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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates all communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in the United States. Electronics creates radio frequency energy by themselves, either intentionally (e.g. WiFi enabled Tablets) or unintentionally (e.g. Power Supplies). Therefore, the FCC scope of regulations also apply to most consumer electronics and electrical equipment, and not only products intentionally transmitting radio waves.
In this article, we explain the basics of FCC regulations, and what you must know to ensure compliance when importing electronics from China, and other Asian countries. Before we get started, I’ll explain the two classifications set by the FCC:
An intentional radiator is a device that is intended to emit radio energy. This includes, among many other products, Cell phones, Tablet PCs, WiFi routers, Walkie talkies and Bluetooth headsets – essentially any item that transmits radio waves. Products that fall within one, or more, of the following definitions, are likely classified as an intentional radiator:
Compliance with FCC regulations is mandatory when importing products classified as intentional radiators, and must therefore undergo an equipment authorization procedure.
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This one is a bit more tricky. An unintentional radiator is, in 47 CFR 15.3, defined as any electrical device “operating at over 9000 pulses per second (9 kHz) and using digital techniques”. This definition includes most consumer electronics containing a chip, such as USB enabled devices, even if not equipped with a WiFi or Bluetooth transmitter.
There are various certification procedures. One of the following applies, depending on the type of product, and its classification as either an Intentional or Unintentional radiator:
The supplier is, for certain products, allowed to issue an FCC Verification of Compliance based on their own compliance testing. As said, this is limited to specific products, and not applicable to all items. Many other products must pass an equipment authorization procedure performed by an authorized third party. Below follows a few examples that help you understand how the relation between a product and its certification procedure might look like:
Before you get started importing electronics, you need to confirm which Equipment authorization procedure applies to your product. I shall also add that third party testing is not entirely unnecessary, even if your product is not required to be submitted to a third party. Unless you have the expertise and equipment to verify that the product is compliant with all applicable FCC regulations, I advice you to let a third party testing (e.g. Bureau Veritas) company do it for you.
While FCC compliance is, in relative terms, common among Chinese electronics manufacturers, compliance shall never be taken for granted. Ensuring that a device is FCC certified, according to the applicable equipment authorization procedure, is critical before you place an order.
While I have no FCC compliance rate statistics to share, my estimate is that no more than 5 – 10% of China’s electronics manufacturers can show previous FCC compliance. I use the word “previous compliance” because an existing Declaration of Conformity (DoC), or other compliance document for that matter, is not a guarantee for future compliance.
An FCC Declaration of Conformity, or FCC Verification of Conformity, only applies to a specific device, and not the company itself. Therefore, you must not only verify that the supplier has an extensive compliance track record, but also that the specific products you intend to import is documented. Thus, the compliance rate within a supplier may also vary. While some manufacturers can show extensive documentation, others can only show certificates for one or a few products.
Keep in mind that a Declaration of Conformity is only valid to the specific component set up used at the time of testing. The radiation level can be affected, to a varying degree, if the supplier decides to change components. This is a tricky situation, as Chinese suppliers tend to be all but transparent. Perhaps even more so in affairs related to their subcontractors, from which components are purchased.
Why spend time and money on ensuring compliance with the FCC regulations when it’s so much easier to just make a certificate in Photoshop? As I think many of you are already aware of, this mindset is not exactly unheard of in China. Fake test reports and product certificates are rather common. Verifying the authenticity of an FCC Declaration of Conformity, or other certificate, is possible. All reputable product testing companies verifies certificate and test report authenticity through their website, free of charge.
However, certificate verification is not all that simple, if the certificate is not issued by a well known company. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of testing companies in China, of which the vast majority are not on the list of FCC authorized certification bodies. Such authorization is not always compulsory. Yet, suppliers exclusively using obscure, often local, testing companies, tend to have something to hide from their buyers. It’s far easier to control the outcome of the testing procedure when dealing with minor testing companies, compared to, for example, SGS and Asiainspection.
A quick and simple way to test a supplier’s confidence in actually manfuacturing FCC compliant items is by telling them, early on in the process, that you intend to use a large testing company, rather than letting them decide. If they, for any reason, still insist on using an unknown company, you are safe to assume that it’s time to move on and source another electronics manufacturer.
Most FCC regulated products must comply with the applicable labelling requirements. Take a look at your laptop charger and you’ll see what I’m referring to. As with the certification procedure, different labelling requirements apply depending on the product, and whether its classified as an intentional or unintentional radiator.
