How to Get an Import-Export License

Gaining an import-export license typically varies based on specified criteria, such as the items being imported-exported and where the product is being imported-exported. The following article describes regulations and material-specific licenses.

What Is an Import-Export License?

An import-export license is mandated by various federal agencies, and it identifies what products are shipped or delivered between international locations. A license is not necessarily required for importers or exporters, depending on the product. For a temporary license for the transport of merchandise, an ATA Carnet document can be sought through the United States Council for International Business.

Export Administration Regulations

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security regulates export and re-export of items for both commercial and military use. If an individual is sending or receiving low-technology consumer goods, a license is not required, unless the items are going to or coming from an embargoed destination. Additionally, certain individuals overseas are prohibited from receiving items from the United States and need a license. Shipping endangered species, live plants and arms also requires a license.

Applying for a Receiving License

Licensing standards may differ based on the second country's licensing laws. The following are the licenses one needs to ship and receive certain items within the United States:

Arms Materials

When applying for a license for shipping and receiving arms, the importer-exporter must submit an application to the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Importers-exporters are required to supply documentary information on the items, as well as complete an application.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regulates the import and export of live animals and related animal products. To obtain a license, one must provide proof that the receiving country's laws are satisfied. Individuals may also be required to supply information on the country the animal is from or has visited and the length of stay in that country.

Nuclear Materials

This license is handled by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These standards are similar to the standards for shipping and importing arms. The regulations are based on the exact material being imported or exported, as well as where it is going to or coming from. There are two types of nuclear material licenses, general and specific; with specific being more strict.

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