If you want to import or export goods, each of your products will have an HS code. HS codes are crucial in international trade because you need to use them to declare your products to customs. However, in actual business practice, it’s common to see mistakes in declaring HS codes to customs, which leads to unnecessary costs and wasted time.

In the following article, I will give you a comprehensive understanding of HS codes, focusing on the following aspects:

What is HS code?

The full form of HS code is International Convention for Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (Harmonized System). HS code is also called the customs tariff code. Customs of various countries use it as a standard to classify international trading commodities and manage tariff rates. Up to now, more than 200 countries in the world recognize HS code.

HS code gives a unified customs number to each commodity category. It is just like an ID number of each item, such as:

  • 640351 (footwear with outer soles and uppers of leather, covering the ankle)
  • 640359 (footwear with outer soles and uppers of leather, not covering the ankle).

HS code structure

More than 98% of goods in international trade are classified under Harmonized System. It first divides all international trade commodities into 22 sections:

HS Code Section
1. Animals2. Vegetables
3. Oils4. Foods
5. Mineral6. Chemical
7. Plastics8. Leather
9. Wood10. Paper
11. Textiles12. Footwear
13. Stone14. Pearls
15. Base Metals16. Machinery
17. Vehicles18. Instrument
19. Arms20. Miscellaneous
21. Art22. Special

These 22 sections are further divided into 98 chapters. Sections and chapters usually describe broad categories of goods according to raw materials, or use and performance. The chapters will be further subdivided into headings and subheadings to describe products in more detail. You can check this HS code list for more official information.

In this way, HS code is a 6-digital number to represent an item. The first two digits are “chapter”. The third and fourth digits are “Heading”. And the fifth and sixth digits are “Subheading”.

Take 910111 for example. It represents elected operated wrist watch under Chapter 91 (Clocks and watches and parts thereof), Heading 01 (wrist watch), and Subheading 11 (wrist watch, elected operated).

HS code structure

What are the HS codes for different countries?

The 6-digit HS code is international, but different countries can add 1-4 digits after HS code to form their own tariff number to further classify products.

Therefore, based on HS code, different countries have their own classification standards for import and export products. They have different names for their tariff numbers. For example, HS code is called HTS code in the USA, commodity code in the UK, Taric code in the EU, etc.

What is the HTS code in the USA?

HTS code (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) is published by the US International Trade Commission (ITC). It is a US classification system for imported products and determines the tariff rates of all merchandise imported from other countries into the USA.

HTS codes are 10-digit with the first 6 digits the same as HS code. For example, HS code 920110 stands for upright pianos. By adding 4 other digits after 920110, HTS code makes a further classification of Upright pianos:

  • HTS code 9201100005: Used upright piano
  • HTS code 9201100011: New upright piano containing a case measuring less than 111.76 cm in height
  • HTS code 9201100021: New upright piano containing a case measuring 111.76 cm or more but less than 121.92 cm in height.

What is Commodity code in the UK?

The UK uses commodity codes to classify importing and exporting items. It is published by HMRC. When importing into the UK, you should use the 10-digit commodity code. Just like HTS code, it adds 4 digits after HS code to further classify products.

As we mentioned above, HS code 920110 stands for upright pianos. In commodity code,

  • 9201109000 means used upright piano
  • 9201101000 means new upright piano

You see, for the classification of upright pianos, UK and USA are slightly different, but both of them make some expansions based on the HS code classification standard. Tariff codes of other countries are created in a similar way.

2.hs code in different countries

Some countries or regions do not distinguish between new and used upright pianos. Below are the HS code examples:

  • Malaysia’s HS code: 9201100000
  • Hong Kong’s HS code: 92011000
  • China’s HS code: 9201100000

How to look up HS code?

Usually, you can let your supplier or freight forwarder search HS code for you. But your supplier may only know the HS code of the products they sell. Also, you can search by yourself through some official HS code websites or other HS code lookup tools.

But before looking up HS code, in addition to knowing the product name, you’d better know more about its material, composition, use, function, model, etc., as they can influence the HS code search result.

For example, there are two textile products that look similar and are both made of cotton and chemical fibers. Due to different proportions of materials, their HS codes are different. A small plastic stool used as household goods and fishing gear can have different HS codes because of different usage, though it is the same product.

Therefore, you have to select HS code according to the product information. Only by knowing the product in more detail, can you choose HS code more accurately.

Search on official websites

Customs of various countries have official websites to look up HS code, which can show you HS code list related to your products, such as:

Suppose you buy a batch of leather handbags from China. The HS code you get from your Chinese supplier is 4202212000. Now you need to check the HS code of leather handbags in your country.

