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How to Import Tea to the United States: A Complete Guide

How to Import Tea to the United States: A Complete Guide

The proper filing of required documentation is critical to importing tea into the U.S. We’ll guide you on everything you need to know about the process in this guide.

20 mins read, 22 Feb 2022
Guide on how to import tea to the USA

Find a Supplier

Importing tea to usa suppliers
Alibaba lists a multitude of tea suppliers from all over the world.

First thing’s first. To import tea to the United States, a supplier must be chosen. There are tens of thousands listed online on sites like Alibaba. You just need to do your due diligence. 


Alternatively, trade shows are a convenient way of finding a tea supplier. For example, the World Tea Expo is the largest trade show in North America. In normal years, over 200 tea suppliers congregate at the expo. 


Once a potential supplier is found, set up a trial order before negotiating a contract to test the product before import. You also need to bear in mind that your chosen supplier adheres to certain regulations. These will be laid out below.  

Manufacturer Registration

How to import tea from China

It’s crucial that your supplier is properly registered with the FDA. The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) requires that facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold beverages for consumption in the United States be subjected to FDA authorization. These facilities must renew their registration with the FDA every other year.


Using a website such as Registracorp simplifies this process by checking multiple databases for currently FDA compliant suppliers.


Product Requirements

Fujian tea import jasmine tea

There are no limitations on the quantity of tea imported into the U.S., whether bottled, brewed, or packaged. However, some products which contain tea (like herbal and beauty products) may be subject to FDA restrictions or special duties such as import tariffs. The FDA has the right to refuse tea imports if there is suspicion of contamination or insect infestation.

FDA Food Requirements

According to the United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act, individuals or businesses who import any food product intended for resale in the U.S. are responsible for ensuring the products are safe, sanitary, and labeled correctly according to FDA guidelines. 


These products are considered to be interstate commerce and are subject to FDA requirements prior to resale. Importers can import food products into the U.S. without prior FDA approval only when the facilities that produce, store, and handle the products are legally registered with the FDA. 


Prior notice of incoming shipments must be provided to the FDA in this instance. Food products that are received at a U.S. port of entry are subject to FDA inspection. The FDA is authorized to impede shipments of products requesting import if those shipments are not in compliance with U.S. regulations. 


Imported and domestically produced food products must meet the same legal requirements in the United States.

Coloring and Additives

Food grade chemicals recommended or intended to be used in or on foods must have labeling that provides instructions for safe use and any limitation regulating the use of the chemical as a food additive. 


If there are no limitations, the labeling must include information regarding the chemical levels that may be used in a manner that is consistent with proper manufacturing practices. Food products that do not have appropriate labeling can be deemed misbranded under the FD&C Act.


Artificially colored or “color added” should indicate the addition of color to a food. Regulations may also necessitate a specific declaration of the particular color. If the color is specifically listed on the food product, the FDA does not require the word “artificial” to be included in the label. For example, “color from beetroot extract” is acceptable.


Similarly, the words “natural color” should not be used if colors are added. This is commonly interpreted to mean the color is naturally occurring within the food product, which may not be accurate.

Labeling Requirements

To sell tea that has been imported to the U.S., individuals and businesses must follow proper labeling guidelines. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) gives the FDA the authority to require a nutrition label on regulated food products. 


Created in 1990, the NLEA declares that all nutrient content and health claims must meet FDA requirements. For example, this includes labels such as “sugar-free” or “low calorie”. 


These regulations include a declaration of ingredients and percentage juice labeling. As of 2006, the Nutrition Facts Label on all packaged food products must list how many grams of trans fat are contained within a single serving of the food product, if applicable.


The NLEA requires a Nutrition Facts panel on packaged tea and beverage products to help consumers follow the national Dietary Guidelines. Individual tea bags are not to be sold. Individual bags must be packaged to include a Nutrition Facts Label. 


The nutrient content of tea is displayed as a percentage of Daily Value (DV). This label includes the serving size determined by the NLEA and reflects the average portion size that a consumer prefers. Consumers can compare the DVs on tea labels.  


Additionally, according to the FDA Food Labeling Guide, any product intended for resale must be labeled with the beverage product’s manufacturer/supplier, packer, or distributor.


Import Requirements

All products entering the U.S. from international borders are subject to a series of import documents, and tea is no exception. Providing the proper import and export documentation is critical to avoid shipping delays, increased costs, or the potential rejection of goods.

Import Matcha from Japan

Bill of Lading


Putting it plainly, the Bill of Lading is one big receipt. This commercial document is issued by a carrier and sent to the shipper of the goods, essentially transferring the title of goods. It is signed by the owner of the vessel, captain, or agent who then provides written documentation or proof that the products have been received. 


The declaration is to deliver the merchandise at the designated port of entry, along with the condition in which the desired transportation is made. The documents are then sent off to the authorized holder of the Bill of Lading.  The BOL is an essential piece of documentation that ensures the exporters receive their money and importers receive their products.

