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How to Mark a Commercial Sample for Customs Entry Purposes

Say you want to set up a carpet business in the United States and need carpet samples to show prospective buyers your range of colors and product types.

Commercial samples become an issue for US Customs primarily under two (2) scenarios.

The first is where an importer, because it is importing a product it does not intend to resell, seeks to avoid marking a product via use of one of the country of origin marking exceptions.

The second is where an importer seeks duty-free treatment of the merchandise being imported by classifying it as a commercial sample under a special provision in chapter 98 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the US (HTSUS).

Chapter 98 of the HTSUS has a special provision regarding the duty-free entry of a commercial sample under HTSUS heading 9811.00.20 when use of the sample is for the purpose of soliciting purchase orders for foreign merchandise and the creation of demand for future orders. Such treatment is afforded when the sample is

1. Not valued over $1, OR

2. Is marked, torn, perforated or otherwise treaded so that it is unsuitable for sale or for use otherwise than a sample.

Whereas not having the ”SAMPLE” marking may raise an issue by a US Customs border agent, marking it “SAMPLE NOT FOR RESALE” eliminates any issue. A best practice is to instruct your foreign vendor to mark the sample so as to minimize any ambiguities.

One way to mark these would be as shown in the image below.

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