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How to Become an Import/Export Agent or Broker

An import/export agent or broker is an individual or a company that sends and receives goods to and from other nations. Also referred to as trade agents or customs brokers, import/export agents work with clients and take care of preparing necessary documents for importing or exporting product. They also process tax and duty payments as related to the nations involved in the transaction, plan for shipment deliveries and arrange for storage of goods that are imported. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, import/export agents or brokers are classified as “business operations specialists,” which reported an average annual salary of about $67,710 in 2010.

Get an education. You should consider acquiring a degree or diploma focused on international business, marketing or import/export trading. Since import and export brokerage is a risky business, it is essential that you have the appropriate knowledge and skills to begin transferring valuable goods from one country to another.

Research the types of goods that you would like to import or export. You need to do this so you can determine the license requirements for the specified goods. For example, goods that fall under the categories of food, livestock, firearms, alcohol, tobacco and copyrighted material like DVDs or CDs require special licensing.

Contact the United States Department of Commerce to apply for appropriate licensing. They can also help you determine any license requirements necessary for doing business with any other particular nation. In some cases, specific countries require permits for sending and receiving foreign and domestic product.

Submit an import number to the Department of Commerce if you need any licenses. If your business is already in operation, you can use your tax identification number.

Secure a surety bond for importing goods that are high in value. The federal government suggests that companies or individuals importing and exporting valuable goods should acquire a surety bond for goods with a dollar value exceeding $2,000.

Contact the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security to apply for an export license. A specialist can help take you through the process for determining whether you need an export license relative to the nation you are doing business with as well as the goods you are exporting.

Review United States export laws. Use export information services such as the Exportfolio website to help you figure out the ECCN for your goods and other requirements regarding licensing.

Obtain a list of ports of entry that receive imported products in the United States. These ports will represent the locations where agents examine the products and where tariffs and taxes may be levied.

Apply for import/export broker and agent job positions or you can start your own agency or brokerage firm. If you are starting your own business, secure office space and acquire an initial operating fund. Visit the Small Business Administration’s micro-loan program website to seek appropriate micro-lenders for funding.


Elise Stall is an experienced writer, blogger and online entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since 2009. She currently blogs at Elise's Review. She has a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and a postgraduate diploma in small-business management from George Brown College.