Certificate of Origin

A Certificate of Origin is a document that discloses what country the imported products are coming from. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, this certificate declares the nationality of the product.


This one-time document will accompany imported shipments. When a second shipment is sent with the same product, however, a new Certificate of Origin will need to be obtained. In the U.S., these certificates are available at any local Chamber of Commerce.


The requirements for requesting a Certificate of Origin are determined by whether you are the producer of the product, a trader who is selling the product, or a logistics service provider who is acting on behalf of either scenario.


Producers are required to submit a description of the production process. Those who are traders or logistics providers will need to submit a declaration from the product supplier, who can state the origin of the goods.

Commercial Invoice

The commercial invoice is an export document that serves as a bill of sale between the seller (exporter) and the customer (importer). This invoice contains information regarding the contents of the shipment and the amount and value of the goods. The commercial invoice for international shipping describes the following:

  • The name of the product
  • The country of origin
  • A product description and its intended use
  • The commercial value of the product
  • The net weight and gross weight of the product
  • Delivery and payment terms
  • The name and location of the company/individual importing the product


A commercial invoice is necessary to prevent any shipping difficulties during the import and export process and to ensure the right taxes and duties are paid. Any incorrect information listed on the invoice will lead to failed shipping or the potential for products to be seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Customs Bond

A Customs Bond involves a written agreement amongst three parties: the Importer of the Record, the CBP, and the bond company issuer.


Before a bond is purchased, imported goods will be held at Customs until proof of bond is shown. Goods will remain pending approval until the bond is verified.  There are a few situations that require the need for a customs bond, including:

  • when imported goods are for commercial use
  • when federal regulation of the product is required
  • if the value of the imported merchandise is worth more than $2,500


The cost of a Customs Bond is calculated based on the amount of taxes and fees that are applied to the imported products. Typically, the bond amount is a minimum of 10 percent of the total duties and fees paid to the CBP.

FDA Filing of Prior Notice

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA determine the permissibility of countless food products that are brought into the United States on a daily basis. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for any food products that come from wildlife. The CBP are the ones who enforce all of the above requirements.


Every commercial import of food and beverage product requires a Prior Notice (PN) with the FDA and must be filed prior to import. Any product that contains meat, egg, milk, poultry, plant, or other animal-origin products may require additional permits, health certificates, or specialized certification depending upon the country of origin.


These requirements, however, do not generally apply to food that is accompanying a traveler into the United States or food products that are sent by an individual for personal use. Foreign manufacturers and distributors of food products within the U.S. are required to register their goods with the FDA upon import.


CBP will hold food items until the PN is filed with the FDA. When importing tea to the U.S., it is imperative that the PN number is submitted to CBP with the associated entry documents in order to avoid delays or the rejection of goods. The PN number should be annotated on the shipping documents. 


Once the goods arrive in the United States, the FDA is permitted to collect a sample prior to the release of the shipment. If the sample is in violation of FDA regulations, a Notice of Detention will be filed, and the goods remain in the possession of CBP.

Importer Security Filing (for Ocean Freight)

The Importer Security Filing (ISF) requires importers and vessel operating carriers to provide advance shipment information to the CBP regarding U.S. ocean-bound cargo. 


The importer submits the ISF form before the arrival of the product. Those who choose to import tea via ocean freight must employ a licensed U.S. Customs Broker to file the ISF form through the Customs database. This form should include:

  • The country of origin
  • The manufacturer
  • The products being shipped
  • The commercial value of the product
  • The vessel the products are loaded on
  • The container in which the products are packed
  • The location of the port the products are being sent to
  • The U.S. importer of record

ISF forms ensure that the CBP is aware of the shipment’s contents, who is importing it, and the number of containers entering the country. This allows U.S. Customs to easily identify and track all inbound products and keep records of each importer. 


ISF forms are necessary to monitor the possible exchange of illegal goods and hold importers accountable for their actions.

Packing List

The shipper or freight forwarder provides the packing list. Packing lists should include documentation from your commercial invoice and can be checked by the U.S. Customs to authenticate the cargo. 


The packing list and the invoice go hand in hand to confirm the required information of the CBP clearance process. To import tea to the United States, the item’s net and gross weight must be calculated and listed on the packing slip.


The invoice should be filled out in English, which U.S. Customs requires. A packing list is essential for any FDA-regulated product to receive Customs clearance at the U.S. point of entry.

Single Entry Bond

A single-entry bond is just as it sounds: a one-time entry of a shipment through a designated U.S. port. Once a single-entry bond is obtained, products must move through the assigned port of entry. Importers cannot change the shipping method or destination once the single-entry form is filed.


