You do not need a license to act as an importer. However, some items require a license or permit from various government agencies in order to be imported. For more complete information, please see our publication “Importing Into the U.S.” The chapter on “Special Requirements” provides very complete information. (Some common items that may require licenses or permits are food products ordered from a commercial vendor, plant, animal and dairy products, prescription medications, trademarked articles such as name-brand shoes, handbags, luggage, golf clubs, toys, etc. and copyrighted material such as CDs, DVDs and tapes)
Customs paperwork does require an “importer number” as a means of identifying who the final recipient of the goods is. If you have a business tax number with the IRS, this number should be used as the importer number. If you do not have a business tax number, you may use your Social Security number. If you do not wish to give your SSN to a shipper, and your importation is for personal use, is under $2000, and is being cleared by a Customs Broker (very common for goods shipped by courier services) please see our information about using a third party’s Importer Number by typing Social Security Number in the word search field above. If you have neither a business tax number or a social security number, and you are a non-resident of the U.S., you may contact the port where your goods will enter the country and ask them to assign an importer number to you.
A license is required to act as a Customs broker, which is someone who clears goods through Customs on behalf of importers who do not want to handle the various technicalities that are involved in importing themselves.
For more information about the process of clearing goods through customs, please see our series “U.S. Import Requirements”.
If you have ordered something from an overseas seller over the Internet for your own personal use, you should also see our information on Internet Purchases.