When goods enter the United States from overseas, it is considered an importation and must be cleared by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
When a company purchases goods from an overseas supplier, CBP considers them the ultimate importer. The ultimate importer can clear the goods or have a broker clear them on their behalf.
If the overseas supplier ships with an express carrier using a door to door service, the carrier has brokers to clear the goods on behalf of the ultimate importer. If a formal entry is required, CBP regulations require the broker to write the ultimate importer’s identification number EIN on the Entry Summary CBP Form 7501. The ultimate importer’s identification number is either the EIN/tax identification number assigned by the IRS or the importer’s social security number. A formal entry is usually required for commercial importations valued over $2,500.
If the goods are cleared informally, the Entry Summary CBP Form 7501, identification numbers are not required. Goods are cleared informally when they are for personal use, under $2500 in value, and are not in commercial quantities. However, because there are no guarantees an entry will be cleared informally, brokers find it helpful to have the ultimate importer’s identification number just in case.
The paperwork for goods sent by courier asks for an importer EIN number, whether the import qualifies for an informal entry or not. Courier services file CBP entries electronically, and the software system they use requires an identification number to be provided for the recipient of the goods.