Those who import occasional shipments, typically less than four times a year, benefit the most from a single-entry bond. Importers of goods with a low-cost value can successfully apply a single-entry bond to a shipment, whereas high-cost shipments require a continuous bond.


Taxes, Duties, and Fees

How to import tea from china

Tea items imported to the U.S. are subject to additional taxes, duties, and fees regarding the type of tea. Products are classified and organized by codes linked to the product’s country of origin and will be different for each tea brand. 

Harmonized Codes

A Harmonized System code or HS code is a numerical code that keeps track of what items are shipped across the country. The first six digits of an HS code are used universally. Every other country may then add their own digits to the sequence, creating eight-, ten-, or twelve-digit international codes.


These codes determine the rules and regulations of the product being imported, as well as the appropriate tax for each item. In the instance of tea, there are specific HS codes used depending on the type, package, origin, and intended use.


Tea extracts, concentrates, essences, and preps fall under a general HS code - 210120. However, there are additional subsets to these codes, that classify flavorings and additives (think black, earl gray, and lavender teas), and are determined by the country of export.

Duty Rates

A Customs Duty is a tax or tariff imposed on any product transported across international borders. The purpose of a Customs Duty is to defend each country’s economy and its environment by controlling the flow of goods, be it into or out of the country. This is most important for the monitoring of restrictive and prohibited goods.


The Customs Duty Rate is a percentage that is determined by the total purchase value of the product paid within a foreign country, according to the commercial invoice. This excludes the article’s quality, size, shipping method, insurance, and weight.


Duty rates work together with the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) to provide rates for virtually all items in existence. CBP uses the HTS as a reference manual to determine correct tariff rates and statistical categories for all products imported to the U.S.

Merchandise Processing Fees

A Merchandise Processing Fee (MPF) is an importer fee that the CBP charges in addition to the US Customs Duty. This fee is 0.3464% of the value of the merchandise. The MPF fee has a minimum and maximum amount determined by the assigned value of the shipment.


As of 2021, the minimum MPF fee given to a formal entry is $2.22, and the maximum fee is $538.40. Formal entries are the import of merchandise used for commercial selling purposes, whereas informal entries are merchandise typically used for personal use.

Harbor Maintenance Fee

The Harbor Maintenance Fee (HMF) is a payment collected by the CBP for all imported shipments to the U.S. that arrive via sea freight. An HMF fee amounts to 0.125% of the cargo’s value and is used to facilitate the conservation and development of seaports in the United States. There is no fee collected for shipments by air or truck.


This charge applies to shipments entering all U.S. ports defined in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. In total, 197 ports in the United States across 32 states require a Harbor Maintenance Fee. HMFs are collected on all formal entries, including to a warehouse, temporary importation through bond entries, and admissions into foreign trade zones. As far as collecting the HMF, fees are typically considered part of the destination process.

Shipping Fees

Shipping fees are determined primarily by the mode of transportation: air, ocean, or trucking. In the U.S., tea is imported mainly from Canada, China, Japan, and Thailand, creating many options for import. 


Selecting the appropriate mode of transportation should be determined by how quickly the product is needed, the quantity of the products being shipped, and where the product is being exported from.


Selecting a freight forwarder is just as essential as choosing the right supplier. There is a wide range of services and features that a freight forwarder can provide to your business, saving you time and money. 


At Bookairfreight, we handle everything, from customs clearance and tax & duties to acting as your importer of record. Our entire team of logistics experts will streamline the service and delivery process for you, saving you hundreds of dollars in costly shipping fees. Get an instant quote now.


FCL and LCL Freight Fees

There are two types of ocean freight: Full Container Load (FCL) and Less Than Container Load (LCL). These allow you to take up to a full container for larger shipment volumes, or a partial container shared with others for smaller shipment volumes.


Full container shipments are charged at a flat rate for the entire container. Partial container fees are charged by the volumetric weight or gross weight of the product. If you have more than 15 cubic centimeters in goods, it might be cheaper to ship FCL than LCL. 


Check out shipping rates on Bookairfreight and choose what’s best for you.  Due to weight restrictions, the bigger the shipment, the cheaper ocean freight becomes. However, ocean freight is the slowest transportation method for importing tea from overseas. 


It could take weeks or even months for the cargo ship to reach the U.S. entry point. If you are shipping large volumes of tea and shipping time is not a factor, ocean freight is the better alternative.


Airfreight, on the other hand, is ideal for small, lightweight shipments of tea. Less packaging is required for air shipment, allowing for a quicker Customs process. Check out the latest shipping rates now and see what’s best for you.


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Daisy Jiang

Proud Co-Founder and CEO of Bookairfreight. Shortly after starting to work in the world of logistics, I was astonished at how difficult and time consuming it was for businesses to get their hands on a simple air freight quote. I saw this as an opportunity to really make a difference in people’s lives, and felt like I had to do something. It was the spark that lit the fire of Bookairfreight’s creation.

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