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About to import products to the United States, or sell on Amazon.com? Then you must stay on top of the whole spectrum of mandatory safety standards, labeling, documentation and lab testing requirements.
It’s a heavy topic, but one you need to know inside out – or face the risk of having your goods seized by the US customs, getting your Amazon account shut down – or worse (yes, it can get a lot worse than that).
In this beginners guide to US safety standards and regulations, you will learn what every importer and ecommerce seller must know – including safety standards (both mandatory and non-mandatory), labeling requirements, document requirements and lab testing requirements.
Why product compliance is so complicated for US importers
There’s some truth to that, but what if there was no set of mandatory safety standards for most products? What if Importers had to make a complex regulatory assessment of their own (for which most are not qualified), rather than relying on a clear product compliance framework?
Enter the United States.
For many products, even electronics, there are no mandatory safety standards or directives. Instead, it’s up the Importer to make an assessment and apply ‘the necessary standards and procedures” to ensure that the imported products are safe.
Instead, product standards are developed by private organizations such as UL, ASTM and ANSI.
This is ideal, if you know how to make that assessment.
But if you’re just starting out, and don’t happen to have a team of lawyers and engineers by your side, it’s a lot more complicated. That, and much more, will be covered in this guide.
Free Consultation (30 Min): Ask Questions About the Importing Process
d. General Certificate of Conformity (GCC): Importers must issue a GCC when importing certain product categories. The document is very similar to the CPSIA CPC, and can be found on the CPSC website.
As an Importer, it’s up to you to assess which CPSC regulations and bans apply to your products, and issue a GCC if required. Or, you must just issue one anyway, as that might be faster than trying to make sure whether it’s mandatory or not.
Are you looking for compliance document samples?
We include a set of compliance document samples, label files and compliance checklists – as part of our Starter Package.
As such, any product that is Bluetooth or WiFi enabled must comply.
In addition, FCC regulations also apply to any device with a processor, operating at 9 kHz or above. As such, even battery powered and USB devices are within the scope of FCC regulations.
In short, if you import electronics, you must comply with FCC regulations.
In addition to your products being ‘technically compliant’ (in the sense that they are manufactured to comply, and can pass a lab test), you must also comply with FCC labeling requirements and documentation requirements.
However, FCC administered regulations don’t cover safety aspects of electronic products.
However, you are liable for all unsafe products you import to the US, even if there are no mandatory safety standards for that product.
For example, if a charger explodes, you will be forced to issue a product recall – meaning that you have to refund all your customers.
UL standards can help you bridge the gap, to ensure that your products are safe.
In late 2015, Amazon.com required Hoverboard sellers, to provide documents proving UL compliance, or face immediate suspension. As such, UL standards compliance is ‘de facto’ mandatory when importing electronics to the United States.
That said, the UL certification process is costly, often counted in the thousands of dollars.
As if that was not enough, far from all manufacturers in Asia are able to ensure compliance with UL standards – so you better do a background check before you submit product samples to UL.
Note: UL is not the only organization developing electronics standards for the US market. For example, SGS have their own ‘North America compliance mark’. That said, UL is still the most common standard on the market.
Third party lab testing is not mandatory for most products. That being said, you are responsible for ensuring that all imported products are safe – and the only way to be sure is by submitting batch samples for compliance testing, before shipment.
And, if something would go wrong, you want to be able to show that you have done everything you can to make sure that your product is safe.
Then there are also marketplaces like Amazon.com, who set their requirements. If they want a test report, or other compliance document, you better be able to deliver.
If anything, they are not going to relax their requirements.
“Do I need to get my products tested in the US?”
No, you generally don’t have to submit your product to a US based lab. Many accredited compliance testing companies have facilities in Mainland China and Hong Kong S.A.R.
“What can happen if I fail to comply with US product standards and regulations?”
For most products, you need to comply with more than one set of regulations. For example, when you import electronic children’s products, you need to comply with the following:
FCC part 15
UL (‘De facto’ mandatory)
CA Prop 65 (Recommended)
Country of Origin Labeling
Failing to comply with one regulation, be it a label or a document, renders the product as non-compliant.
Yes, even if the product is technically compliant, and you have managed to tick off all other requirements.
So, what can happen if you fail to comply?
It depends on how serious the ‘violation’ is. If only a matter of a missing label, you may get a second chance to relabel the goods.
That’s expensive, but better than having your new products sent for immediate destruction.
But, if you import products that are technically non-compliant, in the sense that they don’t comply with FCC or chemical regulations, there’s nothing you can do.
If this is discovered by the authorities (and they may ask for documentation at any time), you must issue an immediate product recall.
For most startups and small businesses, that means financial ruin.
But it gets worse.
What if a charger you’ve imported burns down a house or two? Or worse, what if it kills those inside?
These things happen, and it’s you (not the supplier), that will be held liable.
“How do I find out which regulations apply to my product?”
We know how hard it can be to get a grip on product safety standards, labeling, documents and lab testing. To help startups get a grip on the process, and avoid crippling fines and forced product recalls – we created the Starter Package:
a. An overview of product safety standards in the United States, Europe, Australia & more
b. Mandatory document sample files
c. Product labeling template files
d. Checklists that guide you step-by-step through the entire compliance process
In addition, you can also book quality inspections, lab testing and shipping directly from the platform. Click here to learn more.
Free Consultation (30 Min): Ask Questions About the Importing Process
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.
Hey there, I’m Fredrik!
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