Navigating HTS Code: The Ultimate Guide for Global Traders JANUARY 10, 202413 MIN READ
Navigating HTS Code: The Ultimate Guide for Global Traders

In today's global marketplace, understanding the complexities of international trade is crucial for businesses of all sizes. One key aspect of this is the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code, a standardized numerical method of classifying imported products. These codes are essential for determining tariff rates and gathering trade statistics.

In this article, we'll dive deep into what HTS code is, why it is essential, how to find and determine your specific HTS code, and much more. From the nuanced differences between HTS and Schedule B codes to the latest updates in the system, we've got you covered. So, let's unravel the complexities of HTS codes together and ensure your business navigates the intricacies of international trade with ease and accuracy.

What Are HTS Codes? Why Do We Need Them?

The Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) code is a detailed system used globally for classifying imported goods. It's an extension of the Harmonized System (HS) codes developed and maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO), which is an internationally standardized system of six-digit numbers used to classify traded products. The HTS code consists of two main parts:

  • The first six digits are the HS code: This part is universal across all countries and forms the basis for international trade classification. It categorizes products into broad groups for standardization and statistical purposes.
  • The additional digits: These digits are country-specific and provide a more detailed classification based on the individual country's tariff schedules and trade policies. They allow each country to apply specific duties, taxes, and regulations to the imported goods.

In the United States, the complete US HTS code, often referred to as the HTSUS code, is a 10-digit number. Digits 7 and 8 are used to identify the specific import duty rate for the product in the U.S., while digits 9 and 10 are used for an optional further breakdown of the commodity, often for statistical reporting or to provide additional information to customs agents or partner government agencies. In the following sections of this article, all aspects of HTS codes will be based on the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) code list.

But why are HTS codes so important?

  • Customs and Duty Calculation: The primary purpose of HTS codes is to help determine the customs tariffs that apply to imports. By classifying a product under a specific HTS code, customs officials can quickly identify the appropriate duties and taxes. This process ensures a smooth and efficient customs clearance process.
  • Trade Statistics: HTS codes are critical for tracking international trade statistics. Governments and economic analysts use these codes to monitor which products are being imported or exported, helping in economic planning and policymaking.
  • Compliance and Regulations: Different products are subject to various regulations and restrictions. HTS codes help in identifying products that require special permits or have restrictions. This is crucial for maintaining compliance with international trade laws and regulations.

Understanding and correctly utilizing HTS codes is not merely a bureaucratic necessity; it's an integral part of thriving in today's global marketplace, ensuring smooth, lawful, and efficient international trade transactions.

How Do I Find My HTS Code?

When you're importing goods into the United States, a crucial initial step is understanding how to find the HTS code for your products. Here are three key resources to assist you in this process:

Licensed Customs Broker

If you're dealing with complex goods, have a wide range of products, or are entering a new market, consulting a licensed customs broker can be incredibly beneficial. These professionals are well-versed in trade regulations and can expertly navigate tariff classifications. While there is an upfront cost to their services, the value they provide in ensuring compliance and avoiding costly mistakes is often worth the investment. They are particularly useful in scenarios where the risk of misclassification is high, providing tailored advice that can save time and resources in the long run.

HTS Code Search Tool

For more straightforward products or when you have a clear understanding of your item, utilizing an online HTS code lookup tool can be a quick and cost-effective solution. These tools typically offer a user-friendly interface where you can enter detailed product descriptions to locate the most accurate HTS code. Notable examples include the search tool provided by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) and the USA Customs Clearance's HTS code lookup tool. They feature comprehensive databases that are regularly updated to reflect the latest in trade laws and tariffs.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a key agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, plays a crucial role in the enforcement of customs, immigration, and trade laws. It's instrumental in facilitating international trade and ensuring the accurate classification of goods under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS). When you're looking to find your HTS code, CBP's extensive resources, including their informative website, can be a valuable asset. They provide detailed guidance on understanding and applying HTS codes, crucial for accurate duty calculation and compliance with trade regulations. By leveraging CBP's expertise and resources, businesses and individuals can navigate the complexities of international trade with greater confidence and compliance.

