8. Importing goods

Importing goods into any country are subject to the country’s customs regulations and import taxes. The following issues must be reviewed before placing orders for importing goods.

In many cases, it is possible for NGOs bringing in emergency relief items to obtain an exemption from customs duties and import taxes. These can be very high and donors may not necessarily cover them. Existing COs should already have a good understanding of the import and tax regulations, and should ideally have exemptions under any agreement with the government. If this is not the case, all possible steps should be taken to obtain an exemption for emergency items by negotiating with the appropriate government ministry. If this is not possible, be sure to budget adequately for these costs and check if donors will cover the expense.

Restrictions on importing certain items may apply (for example, satellite phones and other telecommunications equipment). Certain items may be banned from import altogether or may require prior authorisation from a government ministry. This must be checked before placing any importation orders. Failure to check this can result in confiscation of equipment or heavy financial penalties. If in doubt, check with a customs and forwarding agent before placing orders.

It is recommended to engage a clearing and forwarding agent, or customs brokers, to facilitate any importations. Most countries have a number of clearing and forwarding agents and/or customs brokers who understand all local customs and import procedures. They also have all the necessary documentation needed for imports.

To select the most appropriate clearing and forwarding agent:

  • Check with CARE USA Procurement for any master contracts.
  • Check what companies are used by other humanitarian agencies, and obtain feedback on performance and contact details for reputable companies.
  • Visit the offices of the most reputable agents to discuss requirements.
  • Select a company based on the process outlined in section 6.3.
  • Negotiate a short-term contract for the provision of required services. This could be either for a one-time engagement or a specific period of time, depending on the activities and the items that need to be imported into the country. Short-term contracts are advantageous in the event that the services being provided by the agency are not up to required standards, and provide the freedom to also engage another agency if needed.


  • Do you have a blanket duty-free clearance authorisation from the government?
  • Will the item being imported by the CO be subjected to customs duty, tax or other levies?
    • If yes, are there specific rates for specific items?
    • If yes, can a temporary waiver or special provisions be obtained for importing emergency relief items?
    • If duty and/or tax have to be paid, will the donor accept these charges? If not, can a waiver be obtained from the donor?
  • Do some of items (for example, satphones, HF/VHF radios) require specific importation approval from any department of the government? The items may be impounded or confiscated, or heavy penalties levied if this step is not cleared.
  • Does the CO have adequate expertise in the procedures related to clearance of imported goods? If not, arrange for a competent clearing and forwarding agent to handle this (refer to section 8.3).
  • Have you arranged for transportation from the point of entry to its final destination?

Is storage required? If yes, refer to Chapter 1 Logistics.