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International Online Sales: Legal and Regulatory Requierments


International Online Sales

Selling your products online allows for immediate entry into the global marketplace. However, shipping your product overseas presents a few challenges if have little experience with taxes, duties, customs laws, and consumer protection issues involved with international commerce. If you are just getting started, the following resources will help understand legal and regulatory requirements when shipping overseas:

  • Export.gov - E-Commerce Toolbox
    This site brings together information and resources the U.S. Department of Commerce and other U.S. government agencies offer to U.S. businesses interested in using the Internet to export their products.
  • Electronic Commerce: Selling Internationally - A Guide for Business
    As members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States and 28 other countries have signed on to new guidelines that help protect consumer information on the Internet.

    Import / Export

    Importing and exporting goods is a greats way to expand your business and take part in the global economy. In fact, companies that do business internationally grow faster and fail less often than companies that don't. If you are ready to get started in international trade, there are a number of government programs to help you get started. Also, there are strict regulations on importing and exporting goods, so it is critical that you understand which of these regulations apply to you.

    The following pages provide information on what you need to know about importing and exporting.

    • Getting Started in Exporting
      An introduction to importing and exporting, which includes faqs, getting in-person assistance, and business opportunities.

    Get Started in Exporting

    Doing business internationally may seem overwhelming at first, however, there are a number of government programs that offer training, counseling, and financial assistance to small businesses wanting to export their products and services.

    Basic Information

    The following resources are starting points for learning how to start exporting your products and services overseas.

    Breaking Into the Trade Game : A Small Business Guide to Exporting
    A guide for businesses interested in expanding their business in international markets.

    Basic Guide to Exporting
    Details plans for developing, marketing, and exporting products and services. Published by the Department of Commerce and Unz & Co.

    Export Basics
    A primer to help you assess your business' export readiness, understand what you need to know and consider before pursuing an international sales strategy, and, when you are ready, develop and implement your export strategy.

    Exporter's Guides to Trade Agreements
    A list of all trade agreements affecting U.S. businesses in the international marketplace.

    International Trade : Online Courses
    Free courses on exporting and doing business overseas.

    In-Person Assistance

    The federal government offers free in-person counseling services to help small business obtain export financing and locate business opportunities overseas.

    U.S. Export Assistance Centers
    Located in major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S., these centers provide small and medium-sized businesses with local, personalized export assistance by professionals from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Export-Import Bank and other public and private organizations.

    Contact a Trade Specialist
    The U.S. Commercial Service provides a network of export and industry specialists located in over 100 U.S. cities and 80 countries. These professionals provide free counseling and a variety of products and services to assist small and midsized U.S. businesses export their products and services.

    USTDA Consultant Database for Small Businesses
    The U.S. Trade and Development Agency provides this database of companies and individuals providing fee-based consulting services to small business interested in importing and exporting.

    Finding Business Opportunities

    If you are looking to bid on overseas contracts, grants or business opportunities, there are a few programs available to help you with your bid.

    Advocacy Assistance for U.S. Exporters: What You Need to Know
    The U.S. Dept of Commerce's Advocacy Center has helped hundreds of U.S. companies--small, medium and large enterprises--in various industry sectors win government contracts across the globe.

    U.S. Trade and Development Agency : Info for U.S. Exporters
    Find out about current contracting opportunities with USTDA grant recipients in host countries.

    Export Controls and Licenses

    Most export transactions do not require specific approval in the form of licenses from the U.S. government, although regulations regarding all exports must be followed. To determine whether a license is needed to export a particular commercial product or service, an exporter must first classify the item by identifying what is called an Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) for the item. Several other federal agencies have specific export licensing requirements.

    For general information on export licensing and regulations, visit Export.gov - Regulations and Licenses

    The following resources provide further information on export controls and licensing:

    Export Controls and Licensing Requirements : An Introduction
    This page is designed to give people who are new to exporting, and, in particular, new to export controls, a general understanding of the Bureau of Industry and Security regulations and how to use them.

    Export Licensing Guidance
    This section is designed to assist visitors through the export licensing process and provides important information that individuals and firms need to know before exporting.

    U.S. Export Controls and Licensing : Training and Seminars
    BIS offers a wide range of export control related seminars and workshops from Complying with U.S. Export Controls to training sessions for Freight Forwarders and help in initiating an Export Management System.

