• UL Certification When Importing from China: A Complete Guide

    Posted on 20 Comments

    UL standards

    UL (Underwriter Laboratories) develops electronics safety standards for the United States, and provide related testing, certification and auditing services.

    Unlike the EU, where importers must comply with a set of harmonized electronics safety standards – American electronics importers are free to choose which standards to comply with.

    UL standards are developed for specific electronic products, or components, such as cords, batteries and plugs.

    Below follows a few examples:

    • UL 1642 – Standard for Lithium Batteries
    • UL 20 – General-Use Snap Switches
    • UL 2595 – General Requirements for Battery-Powered Appliances
    • UL 2089 – Standard for Vehicle Battery Adapters
    • UL 1740 – Standard for Robots and Robotic Equipment
    • UL 879A – Standard for LED Sign and Sign Retrofit Kits

    You can buy UL standard catalogs directly from standardscatalog.ul.com. Each standard (more than one may apply to your product) costs from US$400 to 1000.

    Assuming you, or your supplier, lack the technical skills to implement a standard in a real life product, you may also need to budget for consulting fees.

    That, and much more, is covered in this comprehensive guide for complying with UL standards, when importing electronic products from China.

    1. Are there different types of UL certification?

    Yes, UL can apply to either a product, or a manufacturer:

    UL Listing: Verifies that a manufacturer can produce a product according to UL standards. UL follows up with the supplier from time to time, but don’t test each SKU or batch. However, sourcing a UL listed supplier is the best option for startups and small scale importers.

    UL Recognition: Applies to machines, and other more complex products – or components. A UL Recognized supplier can put the UL mark on their parts.

    UL Classification: Certifies that a certain product is compliant with UL standards.

    2. Is UL listing or certification mandatory when importing from Asia?

    No, compliance with UL standards is not mandatory, in the sense that you are not required by law to follow them. When it comes to importing electronics to the United States, it’s up to the importer to ensure that the product is safe.

    One way to achieve that, is by following a certain standard, be it one developed by UL, or another organisation.

    That being said, UL is the ‘de facto’ set of mandatory electronics safety standards, in the United States.

    For example, Amazon.com required all sellers of Hoverboards to submit UL compliance documents for lithium batteries – or face permanent suspension.

    It’s the same thing when it comes to retailers. They will not even consider your product, unless it’s UL certified (or, at least listed).

    And, at the end of the day, you need to be sure that your product is safe. So why not just go with an UL listed supplier?

    Even though there may not be mandatory safety standards for many consumer electronics products in the United States, you must always ensure that your product is safe.

    Say that something would go wrong with your product. It could be an exploding charger, or someone being electrocuted. Well, it’s your responsibility.

    That’s the long answer to this simple question.

    3. How do I know if a supplier can produce UL certified products?

    The good thing is that many manufacturers in China are relatively familiar with UL standards, and quite a few in Shenzhen are UL listed.

    In fact, they tend to either refer to European Union directives (i.e., Low Voltage Directive or RoHS), or UL standards.

    While many electronics manufacturers can technically comply with UL standards, given that they receive PCB drawings, writing diagrams and a Bill of Materials (BoM) – you should only consider suppliers that have manufactured UL compliant products before.

    The best way to do that, is by asking them to provide a UL certificate or test report, that you later verify directly with UL.

    This is easy, as these documents are only issued by UL.

    Just keep in mind that a UL classification is only valid for the specific product SKU that was submitted for testing. Even UL listed suppliers cannot provide test reports or certificates for every single SKU or product. That is, however, not required by UL.

    4. How long does it take to get a UL product certified or listed?

    Normally around 6 months, counting from the day you have a functional prototype. That said, it can take months (or even years) before you have a prototype that is technically compliant with all applicable UL standards.

    Not any product can be submitted, and magically pass all UL testing procedures.

    Unless the product is specifically designed according to the technical requirements set out in the applicable UL standard – then the product will not pass compliance testing.

    5. How much does it cost to get a product UL certified?

    The fee, paid to UL, is often in the range between US$5,000 to 15,000. Then again, this is for he services provided by UL, and not including product development costs.

    If you develop an OEM product, you must likely hire a UL consultant to support the development phase, for the sake of ensuring that your product is designed according to all applicable standards.

    They often charge around US$150, or more, per hour.

    Given the time and cost, should I even bother with UL certification?

    If the alternative is to import an unsafe product, then yes. That said, obtaining UL certification for an OEM electronics product is time consuming and costly.

    Frankly, it’s out of reach for most startups and small businesses.

    You can consider applying an ETL or SGS electronics safety standard instead, but it’ll be marginally less time consuming, and costly. At best.