Each of these resources plays a vital role in helping you accurately classify your products under the HTS system. By understanding their strengths and ideal use cases, you can make informed decisions and ensure smooth and compliant international trade operations.

How to Determine Your HTS Code?

After exploring the key resources available to find your HTS code, let's delve into the steps to determine the most accurate code for your product. This process requires a thorough understanding of your product and attention to detail. Here's how you can go about it:

  1. Detailed Product Analysis: Start by gathering detailed information about your product. This includes its composition, purpose, how it's made, and its function. The more you know about your product, the easier it will be to classify it correctly.
  2. Utilize HTS Code Search Tools: As mentioned in the previous section, tools like the USITC's HTS code search tool can be very helpful. Input detailed descriptions of your product and review the suggested codes. These tools are particularly effective for straightforward products and offer a good starting point.
  3. Refer to the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs): The HTS system is governed by the General Rules of Interpretation. Familiarize yourself with these rules, as they guide the classification process and help you understand where your product fits within the HTS code list.
  4. Review Relevant Section and Chapter Notes: The HTS code structure includes various sections and chapters, each with specific notes. These notes provide detailed guidance on classifying goods within that section or chapter. Ensure you review the notes pertinent to your product category for additional insights.
  5. Seek Expert Advice if Needed: If you're unsure about the classification, don't hesitate to consult a licensed customs broker or reach out to the CBP for guidance. As discussed earlier, these professionals can provide valuable expertise and help you navigate complex classification scenarios.
  6. Document Your Process: Keep a record of how you determined your HTS code. This documentation can be crucial if your classification is ever questioned by customs authorities.

By following these steps and utilizing the resources available, you can confidently determine the appropriate HTS code for your product, ensuring compliance and efficiency in your international trade endeavors.

Are HTS Codes the Same as Schedule B Codes?

Are HTS Codes the Same as Schedule B Codes?

When dealing with international trade and shipping, you'll encounter both HTS codes and Schedule B codes. While they are similar and related, they serve different purposes and are not the same.

Usage and Direction of Trade

The HTS codes are used when goods are imported into the United States. They play a crucial role in determining import tariffs and are used for import statistics. Schedule B codes, conversely, are used for goods exported from the United States. They are key to U.S. export statistics and trade policies.

Regulatory Bodies

The oversight of these codes is divided between different regulatory bodies. The HTS codes are administered by the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) and enforced by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In contrast, the Schedule B codes, used specifically for exports, are managed by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Structure and Detail

Although both sets of codes start with the same six-digit Harmonized System (HS) codes, their subsequent digits diverge to cater to specific needs — import regulations for HTS codes and export classifications for Schedule B codes.

Overlap in AES Reporting

There is a significant overlap in the use of Schedule B and HTS codes for export reporting in the Automated Export System (AES), indicating a level of interchangeability for certain chapters. However, this does not negate their distinct roles in trade classification.

According to a Notice to Exporters from the USITC,1 for reporting electronic export information in the Automated Export System (AES), the statistical reporting numbers in the HTS (with their respective descriptions and units of quantity) for articles in chapters 1 through 97 may be used instead of those in Schedule B, unless otherwise noted.

Why Is It Important to Choose the Right HTS Code?

Choosing the correct HTS code for your products when engaging in international trade is not just a procedural necessity; it has significant implications for your business. Here's why the right HTS code matters:

  • Compliance with Customs Regulations: The correct HTS code ensures that you comply with the complex web of customs regulations. Non-compliance can lead to legal issues and disrupt your business operations.
  • Accurate Tariff Assessments: HTS codes directly impact the tariffs and taxes levied on a product. The right code means paying the correct number of duties, avoiding overpayment, or inadvertently underpaying, which can lead to penalties.
  • Smooth Customs Clearance: Proper HTS classification leads to smoother customs clearance. Incorrect codes can result in delays, inspections, and additional handling, slowing down your supply chain.
  • Avoiding Penalties and Fines: Misclassification, whether intentional or accidental, can result in significant fines and penalties. Regular audits by customs authorities can catch these discrepancies.
  • Trade Statistics and Analysis: HTS codes contribute to trade statistics. Accurate data is crucial for economic analysis and policymaking, and your business's compliance plays a role in this larger picture.
  • Meeting Trade Agreements: Certain trade agreements and exemptions apply based on the HTS code. The correct code is essential to benefit from reduced tariffs or exemptions under these agreements.

