Guide to Importing Furniture Into the United States
Importing furniture is an excellent opportunity to grow your business and diversify your offerings with unique furniture products your customers will love. High-quality imported furniture boasts exceptional craftsmanship and exotic styles, as well as low prices and high profit margins. This article will cover the essentials of how to import furniture into the United States and the benefits it can offer your furniture business.
Steps for Importing Furniture With a Freight Forwarder
Importing furniture may seem daunting for any small company just getting started with international shipping. However, when you work with a freight forwarder, the steps for importing furniture products are simple and straightforward.
- Choose the product and country: Decide the types of furniture you want to import and the country you plan to import from. Importing furniture provides the opportunity to purchase unique and rare items to feature in your furniture store.
- Determine eligibility: Although the U.S. allows the import of a wide variety of goods, not all items from all countries are clear for import. Check U.S. trade barriers and local laws to verify that your chosen furniture product is eligible for import to the U.S.
- Find a supplier: Once you have verified your eligibility, find a supplier for your furniture products in the country you want to import from. Meet with and build a relationship with your manufacturer before signing a contract with them. In some nations, like China, you may choose to partner with a local supplier in that nation that will purchase goods from a furniture marketplace on your behalf.
- Complete the required paperwork: Depending on the products you are importing and the importing country, the required paperwork and licensing may differ. Your freight forwarder can help you determine what documentation you need to begin importing furniture into the U.S.
- Let your freight forwarder do the rest: If a company imports furniture on their own, they are responsible for classifying their goods, arranging their cargo transport, communicating with customs and tracking their shipment. A freight forwarder will take care of all that for you. You can sit back and relax while your freight forwarder handles all the logistics of importing your furniture products.
When you work with a freight forwarder, you can focus on managing your business at home, rather than wrestling with complex customs regulations. Your freight forwarder will also have existing relationships with carriers, meaning they can import your products as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Partnering with a freight forwarding company makes it easy to tap into the benefits of importing furniture from overseas.
Popular Countries That Export Furniture to the United States
The total value of global furniture imports to the U.S. was $67.1 billion in 20181, according to national trade reports from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Furniture imports have seen a fairly steady increase over the past five years from $47.7 billion in 2013.1 As of March 2019, year-to-date furniture imports were $15.2 billion.1
Within the total global furniture imports for 2018, the primary goods imported were:2
- Furniture and furniture parts not elsewhere specified or included (HS Code 9403), accounting for 37.8% of total U.S. furniture imports
- Seats and seat parts (HS Code 9401), accounting for 36.3% of total U.S. furniture imports
- Lamps and lighting fittings and parts (HS Code 9405), accounting for 17.9% of total U.S. furniture imports
- Mattress supports and bedding (HS Code 9404), accounting for 6.1% of total U.S. furniture imports
China was the No. 1 exporter of furniture to the U.S. in 2018, with a total value of $34.8 billion.1 Mexico ranked second at nearly $11.0 billion.1 Together, furniture imported from China and Mexico accounted for about 68.2% of all U.S. furniture imports last year. Although India only ranks ninth in U.S. furniture exports, furniture from India also remains desirable among U.S. consumers due to its intricate designs and high-quality craftsmanship.
The following sections highlight furniture import trends and statistics from these three popular countries. The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, also called the Harmonized System or HS, is an international classification system for traded goods. Currently, 211 countries and economic unions around the world use HS as a standard for classifying goods for customs purposes.
When importing furniture products to the U.S., your business will use a six-digit HS Code for customs operations and other trade negotiations with foreign suppliers. To find the HS Code for the furniture products your business plans to import, you can search for the HS Code with a product description or view a complete list of HS Codes for all goods provided by the U.S. International Trade Commission. Your freight forwarder can also assist you in classifying your furniture products.
