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How to Become a Trade Agent

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The United States Census Bureau states official American consumer trading in 2013 was nearly $2.7 trillion in imported goods and services, while exports totaled $2.3 trillion in goods and services, which was largely facilitated by small businesses. Becoming a international trade agent or import-export agent typically requires an initial investment of about $5,000 in start-up monies. With diligence, coupled with a few preparatory steps, you can open a small trading business on which to build a steady revenue stream in a matter of weeks.

Select goods to trade. Start-up Biz Hub recommends trading food to begin with because "there will always be a market for food, so it will be much easier to find companies that sell different kinds of products." Once established in trading food items, you can begin importing and exporting other goods such as clothing, electronics and appliances.

Determine licensing requirements. Trade agents do not have to be federally licensed--except for those who import and export the following items: food, livestock, tobacco, alcohol, firearms and copyrighted materials such as CDs or DVDs. Phone the United States Department of Commerce and ask what other import/export goods require federal licensing. In addition, phone your state's commerce department and ask about licensing requirements as well as the county you will operate in to determine if you need a permit to send and receive domestic and foreign goods.

Price business space. Your small trade business will need space to accommodate shipping and receiving goods to and from overseas. In general, most leased space will be offered as a Triple Net or NNN lease, meaning the monthly lease obligation includes price per square foot and a portion of the property maintenance costs as well as part of the property taxes.

Obtain start-up and initial operation money. Go to the Small Business Administration's micro loan program website,, and find approved micro lenders in your area. Because small trade businesses do not require large start-up funding, a micro loan product would be suitable. These products cost under $35,000 and average about $13,000, with a six-year repayable period.


Owen Richason grew up working in his family's small contracting business. He later became an outplacement consultant, then a retail business consultant. Richason is a former personal finance and business writer for "Tampa Bay Business and Financier." He now writes for various publications, websites and blogs.

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