Getting Started Exporting Goods into the U.S.: Food

At Canopy Bridge we’ve put together this guide as a preliminary introduction for exporters of food products to the United States. This document is based in part on the experiences of Canopy Bridge users and provides links to various on-line resources to help first-time exporters understand the key regulatory agencies involved and some of the requirements they should be aware of.

We’ve tried to bring together the key requirements and links to information in order to provide a starting point and hopefully to help avoid some potential pitfalls. We welcome feedback from the Canopy Bridge community to share their experience and continue to expand and improve this document. Let us know what you think and what your own experience has been so that we can share it with other Canopy Bridge users.

We’ve done our best to provide you with information to help you along, but consider this a starting point. Please be aware that regulatory requirements may change, the needs of your particular enterprise or product may vary, and that this guide is not exhaustive. This guide does not cover the varying requirements of exporting countries of origin. And, we have to say it: This guide is no substitute for your own research and consultation with specialized agents and authorities as required. Canopy Bridge and its parent company shall not be liable to any party for damages, loss or liability, however arising, as a result of the information presented here.



Market:  United States of America

Products: Food, excluding:

o   Fresh fruits and vegetables

o   Meat

Low-acid (canned)

General background

The following guide provides an overview to shipping food products into the U.S. The regulatory agencies that impose these guidelines are the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), USDA (Department of Agriculture), US CBP (Customs and Border Protection), FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service), and APHIS(Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service).

Different standards may apply shipping fresh fruits, meat, and low-acid canned foods.

When exporting goods into the U.S., the Customs and Border protection will segment shipments into formal and informal entries. An informal entry is a shipment of goods valued under $2,500 while a formal entry is a shipment valued over $2,500. Most steps below should apply for both formal and informal shipments, but the main difference is that customs brokers are required when shipping via formal entry. If using a customs broker, some of the steps below may be covered in their services, but it is still beneficial to be aware of all pertinent information.

Exporting involves a significant level of effort and expense to get your products to their destination. Please make sure you understand the requirements and establish clearly with your importing counterparts who will be responsible for which requirements, and who will be responsible for bearing the respective costs, before you ship.


——– Prior to any orders being made ——–

  1. Food Facility Registration: The FDA requires that domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption in the United States register with the FDA
    1. The FDA provides a detailed on-line guide that walks first-time users through the registration process in a step-by-step format. Find this guide by clicking below:
    2. In order to begin the registration process of your foreign food facility, click on the link below. Before any information about your food facility is needed, you will first need to create a username and password:;jsessionid=0HZJTGYPY2wXFG5TqLX4w0RwlSBNPypX125lPhZCglpY4LnRlytx!-744374086?execution=e1s1
    3. Key Registration Facts:

                                               i.     Registration is FREE

                                             ii.     All in English. If owner does not speak English, owner may authorize English speaker to assist with/complete registration form

                                            iii.     Assigning a U.S. Agent: All non-US facilities must also designate a U.S. Agent who must live or maintain a place of business in the U.S. and be physically present in the U.S. for purposes of registration.  A U.S. agent does not need to be a specialized entity and can be a friend, relative, client etc. in the U.S.  But note that an agent can be held liable in certain situations such as re-inspection costs

  1. If U.S. Agent requirement can’t be fulfilled, companies that provide this service for a fee can be found on the internet. Canopy Bridge is currently seeking to establish a database of reputable, user-recommended U.S. Agents and welcomes suggestions and endorsements from the Canopy Bridge community.

                                            iv.     30 minutes to complete once process begins

                                              v.     Once complete, you will receive confirmation and a registration number. No registration certificate is needed or recognized by the U.S. FDA.

                                            vi.     Food facility is now subject to inspection by U.S. FDA. Inspection should happen within two years (Before registration renewal period)

Foreign Food Facility Inspection FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) can be accessed through the link below:


——– U.S. orders can begin ——–

  1. Determine Duties, Restrictions and Quotas:
    1. Duties: Use the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States to determine the duty rate of your exported good by clicking on the following link:

                                               i.     U.S. importer is liable for duty, but exporter should know this information

  1. Quota: Many kinds of goods imported for commercial use may be subject to a quota limit while goods imported for personal use are generally NOT subject to quota restrictions

                                               i.     A quick guide to U.S. quotas can be found by clicking on the following link:

                                             ii.     Additionally, the following link lists commodities that are subject to quotas:

                                            iii.     U.S. importer is liable for any fines associated with quota restrictions, but exporter should also know this information

  1. Restrictions: Items can be restricted (Ex: alcohol and tobacco) unless the importer has a proper permit or license or if the good is prohibited (Obvious examples of this include narcotics and child pornography)
  1. File Prior Notice: The FDA requires that U.S. purchasers or U.S. importers or their agents submit to the FDA prior notice on the importation of food. Prior notice serves as a warning to the FDA that foods are arriving at the border and will now be subject to inspection
    1. The FDA provides a detailed on-line guide that walks first-time users through the Prior Notice process in a step-by-step format. Find this guide by clicking below:
    2. In order to file Prior Notice on your exports, use the link here:
    3. Key Prior Notice Facts:

                                               i.     Must be submitted no less than four hours before flight arrival, but may not be submitted more than fifteen days (anticipated) prior to shipment arrival

                                             ii.     Anyone in supply chain can submit Prior Notice (Exporter, Importer, Courier service, broker, etc.)

                                            iii.     If you are using a broker they can file prior notice for you, but you will be charged for this service

  1. Choose Shipping Method: All three of the shipping methods listed below have advantages and disadvantages, especially dependent on country of origin and the volume and nature of the product. Work with buyer to determine best option for all parties involved. The buyer is usually responsible for all shipping costs. That being said, it is always a good idea to make sure the agreement is clear on whether the buyer or seller is responsible for shipping costs before the transaction is made, as these costs can be substantial.
    1. Postal Service – Cheap, for small volumes, but lost packages are difficult to track
    2. Courier Service – Reliable, but expensive. Importer is billed fees, sometimes higher than expected. Can be good for sending samples or smaller order sizes.
    3. Freight/Cargo Service – Best for bulky purchases, but items need to be cleared at U.S. port of entry by importer or customs broker.

                                               i.     Must use a customs broker for formal entry shipments (value >$2,500)

                                             ii.     Importer Security Filing ‘10+2’ or ISF. This rule requires importers to file ISF form at least 24 hours before goods are loaded onto an ocean vessel headed to the U.S. While the importer is responsible for filing, key pieces of general information will be needed from suppliers, exporters, etc. to complete. See helpful advice here:

  1. Attach an Invoice AND a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Declaration Form (CN 22 or CN 23) securely to the outside of the package:
    1. Key pieces of information include seller’s name and address, item description in English, quantity of item, value in U.S. dollars, weight, country of origin, etc.
    2. An example CN 22 form can be found at this link:

                                               i.     Obtainable at most foreign post offices

  1. Other helpful links:
    1. Phytosanitary Certificate: This certification is issued to indicate that plants, plant products or other regulated articles meet specified phytosanitary import requirements. Regulated items may include plants, bulbs and tubers, or seeds for propagation, fruits and vegetables, cut flowers and branches, grain, and growing medium.

                                               i.     Phytosanitary Certificate Application Form. In order to see a sample application for this certificate, use this link:

                                             ii.     Frequently Asked Questions regarding Phytosanitary Certificates can be found at the following link:

  1. Labeling Requirements:

                                        i.           Marking the goods with the country of origin is important when importing into the U.S. The marking must be permanent enough to last until the goods are with the ultimate/last purchaser. If goods are incapable of being marked, it is appropriate to mark the container.

                                             ii.     Goods being imported for commercial use: Baked goods, seafood, canned and packaged goods, candy, and chocolate, etc. must be labeled with country of origin, ingredients, and nutrition information.

                                            iii.     More information regarding food labeling can be found by clicking on the following link:


Special thanks to Garrett Cobo who did a great job compiling this document, and to Rosa Teran (Proaji), Erika Vohman (Maya Nut), and Keith Norris (Customs Broker) who provided feedback based on their own experience and review of earlier versions of this document.

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