    U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security : Export Policies and Regulations
    Provides links to regulations governing exports of dual-use items (the 'Export Administration Regulations'). This site also includes discussions of certain key regulatory policy areas, including policies governing exports of high performance computers, exports of encryption products, deemed exports, U.S. antiboycott regulations, special regional considerations, the multilateral export control regimes, and the technical advisory committees.

    Exporting Technology and Intellectual Property

    The exporting of technology has its own set of rules and regulations. Technology and Source Code Exports (Deemed Export Rule)
    answers frequently asked questions about exporting technology and source code.

    The European Commission's Directive on Data Protection prohibits the transfer of personal data to non-European Union nations that do not meet the European 'adequacy' standard for privacy protection. The Safe Harbor Portal provides assistance to U.S. companies trying to avoid interruptions in their business dealings with the European Union countries or facing prosecution by European authorities under European privacy laws.

    And Stop Fakes.Gov can help you learn how to protect your intellectual property rights (copyright, trademark, patent) when doing business overseas.

    Shipping Your Products Overseas

    When shipping a product overseas, the exporter must be aware of packing, labeling, documentation, insurance and other requirements of the destination country. Because of the paperwork involved, most exporters rely on a third-party international freight forwarder to perform these services.

    To find an international freight forwarder and learn about specific requirements for international shipping, visit Export.gov's International Logistics web site.

    How to Obtain Export Financing
    How to obtain U.S. government financing to expand or develop export markets.

    • How to Obtain Export Financing

      The federal government offers a number of financial assistance programs to help businesses expand or develop an export market, or to assist businesses that have been adversely affected by import competition.

      Basic Information

      Small Business Guide to International Finance
      Become familiar with the various government programs designed to help your company finance its export transactions, and give it the capital to carry out its export operations.

      Small Business Administration Programs

      Export Express
      SBA Export Express helps small businesses develop or expand their export markets by providing technical and financial programs to help business owners obtain adequate export financing.

      Export Working Capital Program
      This SBA program supports export financing to small businesses when financing is not available on reasonable terms. The program encourages lenders to offer export working capital loans by guaranteeing repayment of up to $1.5 million or 90 percent of a loan amount, whichever is less. A loan can support a single transaction or multiple sales on a revolving basis.

      International Trade Loans
      An SBA loan program that encourages international trade for business that establish the loan will significantly expand or develop an export market, or that the business has been adversely affected by import competition.

      Export-Import Bank Programs

      Export Financing Guide for Small Businesses
      An interactive guide to how small businesses can increase export sales by taking advantage of government financing services.

      Export-Import Bank Small Business Initiative
      Provides working capital guarantee and insurance products that enable small businesses to increase sales by entering new markets, expand their borrowing base, and offer buyers financing while carrying less risk. Short-term insurance policies protect an exporter against non-payment by their foreign buyers due to both commercial (insolvency, bankruptcy and default) and political risks (war, revolution, transfer risk) and also allows exporters to extend competitive credit terms to their foreign buyers.

      Export-Import Bank Application Tools and Guidance
      List of applications and transaction tools used for doing business with the Export-Import Bank.

      Export-Import Bank Products and Policies
      List of Export-Import Bank's lending policies and products.

      Export-Import Bank's Guide for Filing Multi-buyer Insurance Policies
      Your Multi-buyer insurance policy provides valuable protection when some invoices go unpaid and you have to file an insurance claim with Ex-Im Bank. Unfortunately, some claims are denied because the insurance policyholder failed to do something required under the Policy. Please help us to help you avoid these mistakes. Here are four common reasons that multi-buyer insurance claims are not paid.

      Pre-Export Financing to Help U.S. Exporters Maximize Borrowing Potential
      Ex-Im Bank's working capital financing enables U.S. exporters to obtain loans that facilitate the export of goods or services.

      Short-Term Single-Buyer Export Credit Insurance
      Exporters of U.S. goods and services can reduce their risks of selling internationally on credit terms by insuring specific, foreign receivable with Ex-Im Bank's Short-Term Single-Buyer Export Credit Insurance Policy. This policy is a valuable tool for: Risk Mitigation - insure receivables against nonpayment by international buyers; Marketing - extend competitive credit terms to international buyers; Financing - arrange attractive financing with the exporter's lender by using insured foreign receivables as additional collateral.

