When goods enter the country from overseas, it is considered an importation and must be cleared by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When an individual or company purchases goods from an overseas supplier, CBP considers them the ultimate importer. The ultimate importer can clear the goods or have a Customs Broker clear them on their behalf. Customs uses three distinct types of numbers as “importer numbers”: Employer Identification Number (EIN, or IRS number) – as assigned by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to corporations, partnerships, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), government agencies, sole proprietorships, and assorted other types of entities. Social Security Number (SSN) – as assigned by the IRS to individuals. Also used by some individuals operating sole proprietorship, who do not have a separate EIN for their business. Customs Assigned Number – as assigned to persons or other entities which do not have either an EIN or a SSN. So long as any of these types of numbers remain valid, and are used at least once within every 12 months for automated customs transactions (such as customs entry filing), they will normally remain as active importer numbers in customs’ importer records. If your importer number is still active, but it will be more than 12 months since your last entry by the time your new shipment arrives, work pro-actively with your broker to update your customs importer record to keep it active.
To explain it briefly, the importer number (requested on Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entry paperwork) is usually the IRS business tax number assigned to businesses.
If you do not have an IRS business tax number, you may use your social security number in any paperwork requiring an importer number.
If you do not have either an IRS business tax number or a social security number, you may request that an importer number be assigned to you by filling out a CBP form 5106 and present it to the Port of Entry in your location where you will be filing your customs entries. The regulations governing the issuance of an importer number are in 19 CFR 24.5.