Knowing Your Options When Importing Commercial Samples

    Commercial samples are an essential part of business—especially product development. Importing commercial samples is important when soliciting orders and testing the quality of your product and its materials prior to manufacturing.

    This phase is crucial for companies making changes to products, adding to their product line, or placing a big order with the manufacturer. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) regulates the importation of commercial samples the same as any other commercial shipment, and it’s important to do your due diligence regarding trade policy compliance as an importer.

    There are different options when importing commercial samples into the United States, understanding the varying requirements can help you determine the best option for your company and circumstance.

    There are two primary options for an importer to bring commercial samples permanently into the United States.

    1. Duty free entry – 9811.00.60

    The U.S. Harmonized Tariff Code (HTS) does have a specific provision for commercial samples. HTS number 9811.00.60 covers, "Any sample except samples covered in 9811.00.20 (alcohol samples) or 9811.00.40 (tobacco samples), valued not over $1 each, or marked, torn, perforated, or otherwise treated so that it is unsuitable for sale or for use other than as a sample."

    Under this provision, samples can be imported duty free if:

    • The samples are valued less than $1, or
    • The samples are valued more than $1, they must be marked as samples and treated in a manner that would render them unsuitable for resale

    Merchandise must be marked permanently as a “sample,” or cut or torn in such a manner that is visible. Additional marking and defacing requirements for textile products and footwear are also in place. In addition, other requirements may be enforced depending on the type of fabric, size, and other considerations.

    Commercial documents must show a value for the samples, even if they are being provided to the importer at no cost or have no commercial value. The commercial document must include the statement “mutilated samples – 9811.00.60” to ensure duty free treatment. Samples must typically be destroyed or donated to a charity or other non-commercial entities after use. Importers are not permitted to sell them or reconstitute them into articles that are suitable for sale.

    2. Regular entry

    As an importer, you can choose to import samples as a regular customs entry. You may have to pay duties and taxes depending on the HTS and duty rate and follow all the regulations and requirements for the customs entry. However, the goods would be able to remain in the United States indefinitely and you would retain the right to sell the samples after use.

    If the commercial sample’s value is less than $800, importers can take advantage of entry type 86, which allows for goods valued under $800 to be imported free of duties, taxes, and fees. The goods are eligible if they are not subject to antidumping, countervailing, quota, or do not require additional fees or IRS taxes to be paid.

    If you are bringing in samples to solicit sales or exhibiting the goods at a tradeshow, then temporary importation may be a good fit.

    1. Temporary Importation under Bond (TIB)

    Commercial samples may be admitted into the United States under a Temporary Importation under Bond (TIB), which temporarily permits the importation of goods into the United States free of duty when the importer posts a bond. TIBs can be used to temporarily import commercial samples for exclusive purpose of soliciting orders of the merchandise.

    Goods imported under a TIB must not be sold or offered for sale and must be exported or destroyed within one year from the date of importation. Extensions can be requested for additional one-year periods, not exceeding three years total.

    While they can be convenient, there are additional risks associated with TIB entries. Failure to export or destroy them prior to the expiration date will result in liquidated damages equal to double the estimated duties for the samples.

    2. Carnets

    Carnets are another option when temporarily importing commercial samples to solicit orders. A carnet is both customs bond and customs entry documentation. It is purchased in advance of the shipment exporting the origin country. This simplifies the customs process, allows you to plan for customs clearance in advance, and can be used in several countries.

    The United States accepts only two types of carnets:

    • ATA Carnets: Accepted by more than eighty countries, the ATA carnet is a good option to bring commercial samples into the United States duty free for the purpose of soliciting orders.
    • TECRO/AIT Carnets: These carnets are specific to a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and Taiwan.

    Carnets are only valid for one year. If it is anticipated that the carnet will be used to solicit an order longer than that timeframe, a TIB may be a better choice.

    Goods imported under a carnet cannot be sold. However, if goods imported under a carnet are sold, the importer would be required to pay not only the duties, fees, and taxes on the goods but also a penalty equal to 10% of the duties and taxes owed for some or all the sold goods.

    Prototypes may be imported duty free in limited non-commercial quantities under HTS 9817.85.01. Prototypes in varying production stages can be imported for development, testing, product evaluation, or quality control purposes under this provision. CBP may request you provide proof of actual use within three years of importation.

    Sale of prototypes or any of their parts is typically restricted. It may be permitted in certain scenarios as permitted by the U.S. Department of Treasury. Goods that are subject to a quantitative restriction, antidumping, or countervailing order may not be imported under the prototype provisions.

    Consider these factors before importing any commercial samples:

    • What is the purpose of the samples? Is it for quality review and testing, product evaluation, or sales opportunities?
    • Will the supplier be able to comply with the sample marking and defacing requirements under HTS 9811.00.60?
    • How long will these samples need to be in the United States?
    • Will there be potential opportunities to sell the samples once imported?
    • Will the goods be able to be exported within the prescribed amount of time if imported under a TIB or carnet?
    • Do the goods qualify as a prototype as per CBP’s definition?

    Once you have answers to these questions, you’ll have a clear idea of which importing strategy is right for your commercial samples. If you need additional information, check out the following resources:

    Want further help with importing commercial samples?

    C.H. Robinson can help. Our team of knowledgeable Trusted Advisor® experts can assist you with reviewing the options for customs clearance for commercial samples. Connect with one of our trade policy experts to get started.


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