    If you are just starting out, your best option is to only source suppliers that are already UL listed.

    While that will limit the products you can import, and maybe even rule out any design or function customization (at least beyond branding), you can at least place a safe product on the market.

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  • 20 Responses to “UL Certification When Importing from China: A Complete Guide

    1. Asaad Hasan at 5:36 am

      I am looking to import personal beauty appliances from China, but unable to see all the required labeling requirements. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks!

    2. Felippe at 9:48 pm

      Hello Fredrik, how are you?
      I work for a brazilian company that would like to get UL certification.
      We have motor pumps here, and the us company needs UL certification. That´s a big guarantee for them.
      I just would like to know about these 6 months to certified. We have the final product, take all this time for all kind of product?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 12:29 pm

        Hi Felippe,

        Only UL can confirm how much time the process will take.

    3. Josue at 3:35 am

      Hi Fredrik,

      So for an electronic gadget–specifically a multi-usb port charging station that charges multiple ipads, iphones, etc. at once, for example, does the charging station itself need to be UL Listed or just the power block/cord for the charging station?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 4:31 pm

        Hi Josue,

        I think it applies to the final product – not only individual components.

    4. Mit at 1:26 pm

      Hi Fredrik,

      I would like to export wall lights and outdoor garden lights from India to USA. Do you i need to get any UL or ETL license to sell in USA or Canada. Please advice me what other license need to get it to start business with USA and Canada.

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 4:14 pm

        Hello Mit,

        UL and ETL are not licenses. I suggest you read this article to understand: https://www.chinaimportal.com/blog/electrical-safety-standards-for-us-importers/

    5. Jorge de Marchena at 2:23 am

      Hi Frederick.

      Does a ODM product require a new UL certification or can use the original that the manufacturer have.

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 5:28 pm

        Hi Jorge,

        That depends on whether existing test reports are in place or not. Note that the test reports must be valid for the specific product model/SKU.

    6. Allen E Hall at 3:28 pm

      looking at importing lighting products into the US from China. The lights are listed as CE, EMC, and LVD certified. Are any of these the equivalent of a UL certification alone or in total? Do these certifications have any legal value against product liability claims in the US to your knowledge?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 5:03 pm

        Hi Allen,

        EMC and LVD are EU directives. An EMC or LVD product may be compliant with equivalent UL standards, but that doesn’t make the product formally UL compliant.

        Further, I think you need UL compliance if you want your products to be covered by liability insurance in the US.

    7. Louise at 12:18 am

      Hello Fredrik,

      Thank you for the very good information. I am importing Chinese lighting fixtures into the US. I am familiar with UL and am only seeking companies that are offering previously listed UL products. My question to you is, as I am opening a new company in the US can my company name be on the products? Or can only the Chinese company that has the UL listing be on the products? Or perhaps I can use the China model number on the product, so it ties to the UL listing. But I would still like my company name to be on a label or instruction sheet. Is that possible? Please let me know your thoughts. Best regards, Louise

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 7:46 pm

        Hi Louise,

        Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to this question. Assuming they do allow private-label branding, you’ll probably need to use the same standard SKUs as the supplier is.

    8. Gautam at 2:22 pm

      i want my product office chairs UL Certificate in china.What is cost and applications.

      Regards,
      Ankit jain

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 7:32 pm

        Hello Ankit,

        I don’t think UL standards are applicable to office chairs

    9. Wayne at 9:15 pm

      From your experience/knowledge, what are the requirements for importing products that refrigerate, from Italy? They are Italy UL approved. Is this accepted for safety requirements in the US? Do the same China rules apply to Italy products here?

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 8:40 pm

        Italy UL? I have no idea what that is.

      2. Jerome at 3:30 am

        Dear Wayne,

        The applicable rules are governed by where you are importing to. If you import a fridge that is certified UL only in italy. You cannot assumed de facto that its accepted in the US. Maybe the acceptable gas pressure in the lines are different in italy than in the US. Safety rules are specific to juridictions and you cannot assume of anything. Best is to consult a UL engineers agent in the US and ask them the question specific for the product. It might happen yes if you are lucky, but mostly it cannot be deemed UL safe in the US without conducting additional testing to qualify the product. If the fridge manufacturer in the italy initiates himself that qualification, then he will have to pay for ULus. If you are personnally importing for resale from italy and you are initiating the UL process, then you need to pay and the licence, UL file will be registered to your name and only for you as importer.

    10. sani at 11:02 pm

      Do you know anyone that can be my consultants getting products imported from china listed by UL

      1. Fredrik Gronkvist at 6:19 pm

        Hi Sani,

        I suggest you contact CMA Testing in Hong Kong: http://www.cmatesting.org/en/home

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