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How to Start Importing: An Essentials Guide for Beginners

January 14, 2020
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Importing products and goods is an excellent opportunity for growing your business, expanding your portfolio and reaching out to new markets. The rules are relatively simple but depending on the type of goods you want to import, you must obtain the required licenses or go through Australian customs procedures. Here are the essential steps you need to acquaint yourself with before starting the importation process.

What are the Legal Requirements for Importing Goods?

The Australian Border Force has an extensive list of specifics that pertain to getting started with an importing business. The good news is that companies or individuals interested in importing products to Australia do not need to hold an importing license. All goods to be imported into Australia have to be declared and cleared through customs. 

In addition to customs clearance a few other requirements also need to be met:

  • The item to be imported should not be on the prohibited goods list
  • All imported goods have to be labelled correctly
  • Some goods will require a description 

Fees and charges will apply so it best to go to The Department of Immigration and Border Protection website to view typical importing charges based on product type

In terms of which countries you can import from, there aren’t many restrictions. Identifying which country a good originates from is important for financial reasons. If a free trade agreement between Australia and the respective country is in place you will benefit from reduced rates of duty.

Are there Import Restrictions, Prohibitions and Special Licensing Requirements?

Anyone can import products and goods as long as these meet national legislative requirements. The list of prohibited goods currently consists of 68 entries (these pertain both to imports and exports). Some of the products and supplies you cannot bring into Australia include:

  • Anabolic steroids and androgenic substances
  • Antibiotics and some other types of medicines
  • Asbestos
  • Body armour and (chemical) weapons
  • Tobacco and tobacco derivatives
  • Incandescent lamps
  • Laser pointers
  • Pencils, paintbrushes, painting supplies that may be toxic
  • Radioactive substances
  • Explosives
  • Certain types of chemicals
  • Pornography and objectionable materials

In some instances, products and goods can be imported but you’ll need special biosecurity permits. These are needed to prevent the introduction of foreign pests to Australia, for example.  The Australian Border Force has information on the types of imports, permits needed for each and whether special terms and conditions apply.

What Are The Costs of Importing Goods?

While importing is obviously an excellent strategic choice for growing a business or getting access to products that aren’t available locally, you’ll also need to understand the cost of the procedure.

Some of the most common charges that apply to imported goods include clearance fees, customs duty charges, goods and services tax (GST) and other import-specific charges. Here’s the official information on calculating the fees and chargesThere are some opportunities for recuperating some of the expenses incurred while importing goods. Refund of customs duty is possible under some circumstances.

Eligibility depends on the following:

  • You are the owner of the goods
  • You have lodged the original version of the financial institution duty (FID), self-assessed clearance (SAC) or return
  • You’ve paid the customs duty at the time of product or good entry

You will also need to provide certain kinds of documentation like:

  • A copy of the original invoice
  • Relevant shipping documents
  • Other supporting documentation pertaining to the above-stated conditions for qualifying

Concession schemes also exist to reduce the financial burden of importing.

What Do I Need To Know About Labelling, Intellectual Property Requirements and Other Essentials?

As already mentioned, certain product types need to enter Australia alongside information about the product type. Labelling requirements are very important and you should gain a better idea of those.

The Commerce Act 1905 is the one that pinpoints labelling requirements and the need for the inclusion of a trade description. 

Whenever a description is required, it has to be made available in English and it has to provide very specific types of information:

  • The name of the country where the goods or products were manufactured/made
  • A true description of the goods (there is no strict definition but the description should provide an accurate representation of the goods)

Here’s a comprehensive list of the goods that require import labelling. If you fail meeting the labelling requirements, you’ll face financial sanctions and the penalty is currently set at $210 AU. When it comes to importing goods, you will need to learn of one more legislative framework – the Trade Marks Act 1995. Under this law, it’s possible for customs officials to sometimes seize goods that infringe trademarks or copyrights. Whenever someone’s intellectual property rights are being infringed upon through an import, the respective items can be withheld at the time of importation. The aim of this measure is to protect copyrights from infringement via counterfeiting and the importation of pirated or unauthorised items.

Additional Sources of Information

While getting started with importing isn’t that complicated, you may have certain questions pertaining to different product types, specific requirements, fees and procedures. Luckily, various sources of information exist and can be employed easily to clarify different issues. The Australian Border Force has the most comprehensive guide on importing to Australia.

To learn more about biosecurity requirements (preventing pests and specific diseases from entering Australia), you can visit the website of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme.

The Australian Business License and Information Service provides detailed information about all sorts of licenses and permits you may need to run your business and carry out legal importation activities.

If you feel overwhelmed by all of the information and you’re not 100 per cent confident in your understanding of the legal framework, consider partnering up with a professional customs broker . Customs brokers are professionals who can deal with the documentation and handle all of the essentials to ensure the customs clearance of the items. Brokers are officially licensed by the Australian Border Force.

Take some time to acquaint yourself with the legal framework, the restrictions and the charges. Having knowledge of these essential conditions will simplify the process of planning the process and streamlining the customs procedures that you’ll have to go through. After all, no question is a stupid question when it comes to importing.  


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