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The Essential Guide to Understanding HS Codes (US)

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When planning to expand your business into international markets, understanding the Harmonized System (HS) codes is crucial. This internationally accepted product classification system not only simplifies the process of global trade but also serves as a key to successful international transactions.

What is an HS Code?

An HS code is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products. It is used by customs authorities around the world to identify products when assessing duties and taxes and for gathering statistics. The HS Code itself is a six-digit number, each set of digits providing more specific details about the product:

  • The first two digits represent the chapter in which the product is classified.
  • The next two digits identify headings within that chapter.
  • The final two digits pinpoint subheadings, offering precise product identification.

These first six digits are generally consistent worldwide, but additional digits may be appended by individual countries to address specific needs, making the full code vary from one nation to another.

The Importance of HS Codes in International Trade

HS codes are more than just a series of numbers. They are a critical piece of information for anyone involved in international trade. Here’s how they facilitate global business operations:

  • Market Research: HS codes help in conducting thorough market research to understand the demand and competition in different countries.
  • Trade Data Analysis: They allow businesses to use detailed trade data for better strategic planning and to identify potential markets.
  • Regulatory Compliance: HS codes are essential in complying with local laws and regulations, helping to avoid costly delays and fines.

Understanding the U.S. Schedule B System

For U.S. exporters, the Schedule B classification system, which is based on the HS code, is particularly important. This 10-digit code is crucial for:

  • Checking restrictions on exports as per the U.S. Export Administration Regulations.
  • Completing Electronic Export Information (EEI) filings.

You can easily find your Schedule B code by using the search engine on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website at www.census.gov/scheduleb. It is vital to ensure that the code you select matches your product’s characteristics as accurately as possible.

Navigating International HS Codes

When exporting, you’ll need to be aware not only of the U.S. Schedule B code but also of the HS code used by the importing country. This is essential for:

  • Identifying foreign tariffs and taxes.
  • Calculating the full landed cost of your exports.
  • Qualifying for free trade agreement preferences.
  • Ensuring smooth entry at foreign ports.

For precise matching, you can start with the first six digits of your Schedule B code and use a foreign tariff look-up tool available on sites like trade.gov.

Staying Updated

It’s crucial to periodically review the HS codes used, as countries regularly update their classifications to reflect changes in technology, market practices, or regulatory requirements. An outdated code can lead to misclassification, resulting in unexpected costs or delays in shipment.


Proper understanding and use of HS codes are fundamental for any business looking to venture into international markets. They not only help in adhering to global trade regulations but also ensure that your products reach their destinations without unnecessary hindrance. Take the time to consult with customs experts, freight forwarders, or local commercial service offices to ensure that your classification is accurate and up-to-date. Your HS code is not just a requirement—it’s a stepping stone to global business success.


Meet Cody | Classifier

Identifying the correct & precise HS code will result in paying the appropriate duties – not more, not less – and adhering to regulation. Cody is the virtual HS code classifier, supporting customers to classify accurately, prevent frauds, expedite clearance & delivery and create a better experience for trade and consumers.

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