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Complete Guide - Importing Electronics From China To USA

Complete Guide - Importing Electronics From China To USA

Looking to import electronics from China to the USA? Look no further! We put together a complete guide with everything you need to know, from sourcing to shipping!

10 mins read, 15 May 2021

One reason why many e-commerce professionals shy away from working with electronics is that this class of products needs to follow a certain set of regulations.


The regulations have mostly to do with product quality and safety, and passing them (getting certified) requires extra time and effort.

And while importing electronics is harder from this point of view, it definitely has its benefits. For example, electronics have a higher profit margin than most other types of products.

So let’s get into it and see what importing electronics from China might entail.


Step 1. Finding The Right Electronics Manufacturer

Full stop, this is going to be the most important part of sourcing, and of importing electronics from China in general.


Because of the various certifications required for electronic products as well as their manufacturing complexity, finding the right manufacturer can prove to be tricky.

Here are the 4 key factors you need to consider when making your choice of supplier.


Factor #1: OEM vs ODM

Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) are the two options importers have in terms of sourcing.

OEM products are designed by the importer from scratch, and then licensed out to a manufacturer to produce. The iPhone, for example, was designed by Apple, and produced by Foxcom.

OEM is not for everyone, and especially when it comes to electronics, because it requires extensive technical expertise and funding.

If you were to opt for OEM, you would need to provide your manufacturer with a complete technical specifications sheet (source code, components, materials, design files, technical standards), product regulation documents (safety standards, substance restrictions as well as labeling, document, and lab testing requirements), among other things.


ODM sourcing, commonly referred to as “private labelling”, is when an importer chooses a product from the manufacturer’s catalog of already-existing product designs.

The importer then makes some small adjustments to the existing product, such as adding custom branding or packaging, and sells it under a new brand name.

This is the preferred sourcing method of most e-commerce importers, because of the much lower barrier of entry compared to OEM.

Read more about OEM vs ODM here.

Factor #2: Regulatory Conformity

When importing electronics into the USA, conformity (or compliance) with product safety directives and standards (e.g. FCC) is required by law.


There are other certifications available to importers which act as a seal of quality for consumers (such as UL and RoHS), and although recommended, they are not required by law.


When researching potential suppliers, you will find that most of them cannot guarantee compliance with these safety standards.


This is because getting certified has a cost (FCC is anywhere between $500-$5000, depending on the product), and suppliers don’t want to spend this money not knowing if the product will sell or not.


We recommend that you source your products the proper way by choosing a supplier who can provide certifications for their products right from the start.


If you end up working with a supplier that does not comply with the regulations, your products will be at risk of being seized by Customs authorities or withdrawn from the market completely, and you might even get fined!

Many small importers do this hoping not to get caught (or not knowing there are regulations that need to be followed), and expose themselves to unnecessary risk.

Overview Of The Necessary Certifications For Importing To The USA

Here is a list of all the certifications your electronics will need for importing from China to the USA.

Certification
Required By Law?
Description
FCC Part 15 (Intentional Radiators)
Yes
An intentional radiator is a device that emits radio frequency energy. This includes all WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled devices.
FCC Part 15 (Unintentional Radiators)
Yes
An unintentional radiator is any electrical product with energy levels between 9 kHz and 3000 GHz. This includes the vast majority of consumer electronics, even those without WiFi or Bluetooth capabilities.
No
The UL Listed Seal means that the product has been tested by UL to nationally-recognized safety and sustainability standards. Despite UL certification not being required by law, the majority of US-based retailers will not buy products that are not UL-certified.
Yes
The California Proposition 65 regulates more than 800 substances in consumer goods. It applies in the state of California exclusively, so if you are either based in or selling in this state, you must abide by its regulations.


Factor #3: Production Capabilities

Some electronics manufacturers outsource components and materials to third parties, while others produce, design and assemble everything in-house.

These are components such as Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and casings, or raw materials such as fabrics, Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), silicone, and others.

We recommend that you include this factor into your supplier research, and choose a supplier that doesn’t outsource as many components and materials, as they will be able to provide you with more design and customization options.

Factor #4: Quality Management Systems

A Quality Management System (QMS) is used to ensure the consistency of quality in the manufacturer’s production processes.

Through a QMS, quality consistency issues are prevented through continuous and systematic testing at all stages of product assembly.

Many electronics manufacturers will have testing procedures set in place, but very few (around 5%) comply with strict standards such as the ISO

9001:2008.

This is because, again, high-standard quality control comes at a cost, and this cost increase would cut into the manufacturers’ profits or force them to increase their selling prices.

As an electronics importer, however, you want to avoid the unpleasant situation of buying defective products at any cost. So it is well worth it to find a supplier that can provide products of consistent quality.


Tips On Finding The Right Supplier For Your Business

Now that you know the key qualities you need to look for in a supplier, here are some tips you can use for narrowing down your options.


Tip #1: Look for electronics manufacturers who already sell to the USA

Many Chinese manufacturers are actually not geared towards international trade, but  towards local trade in the Chinese market or within the Asian continent.

This means they will have no interest in complying with United States standards and laws.

Therefore, look for suppliers who are already selling to businesses based in the United States.

Furthermore, try to find suppliers who are working with large US-based retailers.

They will out of necessity be compliant with all the rules and regulations, because retailers have very strict rules, and would never consider manufacturers who are not properly certified and vetted.


Tip #2: Look for electronics manufacturers who have a high Authorized Capital


Bigger suppliers tend to be more sophisticated than smaller ones, with better machinery and equipment as well as higher manufacturing standards.

Look for suppliers with an Authorized Capital higher than $1m USD. (> 6,495,400 RMB)


Tip #3: Don’t look for the lowest prices

As a rule of thumb, the electronics manufacturers with the lowest prices are probably not the ones you want if you’re looking for quality, consistency, and compliance.