1. Importing Furniture From China
China is currently the top trading partner to the U.S., with a total import value of $539.5 billion in 2018 and $106 billion for the first quarter (Q1) of 2019.3 Furniture products (HS Code 94) accounted for 6.5% of China’s total exports to the U.S. and ranked third among China’s U.S. exports, following electric machinery and equipment (HS Code 85) at 28.2% and industrial machinery (HS Code 84) at 21.6%.4
With $34.8 billion in furniture imports in 2018 and $7.1 billion for Q1 20195, China ranks as the top exporter of furniture to the U.S. The most popular furniture products imported from China in 2018 mirrored the national totals with:
- 35.9% general furniture and furniture parts (HS Code 9403)
- 31.2% seats and seat parts (HS Code 9401)
- 22.2% lamps and lighting (HS Code 9405)
- 9.4% mattress supports and bedding (HS Code 9404)
Importing furniture from China is popular among large and small companies due to the affordability and high quality of Chinese-made furniture products. Even with high shipping costs, wholesale furniture imported from China offers an excellent return for buyers. Chinese-made furniture meets strict quality controls, and manufacturers often construct it without any glue, nails or screws, making it durable and long-lasting.
Furniture importers can also choose from a wide selection of products that are available at massive furniture malls and marketplaces like the China Furniture Wholesale Market in Shunde. To remain competitive in a crowded international and domestic market, Chinese furniture manufacturers are always designing new and unique pieces.
One significant consideration when importing furniture from China is the time it takes for your products to arrive from the other side of the world. Transit time alone is typically between two weeks to two months, and the entire process may take up to three months. If weather delays or other unexpected interruptions occur, importing furniture from China may take even longer.
When importing goods from China to fill your furniture store showroom, plan by choosing seasonally appropriate products and designs. Furniture buyers must be savvy about upcoming furniture trends and buyers’ seasonal preferences to import the right goods at the right time. When you work with a freight forwarder, they can help manage the logistics to get your imported Chinese furniture to you as efficiently and affordably as possible.
2. Importing Furniture From Mexico
Mexico is the second-largest exporter of goods and commodities to the U.S., with $346.5 billion in total imports in 2018.3 Mexico is also the No. 2 exporter of furniture to the U.S., with $11 billion in furniture imports in 2018 and $2.6 billion in Q1 2019.1 Mexican furniture exports to the U.S. have remained fairly steady over the past few years, but reached a historic high of $11.1 billion in 2016.6
The top Mexican-made furniture products imported to the U.S. in 2018 were seats and seat parts (HS Code 9401), accounting for 63.6% of all furniture imports, and lamps and lighting (HS Code 9405), accounting for 20.8% of all U.S. furniture imports from Mexico.6
Mexican furniture is popular among American buyers due to its rustic style and colorful design. Mexican furniture often features handpainted and carved wood with bright colors and patterns. Interior designers and homeowners alike prize unique furniture designs, such as Equipale and bentwood chairs. Importing furniture from Mexico allows businesses to stock their stores with furniture made of exotic woods like Mexican pine and mesquite.
Furniture companies also benefit from short transit times when importing furniture from Mexico. Importers have the option of transporting their goods by land or by air freight when expediency is necessary. Importing furniture from Mexico can allow your company to reduce shipping and transportation costs while filling your furniture showroom with eye-catching pieces.
3. Importing Furniture From India
India is the ninth largest furniture exporter to the U.S., with $890 million in furniture imports in 2018 and $223.3 million for Q1 2019.1 General furniture and furniture pieces (HS Code 9403) accounted for 45.5% of total furniture imports to the U.S., and mattress supports and bedding (HS Code 9404) accounted for 25.6%. Seats and seat parts (HS Code 9401) were the third-largest furniture import from India at 14.3%.7
Furniture from India is valuable for its intricate and ornate designs and high-quality artisan construction. Indian furniture is often hand-carved, making each piece unique. By importing furniture from India, furniture companies can also purchase luxury furniture pieces at affordable prices.
Benefits of Importing Furniture to the United States
The primary benefit of commercial furniture importing is accessing higher-quality goods at lower prices. Because furniture often gets produced and sold wholesale overseas, it creates furniture business opportunities for U.S. businesses to import large quantities of products at affordable rates. Lower taxation and labor costs allow more affordable production of imported furniture. The crowded and competitive furniture market in countries like China and India also helps keep supplier pricing low. By importing furniture into the United States, companies can significantly extend their profit margins.
Importing furniture from China, India, Mexico and other foreign partners can help grow your business — both by increasing your profits and by attracting new customers. Importing furniture can allow you to diversify your product offerings to make your business stand out among your competitors. Furniture companies can feature unique and rare items with handcrafted designs or sleek construction. When you import exotic furniture, customers will keep coming back to see what new items you have in stock.
