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Section 321: U.S. de minimis explained

Last updated on April 18th, 2022 -

What is Section 321 for low-value U.S. imports?

Section 321 is actually a shorter name for “Section 321(a)(2)(C) of the Tariff Act of 1930,” and is the statute that covers the regulations for importing low-value shipments (LVS) below the United States’ de minimis of $800 USD into the U.S. (including Puerto Rico). A low-value shipment under Section 321 is a type of informal entry that allows streamlined clearance and release of shipments into the U.S. by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), free of duty and tax. The U.S. informal entry threshold is $2500 USD, but Section 321 LVS clearance only applies to shipments that fall below the U.S. de minimis value of $800 USD. Here’s a summary of Section 321 and the $800 de minimis:

  • Congress raised the U.S. import de minimis value from $200 to $800 in 2016.
    • This means that you can import shipments into the U.S. valued at less than or equal to $800 USD and pay no duty or tax!
  • The $800 de minimis significantly increased trade into the U.S. while simplifying the red tape required to get these orders cleared through customs.

Essentially, imports valued at less than or equal to $800 USD clear customs quickly with no duty or tax incurred.

Who does the de minimis benefit?

  • U.S. businesses importing from other countries – U.S. businesses purchasing goods internationally can save on duty by leveraging the $800 de minimis.
  • U.S. shoppers – 80% of the U.S. population shop online. U.S. shoppers can easily purchase goods from across the globe without having to worry about any duty or tax on imports unless they exceed the $800 de minimis. Shipping fees are usually the only extra cost!
  • Non-U.S. businesses – Businesses located outside the U.S. can benefit greatly from Section 321 because U.S. shoppers are more likely to purchase internationally due to the high de minimis.
    • Some non-U.S. businesses that ship internationally decide to absorb duties and taxes associated with their international shipments instead of making the consumers pay. The high de minimis can lower the amount the business pays.

Section 321 and your business

Bottom line – Whether you are a U.S. business importing from abroad, or a non-U.S. business selling internationally and absorbing the landed cost, you can save money and time on imports, giving your business a competitive edge. This high de minimis value can benefit your business and make importing into the U.S. a much smoother, faster, and less daunting process – one can buy a lot for $800! Plus, keep in mind that this $800 is only the cost of goods; it does not include shipping. Leveraging Section 321 by keeping your U.S. imports below $800 can save you a lot of money and time. Here are the benefits:

  • Lower fees – U.S. businesses importing from international companies and non-U.S. retailers shipping to U.S. consumers can save significantly on logistic costs through this Act.
  • Faster clearance – While proof of value is still required to file a shipment for Section 321, the Act lessens the amount of paperwork and need for inspection at customs, resulting in a faster clearance process.
  • Competitive edge – The time and money saved with the $800 US de minimis and resulting streamlined LVS clearance process can give your business a competitive edge, especially if you import goods based on consumer requests!

While you cannot escape all of the fees that accompany international trade, both retailers and shoppers can minimize duties, taxes, fees, and delays by importing and exporting strategically to reap the benefits of the $800 U.S. de minimis.

Restrictions to Section 321

Like every good thing, Section 321 has some limits to keep in mind, but these are common for most countries’ low-value shipment statutes (or laws).

  • Valid for one shipment per day
    • Section 321 is only valid for one shipment per recipient daily, so if you’re a U.S. business importing goods from a foreign country, try not to schedule multiple shipments from various manufacturers in one day.
  • Goods not eligible for Section 321
    • Certain goods do not qualify for the LVS clearance process, regardless of their value. This is due to the need for additional inspections, restrictions on the goods being imported, etc. Here are some examples:
      • Goods that require inspection for release (restricted or controlled goods)
      • Merchandise subject to Anti-Dumping Duty (ADD) and/or Countervailing Duty (CVD)
      • Products are controlled by the following Partner Government Agencies (PGA):
        • Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)
        • National Highway Transport and Safety Administration (NHTSA)
        • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSA)
        • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
        • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) *

*Note: The following goods are exempted from this restriction and are eligible for Section 321: Cosmetics, dinnerware, radiation-emitting non-medical devices, biological samples for laboratory testing, food (excluding ackees, pufferfish, raw clams, raw oysters, raw mussels, and foods packed in airtight containers stored at room temperature)

What do I need to do?

Good news! Normally your carrier will act on your behalf, and clear your goods through customs. Your low-value ecommerce shipments (as long as the items aren’t restricted or dangerous) shouldn’t take much time to clear through customs. Contact your carrier representative for any questions you may have about the Section 321 clearance process. Happy importing!

About the author

Susan Duque

A never-ending interest in solving international logistics and global trade challenges through IT solutions has allowed me to work with companies to decode cross-border. With a background in IT product management, education, and advanced customs certifications, 'going global' is an obtainable goal for Zonos' retailers.

By Susan Duque

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