International Trade

Guide to International Trade

Are you ready to be a global success?

Thank you to the Central Florida International Trade Office (CFITO) for providing this guide.

Congratulations on deciding to take the plunge and investigate how your business can benefit from entering the global marketplace!

There is a lot to consider when getting started, and we know you may feel overwhelmed reviewing this information.

Orange County recognizes the challenges of getting started in international trade and has funded the Central Florida International Trade Office since 2014 to help guide you through the exporting and importing process and to connect you with other international trade resources and local service providers.

Metro Orlando is already finding international success!  In 2018, the region exported goods valued at $3.6 billion to 224 countries and imported $13.6 billion in goods from 233 countries around the world.

This success is not surprising given the great access we enjoy to the world.  Central Florida has on its doorstep one of the busiest international airports in the nation – the Orlando International Airport – as well as two cargo ports – Port Canaveral and Port Tampa Bay – with easy access to two smaller international airports in the region and two other major ports within under four hours’ drive.

There’s no better time to get started than now!

7 Steps to Exporting Success

Visit the Exporting Guide for a more in depth look.

Exporting is not simple, but neither was starting your business.  It is part of the human condition to be risk averse, so organizations like the Central Florida International Trade Office and BizLink Orange are here to help you understand what you are getting into, including both the benefits and the costs of exporting, and to provide counseling on what your business needs to do to prepare for export success.

Many Central Florida companies have already had success with exporting goods, for more details request the full 2021 Export Report from CFITO.

Step 1: Preparing for Success

Step 2: Finding the Right Market

Step 3: Marketing Your Product/Service Abroad

Step 4: Pricing Strategy

Step 5: Getting Paid

Step 6: Financing Your Exports

Step 7: Export Compliance

6 Steps for Importing Success

Visit the Importing Guide for a more in depth look.

Do you have a favorite product from your home country that you think would be a big seller here in Central Florida if you had the opportunity to introduce it to local consumers?  Or do you have a great idea and need to find a manufacturer who can produce it at a competitive price?  Or maybe there is a component for your product that is only manufactured outside the United States?  Then you might be ready to become an importer!

Step 1 – Familiarize Yourself with Import and Regulatory Requirements

Step 2 – Sourcing imports

Step 3 – Paying for Your Imports

Step 4 – Understanding Your Contract

Step 5 – Entry Process

Step 6  – Foreign Trade Zones

General Advice

As you get started importing, your logistics provider (company that will look after shipping your product) will be your best source of advice on importing.  In addition to moving your shipment from point of origin to destination, they will have a customs broker on staff who can help with classification of your product – so that you can determine what the applicable tariff will be – as well as make you aware of other rules that will affect the importation of that article.  (And unless you want to fill out and file the paperwork and obtain a CBP bond yourself, you will need to work with a customs broker for any shipments of a value in excess of $800.)  So be sure to find one that has expertise in the market you are importing from and, even more importantly, that you find easy to reach when you have a question and that whose answers you trust.  (For more information about the role of a logistics provider, please see the section on Logistics.)

Also, some suppliers will offer to take care of the importing process for you and deliver the product directly to your place of business.  This will make things easier for you, which is important as you get started, but always remember that they will be charging for this service (even if that expense is wrapped up in the price).  A great way to cut costs – particularly as you become more confident as an importer and/or start importing in greater volume – will be to take greater control of your supply chain and the shipping and import processes.

You got a foreign order – NOW WHAT?


You have a terrific product or service, and word spreads.  Out of the blue, you get an e-mail message or a phone call from a client based outside the United States asking you for a quote on a purchase from them.  Your first thought might be: ok, what do I do now?

Here are some tips on how to prepare for success:

Check whether the request is legitimate. This might seem rather obvious, but you will want to make sure that the e-mail is not part of some phishing scheme to get your personal information or a Trojan horse seeking to infect your computer with the latest malware.

    • If the message just wants to know more about “your product” or “your service” and it does not identify specifically what the sender is looking for, it is unlikely to be a good lead.