Ensuring conformity with electrical and substance safety regulations is costly for manufacturers. They need to pay for things like electromagnetic shielding, RoHS-compliant elements, and lead-free paint.

The same applies for implementing a legitimate quality management system, or offering importers various product customization options.

These are costs that unfortunately will increase the selling price of their products.

It doesn’t mean they will be overly-expensive, just not the cheapest on the market.


Step 2. Shipping Your Electronics From China To USA

Once you find your supplier, it’s time to think about how you’re going to physically import your products.

Importing electronic products specifically from China to the USA is our specialty here at Bookairfreight, so we hope our insight will be useful to you.

1. Get Your Electronics Import Documentation

If you choose a good supplier, your involvement in this paperwork will be minimal.

But just like it’s good to know what regulations your electronic products need to comply with, it’s also good to know what regulations apply to the import process, and what documentation will be required of you.


Necessary Import Documents From China To USA

1. Packing List: This is an itemized list containing your electronic product’s details, as well as the shipment weight dimensions in kilograms (KG) or cubic meters (CBM). You can read more about it here.

Download free template
Packing List

2. Commercial Invoice: This is a legal document that describes the entire export transaction and the shipping terms: the price and value of the goods, the payment terms, and the total invoice value. You can read more about it here.

Download free template
Commercial Invoice

3. Customs Bond: This is a contract between the importer, Customs, and a third party meant to ensure that duties will be paid to Customs in full. This document is not necessary in most countries, but it is in the US. You can read more about it here.

Download free template
Customs Bond

You can download free templates of these documents on our International Shipping Documents page!

4. Importer of Record: An importer of record is the owner, buyer, or trading firm that is in charge of all import obligations for a shipment. Having an importer of record in the country you’re selling in is required. If you don’t have one, a third party such as a trading firm can arrange for a local entity to act as your importer of record.


We go into more details about import documentation and tax and duty calculation in our Complete Guide to Importing From China.

Important Note For Electronics Containing Batteries

If your electronic products contain Lithium-Ion or Lithium-Metal batteries, they will be classified as Dangerous Goods and shipping them will require an additional document called a Dangerous Goods Note (DGN).


Electronic products containing batteries also need to follow special packaging rules in order to be approved for transportation by freight carriers, especially for air freight.


If this applies to you, please read our full guide on how to ship Lithium batteries and devices containing them.

2. Choose The Right Shipping Method

Next, you need to consider the options available for shipping electronics from China to the USA, and which is best for your situation based on price, volume and speed.

Air Freight vs Ocean Freight

The two main modes of transportation for importing electronics from China to the USA are air freight and ocean freight.


Air Freight


Air freight is a cargo transportation method carried out via aircrafts. This is done both with cargo airplanes as well as passenger airplanes (every passenger airplane carries cargo at the same time with passenger luggage!).

What are the benefits of air freight for transporting electronics?

  • Faster delivery times
  • Safer and more secure (especially important for high-value electronics)
  • Cheaper for shipments under 150kg


If you’re shipping low volumes, your products are very expensive, or you require express shipping times, air freight will be the most advantageous.

Ocean Freight


Ocean freight is the most common way of transporting freight internationally, and it is done via oceans or seas, through cargo ships (also called freighters).


There are two types of ocean freight, FCL and LCL, which give you the option of either taking up a full container yourself (for bigger shipment volumes), or only part of the container (sharing with others, for smaller volumes).


Any why would you choose ocean freight versus air freight for your electronics? Because it is cheaper than air freight for shipments above 150kg, and the bigger the shipment, the cheaper ocean freight becomes.


On the downside, delivery times are much slower, and product safety is not as guaranteed as with air freight. (the risk of lost or damaged goods via ocean freight is still very low, but we’re speaking comparatively)


So if you’re shipping high volumes, your products are medium-to-low in value, and time is not a factor, ocean freight will be the better option.


Comparison

As you can see, there is no clear winner. The best option for you depends on shipment volume, value, and speed requirements.


Ideally, you want to include both methods in your shipping strategy – e.g. use air freight to address an urgent demand, and ocean freight for longer-term bulk shipments.


Want a more in-depth comparison and analysis? We’ve got you covered. -  check out the article we wrote on this specific topic!

3. Finding The Right Freight Forwarder

Now that you have a general idea of what importing electronics from China to the USA entails from a shipping perspective, it’s time to find a freight partner that can help you put it into practice.


As with everything, there is a wide discrepancy between the levels of service and features different freight forwarders can offer you.


A good freight forwarder should be able to offer you:

  • Fair rates
  • Good customer service
  • Assistance with import documentation, customs clearance, taxes and duties.
  • Assistance with labelling and packaging.
  • Insurance (very important)
  • Last-mile-delivery
  • Different shipping options including ocean, air, and FBA (if you also sell on Amazon)
  • Technology – online dashboard where you can book and track all of your shipments, automatic shipment updates, etc.


Finding the right freight partner is almost as important as finding the right supplier. It can save your business a huge amount of time and money.


So how do you find this perfect freight forwarder? We explain the process step by step in our  article, How To Find The Best Freight Forwarder When Importing From China!

Wrapping Things Up

We hope you found value in this guide, and that it will help you navigate your way through finding the right manufacturer & freight partner for your business.


At Bookairfreight, importing electronics from China to the USA is our bread and butter. So if you have any follow-up questions, feel free to shoot us a message! Or call our sales line at any time: +1 917 639 5399

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Cristian Ungureanu

Logistics nerd and resident marketing guy of Bookairfreight. I love writing content that simplifies old-fashioned industry processes and provides solid, accurate information you can base your decisions on. Outside of logistics, I enjoy nature, hanging out with friends, electronic music and spirituality.

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