Normally, the FCC label shall be permanently affixed to the product unit (i.e. no stickers or temporary labels). However, recent changes to this rule will allow businesses to label the items digitally (e.g. in the software), rather than printing the FCC logo, or compliance statement , on the product unit. On the other hand, items that are not within the FCC scope of regulations may not be labelled with the FCC logo.
The stakes are high when importing electronics from China to the United States. So, what could actually happen if you are caught importing non-compliant electronics? Below follows a summary of non-compliance penalties:
a.) If the FCC finds that you have willfully or repeatedly violated the Communications Act or the FCC Rules, you may have to pay as much as $10,000 for each violation, up to a total of $75,000. (See section 503(b) of the Communications Act.)
b.) If the FCC finds that you have violated any section of the Communications Act or the FCC Rules, you may be ordered to stop whatever action caused the violation. (See section 312(b) of the Communications Act.)
c.) If a Federal court finds that you have willfully and knowingly violated any FCC Rule, you may be fined up to $500 for each day you committed the violation. (See section 502 of the Communications Act.)
e.) If a Federal court finds that you have willfully and knowingly violated any provision of the Communications Act, you may be fined up to $10,000 or you may be imprisoned for one year, or both. (See section 501 of the Communications Act.)
Keep in mind that it’s always the company importing the items that is responsible to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations. The only way to be sure that the items comply with all applicable FCC rules is by submitting samples to a third party testing company, which is, as specified above, also mandatory when importing wide range of products.
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Co-founder of Asiaimportal (HK) Limited and based in Hong Kong. He has been quoted in and contributed to Bloomberg, SCMP, Alibaba Insights, Globalsources.com, China Chief Executive, Quartz Magazine and more.
17 Responses to “FCC Certification when Importing from China”
We’re a P/L with a manufacturer in China for a USB product that is sold in the US. They have the FCC certificate and we have verified it to be legit. Do we have to also send this out to be tested at a third party lab under our label? Thank you
this is a good question. Let’s assume the supplier has a valid certificate for the exact product you want to buy. In theory, this shall be enough.
However, if the products you are buying are coming from a new production batch, it means that the supplier had to source again material and components. Also, manufacturing is not an exact science.
Hence, the question is: Is a product that is “identical” to a compliant product but has new materials / components still compliant? The answer is that nobody can now for sure. Thus, in order to make 100% sure that YOUR production batch will be compliant, you shall run the test on your production batch
Please I need the radio Communicator
Do personal blenders with the below specs require FCC certification? I looked on the FCC website and juice extractors are exempt, however I’m not sure if blenders fall under the same category.
I have a competitor that imports product similar to mine however mine carry real FCC and his has none or fake. How can I remedy this it is not fair?
This is a very common situation, especially as Amazon and other marketplaces have opened the gates to foreign competition, that in many cases couldn’t care less about compliance issues.
Honestly I don’t have any action plan for this, but I assume you could report them to the CPSC.
Does digital piano/keyboard require any FCC certification when importing from China?
Yes, I think they are covered as “unintentional radiators”
Do importing ear phone headset blue tooth from china as private label (pl just logo printed) require me to have FCC ? how can I insure that the company have one and not sent me fake one?
thank you very much
Yes, that is required.
You will need to verify the test report or certificate with the issuing company.
That said, you should not expect to find complete FCC compliance documents, as this is the importers responsibility.
If I use a device such as a wifi soc like esp8266 12e, that has been already issued with a certificate – and build further circuit that does not have any other radiators, what are the requirements?
Thanks for the clear article btw.
Thank you for the info above. Does mobile USB cables require FCC certification?
That I don’t know to be honest. However, there are standards that apply to cables, including USB cables, but I don’t know if those are mandatory or not.
Hi, but still confused about 1 thing.
If supplier has FCC certificate and we are doing P/L of the product, does the certificate automaticallly transfer over to us or we have to do our own FCC tests done by 3rd party?
That’s a good question. Assuming it’s manufactured with the same set of components and no changes have been made, it is at least compliant from a technical point of view.
However, the question is how you can prove that to be the case. In addition, you may need to issue the DoC, as you are the importer (and have access to other relevant documents, such as the circuit diagrams and component list)
Thank you for this post regarding FCC certification. I’m having trouble finding out exactly what certification procedure my product falls into. The product in question are just basic USB cables. Thanks for any help!
Wow I love this post. Very neat!
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