Classify correctly, save time and money!

red shipping container with customs label

Classify your import/export goods correctly and save both time and money

Every year, over 8000 different product classifications are exported from the United States to the world. By knowing your correct classification number and setting it up in advance of time of shipment, you will save time and effort and will establish an excellent practice assuring consistency of your descriptions for your products.

Presently in the US, as a US exporter, you have two options that you can utilize for product classification on your shipper export declaration, the Schedule-B number (administered by the Census Bureau), or the Harmonized Tariff System (administered by the USITC United States International Trade Commission). 

All goods that are exported are assigned a unique 10-digit identification code. Every 10-digit item is part of a series of progressively broader product categories. This leads to our next topic of discussion: Schedule B codes and Harmonized Tariff Schedule codes.

So, what's the difference between the Schedule B codes (for exports) and the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes (for imports)?

All of the imports and export codes used by the United States are based on the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS). The HTS assigns 6-digit codes for general categories. Countries that use the HTS are allowed to define commodities at a more detailed level than 6-digits, but all definitions must be within that 6-digit framework. 

The US defines products using 10-digit HTS codes for US imports and export HTS codes: 

  • Export (Schedule B, administered by U.S. Census)
  • Import (HTS, administered by USITC)

Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated 

The USITC (Office of Tariff Affairs and Trade Agreements) is responsible for publishing the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States Annotated (HTSA). The HTSA provides the applicable tariff rates and statistical categories for all merchandise imported into the United States; it is based on the international Harmonized System, the global classification system that is used to describe most world trade in goods. 

Although the USITC publishes and maintains the HTSA in its various forms, US Customs is the only agency that can provide legally binding advice or rulings on the classification of imports. 

US Customs House

Your choice of using a schedule B number or an HTS number to classify your export goods is a decision that you can make freely, as one number does not overrule another. What is important in the decision making process is to choose one that best fits your commodity description, provides the information to the parties that file the information on your behalf, and is consistent with the same number each and every time that you send that commodity out for export.

How to find your Schedule B number?

The Census Bureau has created an “intelligent” search engine to guide you through the process.

The first step: Click here to access the Census Bureau Schedule B search engine and browse the entire Schedule B.

To use the search engine, click on the "Search" link. Once directed to the search engine, it will prompt you to enter your product description in the search bar. If you hover your cursor over the "i" icon beside "DESCRIBE YOUR PRODUCT," you will see other tips to help with your search.

As the pop-up window says, you can search for your Schedule B number using descriptive words (like "frozen"), a complete or partial Harmonized System (HS) code (such as the first four or six digits of your classification code, if you know them), or a Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number if you are exporting a chemical substance. (This will be extra beneficial for our chemical customers!) The search engine also recognizes some brand names. In the past, you may have searched for generic terms like "cell phone" instead of specific brands or model names. With recent enhancements to the system, looking for the schedule B of your Apple watch has never been easier. Simply type in ‘Apple watch’ - the system is ready to search!

Of course, it is not familiar with all brands - at least not yet. If it does not know your product by brand name, it will ask guiding questions, or you may need to start again using different keywords.

If you have not used this new search tool I encourage you to take a look and try it out. I’ve found it to be a very helpful asset to ensure that your classifications are current and accurate.

In addition to knowing your classification number for tariff and statistics purposes, there may be more information that you may need to be aware of. The US Department of Commerce (BIS) also administered an additional classification code that will identify cargo for US Export Control purposes, called an ECCN (Export Commodity Control Number) or also known as CCL (Commodity Control List).  This classification number is designed to describe the type of goods that are being exported, the reason for control, and how is the control administered.  This extended series of numbers will provide additional descriptive information to the US Government so that functional knowledge of the cargo is known to the government agency that has issued the control.

When your products are controlled by the US government you may need to contact your engineering team or technical expertise to help you understand the import aspects of these numbers.

If you’re in need of classifying your goods for trade, statistical, and or export control purposes, please do not hesitate to contact me for the guidance that will be needed to set up your excellent practice for your company.