One of the most common questions we receive about starting an
import export business is about the import export licensing or
the licenses required to start an import export business.
While there is no license required by the US government to start
or operate an import/export business, there may be licensing
or registration requirements imposed by local governing
There is no "one" source you can access that will tell you if
there are any requirements in your particular state, county,
township, parish, etc..
Operating a home based import/export business under your own
"given" name will often require, little, if any registration.
When and if you begin having truckloads of merchandise or even
regular UPS shipments coming to your home could begin to stir
the ire (or envy) of some nosy neighbor who would ultimately
cause you a great deal of grief, so operate wisely and
If you are going to be importing, rent a storage area for your
merchandise and try to maintain the happiness of your neighbors.
In past posts I have mentioned that there are all levels of
operation that you can be involved in the import export business.
You can be an agent, broker, management company, etc.. Each
level requires a different degree of research on your part to
be sure you are in compliance with state and local laws.
A person who called me recently asked specifically about naming
your business and the legal requirements for that.
All I can tell you is what I have basically stated above, each
municipality is different. In the county of York in the state
of Pennsylvania, if you operate a business with your given
name, as in my case, Coble International, there were no
fictitious name filing required.
The same person asked about a sales tax license. Again, each
state and municipality is different. In Pennsylvania, if you
buy merchandise for the purpose of reselling it to a consumer,
you must get a sales tax license and file your taxes in
accordance with the state laws.
To give you still another example of how complicated this
issue can be, here in Pennsylvania, a business person who
buys and resells merchandise in Philadelphia has to collect
both Philadelphia sales tax as well as Pennsylvania sales
Getting back to the gentleman's original question about
whether he would need a sales tax license in his state, I
could not answer because there are 50 states and how many
other smaller municipalities that may wish to get their
piece of the action?
Generally, if you are buying merchandise to resell to a
consumer and your state or city or county has a sales tax,
you will need a sales tax license.
I have had a sales tax license for the state of Pennsylvania
registered under the name of Coble International since 1988.
In regards to working as an export agent, broker, etc.,
because you are working on a commission or fee basis, you
should contact a reference librarian in your area and ask
if he/she can help you. If nothing else ask them to give
you the phone number of the revenue department for your state
and county and call them.
Be sure to record the time, date and name of the person you
spoke to - write everything down and ask to repeat it back
to them - then file it somewhere you can refer back to it
in the future.
One other thing that is "NOT" required in the Import Export
Business and that is a certificate on your wall that says
you are "Certified". This "feel good" piece of paper is
only foisted on those who are under the mistaken belief that
a certificate on their wall will somehow convey some extra
level of confidence or credibility to a potential client.
Before you go off and spend thousands of dollars on some
import export business training program that promises that
you will be certified at the end of their program, investigate
and call a couple of government offices involved in
international trade (like the US Department of Commerce) and
ask them if they recognize this company's certification or
better yet, if they have ever even heard of them?
If you have other questions about starting an import export
business, be sure to read the archives and previous posts
on this blog. The links to these posts are located to the
right of your screen on the navigation bar.