Check out the SBA loan document and the ExIm Bank loan document to get an idea of what you’d need to prepare.

Where can I find a distributor to sell my products abroad?

While we have a limited database of international companies that could be a partner, a good option is to work with our partners at the U.S. Commercial Service and their Gold Key or International Partner Search programs. These programs take advantage of the staff on the ground in the US embassies abroad to vet and setup meeting with potential distributors.Remember, choosing a distributor, just like any business partner, can be instrumental to business success or failure. You shouldn’t choose a distributor solely because they approached you or are excited about your product.

How can I ship my product overseas?

If you’re just starting out and have smaller shipments (i.e. packages), you may find that a courier service such as USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc. is best for your needs. For larger shipments (i.e. pallets, containers, etc.), you should work with a freight forwarder or customs broker who can arrange for the appropriate air, rail, or ocean transportation options.

How do I get paid for international shipments?

Don’t let concerns over payment get in the way of making an international sale! If you’re risk adverse, you can always request a cash payment up front. Understandably your buyer may not feel comfortable paying for goods before they’re received. Depending on the size of your order, you can use a letter of credit or for larger shipments there is credit insurance available from public and private sources which allows you to give open account terms (30, 60, 90, 120 days, etc.) to your buyer.