Exporting to United States

The US is the UK’s largest export market for goods and services, accounting for 18.9% of total UK exports in the year ending Q1 2019 (ONS, 2019).

Demand for UK goods

For the year ending Q1 2019, exports of UK goods to the US increased 8.7% (ONS, 2019). UK products are in demand in the US and have a strong reputation for quality.

Demand for UK services

UK services are also highly valued in the US. For the year ending Q1 2019, UK companies exported £65.2bn worth of services to the US (ONS, 2019).

Ease of Doing Business

The US ranks 8th in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report for 2018. DIT specialists can help you understand US regulations and navigate the differences among states when exporting to the US.

Ease of doing business

8th

out of 190 countries (World Bank, 2019)

Currency

US dollar

Business languages

English

GDP per capita

$62,600

UK is $42,560 (IMF, 2018)

Economic growth

2.9%

(IMF, 2018)

Time zone

GMT - 4 (Eastern)

Other timezones are GMT - 5 (Central), GMT - 6 (Mountain) and GMT - 7 (Pacific).

Opportunities for exporters

There are opportunities for UK companies across a broad range of industries. Our trade advisers in the US have identified particular opportunities for UK businesses in the following sectors.

Doing business in the US

Preparing to export

Tax

The US tax system is complex. Taxes can be imposed by both the US federal government and individual states, counties and cities. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) governs federal taxes in the US.

You’ll need to get tailored advice from a certified accountant or tax lawyer if exporting to the US.

There is no Value Added Tax (VAT) in the US. Sales tax varies from state to state.

You can find out more about state tax from the Federation of Tax Administrators.

Standards and technical regulations

You must check your product meets all legal requirements in the US and you have all the required licences.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has more information on legal standards.

Check the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) legislation and regulations relating to food and drink, drugs, medical devices and cosmetics.

Packaging and labelling

Labelling requirements for consumer commodities are enforced by the FDA.

There are specific labelling requirements for food, drugs, cosmetics and medical equipment.

Check local labelling regulations with the relevant state business bureau.

Export licensing and restrictions

You’ll need a license to export certain goods and services to the US because the import of some items is restricted or prohibited. Check with the UK’s Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) to find out whether you need an export license.

Check the US Customs & Border Protection’s (CBP) list of prohibited and restricted items.

Operating in the US

You should always get qualified legal guidance before entering into any agreement to do business in the US. Ideally, your contracts should be reviewed by lawyers who understand both US and UK law. The US Embassy has a list of American attorneys based in the UK.

Intellectual property

As a first step, we advise you to speak to an intellectual property lawyer if you think you need patent protection when exporting to the US.

If you intend to sell goods or services to the US, you should consider applying for US trademark protection and check that your trademark doesn’t infringe any existing trademark.

Read the UK Intellectual Property Office’s (UKIPO) detailed guide to IP in the US.

Find out more from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Payment terms

Your contract will specify the terms for payment. Any disputes will need to go through the US legal system for resolution. This generally takes place in the US state specified in the contract and follows state laws.

When agreeing terms you should decide on an exchange rate and whether to use sterling or US dollars.

Business culture

Business communications in the US tend to be very direct. Getting straight to the point is appreciated and negotiations are likely to be very focused on closing a deal. The fine detail of the legal aspects of a contract or written agreement are likely to be heavily scrutinised.

Insurance

UK Export Finance (UKEF) helps UK companies to get paid by insuring against buyer default.

Product liability law

You should make sure you understand product liability law and implement precautionary measures to reduce risk. These involve an investment of time and money and are an in-built cost of doing business in the US.

Entry requirements

You can visit the US for business for up to 90 days through the US Visa Waiver Program.

This is usually valid for 2 years or until your passport expires.

If you plan to work in the US, you’ll need a non-immigrant visa.

The US Embassy has more visa information.

Next steps

DIT can advise you on doing business abroad, and help put you in touch with other people who can help such as lawyers and distributors.