Example of searching HS code in the USA

If you import to the USA, then you should find HTS code by the following steps.

Step1: Go to USITC.

Step2: Enter the first 6 digits ”420221″ in the search bar. You will get a related HS code list.

Step 3: Read the article description and choose the HTS code that best matches your product. Here is “of reptile leather”. So HTS code should be “4202213000”

hs code finder

Sometimes, you may not get HS code from your supplier. Then you can search by the product name. But when you enter “handbag” in the search bar, you will get many relevant search results. So you have to judge the first two digits, i.e. Chapter of HTS code, to narrow the scope:

HTS code finder
Click to Enlarge
  • Chapter 39 means plastics and articles thereof.
  • Chapter 42 means Articles of leather; handbags and similar containers.
  • Chapter 46 means Manufactures of straw, of esparto, or of other plaiting materials.
  • Chapter 73 means Articles of iron or steel.
  • Chapter 74 means Copper and articles thereof.

According to this classification, it is obvious that leather handbags belong to Chapter 42, so you can look at HS code under Chapter 42 directly. Then, read and choose the most relevant product description and HTS code.

Example of searching HS code in UK and EU

If you import to the UK, you can use a similar way to get the commodity code in your country.
Step1: Go to UK Integrated Online Tariff and enter the product name (handbag) or a commodity code (420221) to get the commodities in this category.

Step2: Read and choose the most relevant description. Here it should be “With outer surface of leather or of composition leather”. Therefore, if your handbag is hand-made, the commodity code should be 4202210010, if not, it should be 4202210090.

Use the same way, you can search the EU Taric code through Taxation and Customs Union.
Taric code lookup

HS code lookup tool

In addition to searching through the official hs code finder, another common and quick way to find tariff code is using HS code lookup tool, such as GlobalPost HS Classification Tool, FindHS.Codes, Frightos HS CODE LOOKUP. Just enter a description of your product (such as handbag, shoes, shirts) , you can directly select the most suitable 6-digit HS code.
HS code lookup tool

My suggestions

To find the correct HS code, you should be familiar with the classification standard of HS code. Also, you need to have a detailed understanding of your product so you can make the right judgments when reading product descriptions.

When your product material or description are complex, we do not recommend that you declare HS code yourself. You can consult your local customs office or professional customs broker, or freight forwarder.

What if the product name does not have the corresponding HS code?

According to the above method, in fact, we are basically using the product name to search. However, HS code cannot cover all the product names in the world, and the same product is called differently in different countries. So sometimes, you may not find the corresponding HS code by product name. In this case, products are often classified by what they are used for, what they are made from, or ‘Other’.

Take steel clotheshorse for example. You can not find its HS code through the name “Clotheshorse” and its usage.

HS code look up

So you can start with materials. Iron clotheshorse is a steel product.

  • First, Search Chapter 73 (Articles of iron or steel).
  • First, Search Chapter 73 (Articles of iron or steel).

First, Search Chapter 73 (Articles of iron or steel).

Second, find other articles of iron or steel (HS code 7326).

Third, choose HS code according to the product description. You will find both HS code 7326.20.00 (Other Articles of iron or steel wire) and HS code 7326.90.86.88 (other articles of iron or steel) match your product. You can choose any of them, but usually we give preference to the latter.

Why is HS code important?

You have to use HS code to declare your product to customs. HS code is related to product tariff rate and declaration requirements. However, in the customs declaration of import and export, commodity classification is hard work. Due to different understanding of commodities, companies and customs can divide the same commodity into different categories and use the wrong HS code to declare. This can lead to paying less or more tax than required.

For example, a company declares imported thermal imaging cameras to customs. It uses HS code 90275000 with a tariff rate of 3%, and a VAT rate of 17%. But the customs in its region determine that the actual HS code should be 90318090 (Tariff rate 6.8%, VAT rate 17%). So the company makes some mistakes when classifying and choosing HS code for declaration.

In practice, many companies meet such situations. They will receive punishments from customs and pay fines. This will cause property damage and delay customs clearance.

So HS code is essential for international trade. You must use the correct HS code. Never categorize your goods randomly, or blindly choose a tariff code with low tax rates. It should be passed by customs.

Provide your product information and we will get you the HS code.

The End

Hope this article can help you know HS code better and provide you with some practical looking-up methods. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

We are JingSourcing, a leading sourcing company in China. We are devoted to supporting the whole importing process from China, including buying or customizing products, following up production, inspecting product quality, arranging shipment, and customs clearance. For any importing issues, we can help you find good solutions. Just feel free to CONTACT US if you need any help.
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