What type of product or service will you be exporting? The U.S. Government regulates exports in order to protect U.S. national security, foreign policy and economic interests. Depending on the nature of your product or service, it may be need export permits.

There are three main categories of product or service to consider:

  • Defense or military-related – these are subject to the International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
    • These exports are heavily regulated. You can learn more from the U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, or you may wish to hire a professional to help you ensure that your export is ITAR -compliant.
  • Dual-use – these are goods and services that may have both military and civilian uses. They are identified under the Bureau of Industry and Security’s Commerce Control List (CCL) and require an export license.
  • Everything else (aka, EAR99) – these are not listed on the CCL and won’t necessarily need a permit for export.

Confirm whether you can sell your product or service into the country from which the request has been made or to the individual making the request.

    • Is that country subject to an embargo or other sanctions? (Ex: North Korea)
    • Is your customer on the Consolidated Screening List? (The CSL is a list of parties for which the United States Government maintains restrictions on certain exports.)
    • You need to always be alert to red flags in export transactions in order to ensure that you do not violate export compliance rules.
      • Ex: if a small bakery wants to place an order for sophisticated computers from you, this raises a red flag that you need to look into.

You want to make sure you will be paid at the end of the day, so perform due diligence on the customer (and their country!).

    • The U.S. Commercial Service can perform (for a fee) an International Company Profile (background check) of your potential partner.
    • You can order a credit report from a company like Dun & Bradstreet or EulerHermes.
    • Country Commercial Guides provide reports on market conditions, opportunities, regulations and business customs prepared at U.S. Embassies around the world.
    • Global credit rating companies like Coface provide information on country risks and assessments of country business climates.

Once you decide you are interested in making the sale, the most important thing to do will be to find a partner to work on getting your product to your customer.

    • Finding a trusted partner for your shipping needs is worth doing before you quote a price to your client.
      • Assuming what the cost of shipping will be is very risky! Better to know up front what you are getting into.
    • If your shipment is small, then maybe working with a courier (e.g., UPS or DHL) or the U.S. Postal Service will be all you need.
    • Consider working with a freight forwarder on larger shipments: they will be able to help you with the logistics of shipping your product and getting it through customs.
      • In particular, they can help you understand (or to use the right) Incoterm in the contract and how it will affect your responsibility for shipping and insurance costs.
      • They can also help you with the documents you will need for the exports.
    • In addition to cost of shipping, you will need to discuss how much time your shipment will take – and whether you can get it to your customer in time!
      • If you will be responsible under the contract to get the shipment through customs, bear in mind that random inspections can add considerable time to delivery.

Calculate what it will cost to export your product – or for you to deliver the service – to the customer.

    • Your freight forwarder and their customs broker will be able to help identify costs such as:
      • Shipping
      • Cargo insurance
      • Tariffs (taxes at the border)
      • Sales/value added taxes that may need to be paid
      • Any regulations (e.g., labelling or product certification) or product safety standards your product would need to meet in the export market
    • Don’t forget to include:
      • Travel expenses if you will need to train your client in person on using your product or to deliver services in your client’s home country.
      • Expenses related to financing (e.g., fees for Letter of Credit or cost of accounts receivable insurance).
      • Any packing costs to prepare your goods for shipping (e.g., palletizing shipment)

Decide on the price – and how you want to be paid!

    • Just adding all the costs of exporting to the price you charge domestically may make your product too expensive: starting with the marginal cost to manufacture those extra products and then adding the export costs plus a profit margin may help you make the sale.
    • Do you want to be paid in U.S. dollars or is the local currency acceptable?
      • Consider: while you may be reluctant to take the risk of dealing with currency fluctuations, so might your potential customer.
    • When do you want to be paid?
      • Consider: being paid before shipping reduces your risk but your potential customer may not be interested in assuming the risk of receiving goods that will be shipped only after they have paid for them.
      • There are other ways to deal with payment other than being paid before shipping or on receipt of goods – e.g., a letter of credit still provides a degree of security (and while the fees for this are substantial, you can include these in the price you quote).


