What is a harmonized code?

What is a harmonized code?

A harmonized code is a number that identifies a particular type of product or commodity for customs purposes. The code used affects the taxes and duties that the destination country assesses on the customer based on the value declared on the customs form. In other words, different countries can tax different kinds of products at different rates, and the harmonized code gives them an easy way to classify goods into different kinds of products and figure out what amount of tax they should levy. They might tax apparel at 10%, and they might let baby formula get in free.

The harmonized code is a list of digits, with each digit subsequent digit specifying more detail about the product. If you remember working with the Dewey Decimal System in your public library, it's kind of like that, only we're organizing products instead of books (though there is a harmonized code for books!). Each country in the world maintains a list of harmonized codes that are in agreement in the general case (hence the name "harmonized"), but some countries will vary in how much additional detail they recognize in subheadings. The longer your harmonized code is, the more specific it is.

At Shipvine, we use the 10-digit harmonized codes available from Schedule B, which is the United States federal government's version of the codes for export purposes. If you need to look up a harmonized code for your product, the federal government has provided a great search engine for that.

Let's take harmonized code 6107110000 as an example to see what it tells us:

  • The first two digits, "61", are for the chapter of Schedule B titled "ARTICLES OF APPAREL AND CLOTHING ACCESSORIES, KNITTED OR CROCHETED", so even with just two digits, we now know that we're dealing with some piece of apparel.
  • The next two digits, "07", are a subheading in that chapter that is titled "Men's or boys' underpants, briefs, nightshirts, pajamas, bathrobes, dressing gowns and similar articles, knitted or crocheted", so now we know that the piece of apparel is some kind of men's undergarment.
  • The next two digits, "11", are for a subheading titled "Underpants and briefs of cotton", so now we know we're holding a pair of men's cotton underwear.
  • Schedule B isn't more specific than this, so the rest of the number is filled in with zeroes.

It's quite common for destination countries to only consider the first six digits of the harmonized code. In this example, that's really where all of the information is.

The harmonized codes used for importing into the United States, or the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, are sometimes more specific than the ones that you'll find in Schedule B. If you find that your exact harmonized code doesn't exist in Schedule B, a good strategy is to start filling in digits from the right side with zeroes until you find a match. For example, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule defines code 6107110010—notice how it has an extra "10" on the end. In the HTS, the "10" further clarifies that this pair of underwear is for men, and "20" clarifies that this pair of underwear is for boys. For exporting purposes, Schedule B doesn't care about the level of detail, so if you search for 6107110010 there, then you won't find a match —just back off those additional subheadings with zeroes to get 6107110000, and you're good to go.

Finally, it's common to encounter harmonized codes with periods or hyphens inserted in between the digits to make it easier to read. You might see 6107.11.0010, for example. This is for display purposes only. At Shipvine, just strip out the punctuation so it'll be accepted by the system, and it'll function exactly the same.

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