FAQs for Importing and Exporting Furniture
With the help of a freight forwarder, importing furniture into the U.S. is as straightforward as deciding what products you want to purchase and what supplier you want to source from. However, importing furniture into the U.S. can still be confusing for companies that are just getting started. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about importing furniture.
1. What Kind of Transportation Should I Use for Importing Furniture to the USA?
Depending on the size and weight of the furniture, companies can import furniture by ocean freight or air freight. Ocean freight is typically the most cost-effective way to transport furniture from overseas. Companies should load furniture onto pallets and wrap it in plastic to prevent damage during transit. Shipping furniture on pallets also makes it easier to load and unload at ports.
Furniture pallets then get loaded into 20- or 40-foot cargo containers. Depending on the amount of furniture, companies can import furniture as a full-container load or less-than-container load.
Air freight can be useful when importing a smaller amount of furniture, or if a business needs to import fragile items or irregularly shaped furniture. Air freight also allows for express shipping that is much faster than ocean freight, especially when importing furniture from China. However, shipping furniture via air freight can be significantly more expensive than by ocean freight or ground transportation.
2. Should I Try to Import Furniture to My Business on My Own?
Although importing furniture on your own can be done, importing furniture with an experienced freight forwarder simplifies the process significantly and substantially reduces your risk. A trustworthy freight forwarder will have experience in handling furniture-specific shipments, which means they will make sure your furniture gets packaged, loaded and unloaded correctly to prevent damage.
Freight forwarding companies are knowledgeable about rules and regulations governing international trade, and will ensure your shipment stays in compliance at every step of the process. Your freight forwarder will provide the necessary documentation and communicate with customs officials so you do not have to. Freight forwarding companies also have existing relationships with suppliers and warehouses overseas, making it easy to find a reliable source for your imported furniture.
3. Can Furniture Be Imported as Assembled or Non-Assembled?
Imported furniture can either be assembled or non-assembled, depending on the type of furniture product and its size. Shipping furniture non-assembled whenever possible will often be more cost-effective, allowing more product in a single container.
It’s also possible to ship furniture assembled if it is an unusual shape, carved from a single piece of wood, a luxury item or if there is no reason to ship it in pieces. A trustworthy supplier will carefully package and transport your goods to arrive at your business in one piece.
4. What Types of Furniture Can I Import?
You can import virtually any type of furniture, from plush velvet couches to sleek metal tables. Materials for imported furniture can include wood, wicker, plastic, foam, metal, upholstery and many other materials. Interior furniture such as chairs, tables, bed frames, lights, lamps and other fixtures are popular to import to the U.S., as well as exterior furniture such as gazebos, lawn chairs and other patio furnishings.
Furniture for businesses, office spaces and restaurants often comes from other countries as well. Indeed, purchasing furniture and fixtures in bulk from overseas allows you to furnish an entire business at a much lower cost.
Although it is possible to import almost any variety of furniture, some wood furniture is subject to additional regulations for import and export. These restrictions, implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are designed to prevent invasive species from entering the U.S. and to protect against illegal logging. These are the primary USDA regulations furniture importers must comply with when shipping products to the U.S. from overseas.
- APHIS regulations: The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requires inspections of all wooden furniture before entering the U.S. APHIS regulations also call for sanitizing imported wood furniture by chemical or heat treatment.
- CITES regulations: You can only import furniture constructed with endangered wood that falls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) with a USDA-issued permit or certificate. The certificate must verify harvesting the wood in its country of origin took place legally, and the furniture must arrive at a U.S. port that is certified to handle CITES-listed species.
- Lacey Act: Under the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981, furniture importers must declare certain wood products that enter the U.S. to APHIS using a Plant and Plant Product Declaration Form (PPQ 505).
Companies importing wood furniture from China may also face extra anti-dumping duties. While not all wood furniture from China falls under these regulations, some furniture that retails at less than fair market value may be subject to anti-dumping duties. When you work with a freight forwarding partner, they can help make sure your wood furniture imports comply with all applicable rules and regulations.
With three decades of experience in international shipping, Universal Cargo is a trusted partner for your commercial furniture importing. Universal Cargo has existing relationships with international carriers and representation in all major ports around the world. When you partner with Universal Cargo as your freight forwarder, we will manage the logistics of importing your furniture from China, India, Mexico or anywhere else in the world as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible. Contact Universal Cargo to get started importing furniture for your business.