      Small Business Export Credit Insurance Policy
      The policy is a special product for small, financially viable businesses that are new to exporting, or have only occasionally exported. It can help increase an exporter's international sales by extending competitive credit terms while minimizing risks, and is valuable as a: Risk Mitigation Tool to insure receivables against nonpayment by foreign buyers; Marketing Tool to extend competitive credit terms to foreign buyers; and Financing Aid to arrange attractive financing with the exporter's lender by using insured foreign receivables as additional collateral.

      Overseas Private Investment Corporation

      Overseas Financing for Small to Medium Enterprises
      OPIC provides medium- to long-term funding through direct loans and loan guaranties to eligible investment projects in developing countries and emerging markets

    • Importing Goods

      If you are interested in importing goods into the United States to either sell or distribute to other businesses, it's a good idea to hire a full-service, licensed customs broker. A customs broker prepares all the documentation needed for importing goods, just as a freight forwarder does for exporters. Customs brokers are licensed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service. Licensed brokers must have expertise in the entry procedures, admissibility requirements, classification, valuation, and the rates of duty and applicable taxes and fees for imported merchandise. To learn about laws and regulations applying to custom brokers, including licensing requirements, and importing procedures, visit the Transportation and Logistics Guide.

    Trade Agreements

    What are Trade Agreements?

    Trade between the U.S. and other countries is regulated through bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements. Free trade agreements have the most significant impact on small and medium-sized businesses doing business abroad. A free trade agreement is a pact between two or more countries to eliminate tariff and nontariff barriers affecting trade among them. Each participating country applies its own independent schedule of tariffs to imports from countries that are not members. The United States has several free trade agreements with several countries and regions.

    How Do I Report a Trade Barrier?

    Trade agreements are meant to remove barriers to trade, and the success of your business dealings overseas depend on foreign governments and companies complying with their part of the agreement.

    If you encounter barriers to doing business in foreign markets, the Trade Compliance Center provides a one-stop shop for getting U.S. government assistance in resolving trade barriers or unfair situations you encounter in foreign markets.

    The Center's Report a Trade Barrier form allows businesses to report barriers and unfair situations over the web. For more information about trade barriers, visit the Trade Compliance Center FAQ page, which provides answers to frequent questions about filing trade complaints and finding help to resolve trade barriers.

    Business Travel
    Learn about conducting business abroad, and find resources and paperwork for you and your business partners overseas.

    Business Travel

    Conducting business abroad entails frequent international travel to visit with prospective business partners. Likewise, business partners may come to U.S. to work with you. The following resources will help you find the paperwork you and your business partners in other countries will need for traveling, and for authenticating paperwork you may need overseas.

    Resources for Doing Business Abroad

    The U.S. Department of State offers several information services and resources for the business traveler.

    Provides information and services to American citizens about how to obtain, replace or change a passport.

    International Travel Resources, Tips and Advisories
    Must-read resources if you are planning to go overseas to conduct business. Resources include current travel advisories, tips for international travel, document requirements.

    Business FAQs
    Answers to frequently asked questions about doing business abroad, facilitating overseas investment, trade restrictions, and assisting foreign companies.

    Department of State, Authentications Office
    The Department of State's Authentications Office is responsible for signing and issuing certificates under the Seal of the U.S. Department of Sate, authenticating business documents that will be used overseas. Documents include but are not limited to: company bylaws, powers of attorney, trademarks, diplomas, transcripts, distributorship agreements, articles of incorporation, good standing certificates, home studies, letters of reference etc. It also ensures that the requested information will serve in the interest of justice and is not contrary to U.S. policy.

    Importing/Exporting Specific Products

    Many imported and exported products are regulated by federal agencies. If you import or export the following types of products, you may be required to obtain specific licenses and permits or complete additional paperwork:

    Agricultural Products

    Export Information and Assistance

    Agricultural Export Assistance Handbooks and Guidelines
    Provides to links to handbooks, training materials, videos, and market reports that help producers export their goods overseas.

    Agricultural Export Transportation Handbook
    Provides resources to help small and medium-size businesses develop an international marketing plan, discover export opportunities, and ship products overseas.

    Export Credit Guarantee Programs
    Information on export credit guarantee programs for commercial financing of U.S. agricultural exports.