Getting your product to your foreign buyer or from a seller abroad is similar but not identical to sending it to your customers across town or getting it shipped to your premises from across the country.  The issues you will deal with to move your product are pretty much the same, and while each of them will doubtlessly be more complex, there will be service providers who can assume the burden of shipping decisions and help make your international transactions move smoothly.

  • The most important thing to know is what are the Incoterms – short for International Commercial Terms – in your contract.
  • Incoterms provide a standardized set of terms that determine the responsibilities of buyers and sellers when shipping goods, in particular who is paying for the shipping costs.
  • These are complex and will require seeking expert guidance.  Nonetheless, in selling internationally, you will need to know the Incoterm being used in your contracts, as they will determine which party is responsible for transportation costs and for insuring the shipment, and consequently they will be a key factor in calculating the price of your product.
  • Your freight forwarder can help explain the relevant Incoterm in your contract, but you really need to know this before you sign on the dotted line in order to fully understand the contract terms.
  • Make sure that your packaging is properly marked for shipping.
  • Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out all your shipping needs alone!
    • You can outsource your entire order fulfillment operations to third party logistics (3PL) providers, which provide a full range of services including warehousing, inventory management, shipping & receiving, and freight shipping.
    • Another option would be to use freight forwarders.  They will not move the shipment themselves, but they are experts in logistics and will arrange for transportation of the shipment on your behalf.  In particular, they will help negotiate prices with the carrier and help decide the route that best meets your needs (balancing speed, reliability and price).
    • A customs broker will act as the agent for the importer in order to help streamline the entry of your shipment into the importing country.  They will know all the rules and regulations for importing into that country, and they will prepare and submit any documentation needed for customs entry, as well as ensure that customs duties are paid on entry.  The 3PL or freight forwarder you work with is likely to have an in-house customs broker.
  • Nonetheless, some of the factors you ought to consider before speaking to your freight forwarder will include:
    • How sensitive are you to the cost of shipping?
      • Speed = money:  the quicker the product needs to reach destination, the greater the cost to ship will be.
    • Where are you sending the product?
      • Most destinations will be accessible only by air or sea, but for Canada and Mexico, ground transportation (truck or rail) may also be options.
    • Speed/Reliability
      • Do you need to overnight a product?  Then you will probably want to use a courier service.
      • Is the product perishable or time-sensitive?  Then you may need to send by air cargo.
      • Make sure to tell your freight forwarder if the product needs to reach your client by a specific date.
  • Remember, though, that delays due to inspections by customs officials in the market to which you are exporting are beyond the control of your freight forwarder. So if your client wants delivery by a specific date, try to use an Incoterm – or provision in your contract – that will make getting the product through customs a responsibility of that client.
    • Product value
      • High-value products may require better security – and gentler treatment – of air cargo.
      • And don’t forget cargo insurance (see below) for higher value products!
    • Product size
      • If your product is very large, it may be too big to ship any other way than by sea.
    • Sturdiness of product
      • If the product is fragile, then air cargo may be the best option.
      • If the product is sturdy and/or well-packed, then ocean cargo may be the way to go.
      • Does the product require storage at a particular temperature range? Or humidity level?  Then it may need to be shipped in a refrigerated or climate-controlled shipping container.
    • Volume of shipments
      • It may not be worthwhile to ship low volume shipments by sea, and large volume shipments may be too expensive to ship by air.
    • Does your buyer have a customs broker to help with importing your product into their country?
      • If not, then you will need to work with a freight forwarder who can provide that service to you.
  • Cargo Insurance

You need to be ready for the unexpected and prepared for loss of your shipment en route to your buyer or before it arrives at your facilities from your seller.  Cargo insurance is not necessary, but it is highly recommended if you don’t want to assume the economic losses if something happens.

