Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS code) is a standardized numerical system used to categorize imported goods. It is an international standard administered by the World Customs Organization (WCO) used to identify products and assess duties and taxes. It is updated every 5 years.
Under this system, a specific 6-digit code is assigned to imported goods to help customs authorities establish the type of goods they are. For further classification, countries are allowed to add additional numbers at the end of the first 6 digits.
Regardless of the total number of digits a country’s HS code has, the first 6 digits are internationally recognized.
Importance of a HS Code
Other than allowing customs authorities to establish the type of goods they are, HS codes are also used for the following purposes:
- Determine the origin of goods
- Calculate the appropriate taxes and import duties
- Regulate controlled goods
- Develop trade policies
- Price monitoring
- Quota and security control
How to Find a HS Code
There are approximately 5,300 product descriptions in the HS code system.
A commodity’s 6-digit code is tagged according to its nature, type and purpose. The code can be broken down into the following:
- Chapter – It is the first 2 digits of the code. It is the broad category under which the good falls.
- Heading – It is the following 2 digits of the code that further classifies the product into sub-categories.
- Subheading – It is the last 2 digits of the code where the item will be further classified. In cases where a subheading is not required, the final 2 digits will be “00”.
To retrieve a good’s HS code, you can check it up online using a HS code search tool.
Example of a HS Code
For example, if you are looking to ship men’s T-shirts made of 100% cotton, the HS code will be as such:
- Chapter: Textiles and Articles (62)
- Heading: T-shirts, singlets and other vests (11)
- Subheading (Material): Cotton (42)
The HS code for the product will be 621142. This number will allow customs officers to identify the content of the package.
In situations where 2 or more HS codes can be applicable to the commodity, the shipper is only required to select the code that is the closest in description to the actual good.
Limitations of HS Codes
Theoretically, countries utilizing the HS agreement should categorize a specific product with the same HS section, chapter, heading, and subheading.
However, in practice, conflicts may arise. There may be discrepancies between the HS codes used across countries. This may be due to factors such as differences in ruling practices and the lack of expertise concerning the technical aspect of the good.
For example, companies exporting a specialized product may choose to declare the spare parts as the main product or parts for “general use”. This discrepancy may lead to higher taxes.
Risks of Using the Wrong HS Code
Below are some of the risks associated with using the wrong HS code:
- Paying the wrong taxes and duties
- Non-compliance penalties and fines
- Delays at the borders
- Denial of import tax privileges
- Goods may be seized or destroyed if they are deemed to have contravened the law
To mitigate such risks, it is recommended to engage a freight forwarding company that is well-versed in tariff classification.