    Exporter Assistance for Agriculture and Forestry Industries
    A series of resources, products, and services that can help companies explore the potential for international sales.

    Exporter's Matrix : Handbook for U.S. Agribusinesses
    Guidelines to exporting food, farm and forest products.

    Facility Guarantee Program
    Provides payment guarantees to finance commercial exports of U.S. manufactured goods and services that will be used to improve agriculture-related facilities.

    Foreign Agricultural Service Fact Sheets
    Information on a variety of topics related to exporting agricultural commodities. Specific information on programs the Foreign Agricultural Service sponsors is also available.

    General Sales Manager Online System
    The General Sales Manager Online System enables U.S. exporters and U.S. banks to submit required documentation online, or electronically, for the GSM-102, Supplier Credit Guarantee and Facility Guarantee Programs. These programs facilitate commercial financing of U.S. agricultural exports.

    Market Development Programs
    Information on Foreign Agricultural Service sponsored programs designed to assist in the expansion of export opportunities.

    Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers : FAQs
    Answers to questions about TAA, which provides producers of raw commodities, who have been adversely affected by import competition, free technical assistance and cash benefits of up to $10,000 per year.

    Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act : FAQs
    Questions and answers about the implementation of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act.

    U.S. Exporter Assistance : Pricing, Quotes, and Negotiations
    Information on proper pricing, complete and accurate quotations, and choice of terms for the sale of exports so that selling products in foreign markets is successful.

    U.S. Exporter Assistance : Shipping Documentation, and Requirements
    A series of documents outlining the shipping documentation required to export commodities and other requirements.

    Import Programs

    Import Programs for Agriculture Product

      Information on programs the Foreign Agricultural Service offers to promote import requirements and opportunities

    Animals and Plants

    Food and Related Products

    • Country of Origin Labeling Requirements
      The 2002 Farm Bill requires country of origin labeling for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities and peanuts.
    • Exporting Dairy Products to the European Union
      Providers exporting requirements under the European Union Health Certification Program.
    • Exporting Grain
      Information on requirements that must be met by individuals or companies exporting grain, oilseeds, or related commodities from the United States. The requirements vary based on whether the commodity is covered by the United States Grain Standards Act (USGSA) or the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (AMA).
    • Food Export Certificate Project
      Information on food export certificates which are paper or electronic documents requested by an importing nation that describes and/or attests to animal health or product safety, production, or processing methods, packaging, labeling, or specific attributes of a food/food ingredient intended for international destinations.

    Wood Products

    • Guide to Exporting Solid Wood Products
      Guide for U.S. wood products producers interested in export markets, providing an overview of the necessary steps to develop a successful export marketing strategy.



    • Chemical Import/Export Requirements
      General info on requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for persons who import and/or export chemical substances into and out of the U.S.
    • Pesticide Trade Issues and Agreements
      EPA regulates both the import and export of pesticides. All pesticides which are intended to be used in the US must first be registered with EPA prior to import. This web site provides information about international trade issues regarding pesticides.

    Defense Products

    • Defense Export Market Guides
      These guides assess each foreign market┐s defense industry environment and defense priorities, identify promising business opportunities, and provide points of contacts and tips to succeed in that market.
    • Directorate of Defense Trade Controls
      Guidance covering the export of defense articles and services. Regulations include Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
    • Selling to NATO : U.S. Company Certification
      U.S. companies interested in selling to NATO must receive U.S. government certification in order to qualify to bid on NATO Security Investment Program funded procurement opportunities here or abroad. The associated forms, procedures, related NATO documents and contact information are provided on this site.

    Food and Beverage Products

    Industrial Products

    Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology

    • Import and Export of Human Drugs and Biologics
      A guide to complying with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in the areas of international trade of drugs and biologics.
    • Importing Food, Drugs, Cosmetics and Medical Devices into the U.S.
      Information related to products subject to FDA's control of foods (except for certain meats and poultry products), drugs (human, animal and biological), cosmetics, medical devices and radiation emitting devices, etc., offered for entry into the United States through U.S. Customs, in support of FDA's regulatory activities.

Certain types of merchandise are restricted for export such as nuclear, chemical, various electronics, computer, and telecommunications / information security equipment. These are subject to the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security's Export Administration Regulations Requirement.

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International Online Sales: Legal and Regulatory Requierments