  • Carriers have to provide compensation if they are found to be at fault (and in case of acts of God – e.g., a hurricane – they are unlikely to be found liable) in losing or damaging your shipment, but their liability is limited to a calculation based on the weight or shipping unit of the shipment, not the actual value of the goods (e.g., an ocean shipper’s liability is limited to $500/container).

The Incoterms will be important in understanding where your responsibilities begin and end, and you want to consider how much coverage you want – 110% of the transaction value is common – and look at the type of cargo insurance you need.

  • All Risk is the most comprehensive form and covers all physical damage or loss from almost any external circumstance (other than certain exclusions, e.g., civil war)
  • With Average (WA) is more limited insurance that covers all losses from basic perils, as well as a partial loss from certain other  conditions
  • Free of Particular Average (FPA) is the most restrictive and only covers partial loss

NB:  Marine cargo insurance policies will require that goods must be professionally packed, and they may dictate specific packing requirements.

  • This will include appropriate packaging of the product itself (product should be well protected within its package – e.g., with Styrofoam); the packages should then fit snugly within the carton, which should be strong and moisture resistant (e.g., double-walled corrugated carton); and the cartons should be well stacked on a pallet and shrink wrapped to protect against shifting and moisture.
  • Some useful sites to consult

Business Immigration

The Central Florida International Trade Office DOES NOT OFFER immigration-related services.  Nonetheless, it is worth highlighting a few key concepts on how your international business may be affected by immigration rules and regulations.

Are you a U.S. citizen looking to travelDon’t forget to get a passport!  And if you already have a passport, don’t forget to check that it has not expired (or won’t expire before you return from your business trip).

The information below is not intended to provide legal advice.  It is strongly recommended that you consult an immigration attorney – for example, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association or an Immigration and Nationality Law attorney certified by the Florida Bar – for any immigrant visa-related inquiries.

  • *** It can take up to 18 weeks from submitting the application until you receive a new passport (routine service) and up to 12 weeks for expedited service.

Exporters: before planning business travel, check the country information from the U.S. Department of State for travel advisories and determine whether you will need a visa in order to travel to your destination.

Also, if you need to temporarily bring in a worker – e.g., a professional you employ in a foreign market for training on the product or services they will be selling – then you may need to apply for a non-immigrant worker visa for them.

Importers/Exporters: if you are inviting a supplier or a customer to visit with you in the United States, be sure to highlight to them that they should confirm if they need a visa before they book their business trip.

Looking to move to the USA to establish a new business or buy an existing one?  You will need to apply for a visitor visa or an immigrant visa, depending on whether you just plan to visit or are seeking to live here permanently.

Investors may consider the following programs for entry into the United States:

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program provides a path to obtaining a green card for investors, their spouse and unmarried children under 21 if they make the qualifying investment.

  • The rules for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program have been subject to litigation. In order to ensure that you get the most current and accurate information, it is recommended that you seek legal counsel (see below).

The E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrant classifications permit nationals of a treaty country (note that neither China nor India are treaty countries) and their spouse and unmarried children under 21 to be admitted to the United States.

  • The E-1 nonimmigrant classification (“treaty trader”) is for individuals who engage in international trade on their own behalf.
  • The E-2 nonimmigrant classification (“treaty investor”) is for individuals investing a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business.
  • The initial stay for these classifications will be a maximum of two years. An unlimited number of extensions (up to two years in duration) may be granted.
  • However, these classifications are not green cards and do not lead directly to permanent U.S. residence. All E-1 and E-2 nonimmigrants must maintain an intention to leave the United States when their status expires or is terminated.
  • While your spouse can apply to work in the United States, your children will not be able to work here while they hold a derivative E-1 or E-2 visa based on your E-1 or E-2 approval. In addition, when your children turn 21, they will need to either leave the United States or apply for a visa in their own right.

The information above is not intended to provide legal advice.  It is strongly recommended that you consult an immigration attorney – for example, a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association or an Immigration and Nationality Law attorney certified by the Florida Bar – for any immigrant visa-related inquiries.