What Happens if I Use the Wrong HTS Code?

What Happens if I Use the Wrong HTS Code?

Using the wrong HTS code can have several adverse consequences for your business:

  • Delays in Shipment: Incorrect classification can lead to delays in customs clearance, impacting your supply chain and delivery schedules.
  • Financial Penalties and Fines: One of the most immediate consequences is the imposition of fines and penalties. These can be substantial, depending on the nature and value of the goods.
  • Increased Scrutiny and Audits: Regular discrepancies in HTS code usage can trigger audits and inspections by customs authorities, leading to increased scrutiny of your shipments and potentially more delays and costs.
  • Legal Implications: In severe cases, consistent misclassification can lead to legal action, especially if it's perceived as an attempt to evade tariffs.
  • Damage to Reputation: Compliance issues can damage your business's reputation, affecting relationships with partners, customers, and regulatory authorities.
  • Revocation of Trade Privileges: In extreme cases, repeated non-compliance can lead to revocation of trade privileges or licenses, significantly impacting your ability to conduct international business.

The correct classification of goods using the right HTS code is essential for smooth, compliant, and cost-effective international trade operations. It not only helps in avoiding legal and financial repercussions but also ensures efficient and timely movement of goods across borders.

Latest Updates to HTS Code

The 2023 Basic Edition of the HTS was published on December 30, 2022, and it underwent its 2023 Revision 11, as published on September 21, 2023. This followed the previous Revision 10, released on July 24, 2023. This latest revision pertains to the General Notes, chapters 28, 85, 97, 99, and the Statistical Annexes of the HTS. 2

In the latest update to Chapter 99, exclusions from additional duties on certain Chinese products, including COVID-19 medical-care items, have been further extended. Initially set to expire on September 30, 2023, these exclusions, under heading 9903.88.67, are now extended until December 31, 2023. This extension is applicable for goods entered or withdrawn for consumption within this period.3

For a complete and detailed summary of all the changes in the latest 2023 updates, it is recommended to visit the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) website. The USITC is the official source for the most current and comprehensive information regarding HTS code updates.


Navigating through the maze of HTS codes can be challenging, yet it's a crucial aspect of international trade. Throughout this blog, we have explored the significance and meaning of HTS codes, methods to find and determine them, and the repercussions of incorrect usage. Understanding the nuances between HTS and Schedule B codes, and staying updated with the latest HTS code changes, are key to ensuring compliance and avoiding costly penalties. As the landscape of international trade continues to evolve, staying informed and compliant with HTS code regulations is essential for the success and sustainability of your business in the global market.

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How to read HTS code?

An HTS code in the U.S. is a 10-digit number classifying imports. The first six digits are international Harmonized System (HS) codes, and the last four digits specify U.S.-specific details. Here's a breakdown of how to read it:

Digits 1-2: Indicate the product's broad category (HS Chapter).

Digits 3-4: Specify the more detailed category (HS Heading).

Digits 5-6: Define a subcategory within the heading (HS Subheading).

Digits 7-8: Relate to import duty rates in the U.S.

Digits 9-10: Offer further breakdown of the commodity, mainly for statistical reporting or additional customs information.

How does the HTS work?

The Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) is a standardized system used globally to classify traded products. It assigns specific codes to goods, enabling accurate identification for customs purposes. These codes determine the tariffs applied to each product, facilitating international trade. The HTS is essential for importers and exporters to correctly classify their goods, ensuring compliance with tariff laws and efficient processing through customs.

1. United States International Trade Commission Notice to Exporters:
2. Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (2023) Revision 11: