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Import: Basic Process

Customs Entry

The customs authority in India is known as the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs.

Documentation Package

The registered importer or its agent submits a documentation package consisting of a Bill of Entry and other supporting documentation to the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs.

The submission can be made manually or electronically. See Electronic Filing Below.

Documentation Review

Customs reviews the documentation to check for:

  • Authority of the entity to import
  • Consistency of information across documents
  • Legality of the proposed import
  • Proper product classification and valuation

Customs also:

  • Establishes whether to order an inspection of the shipment
  • Computes duties, taxes, and other fees
  • Refers documentation to other governmental agencies for imports of controlled products
  • Establishes any special requirements for final clearance of the shipment
Common Customs Entries

The following are the most common customs entries:

Consumption Entry
Articles are released from customs custody for immediate sale or use within the country.
Transit Entry
The consignee is granted permission to transport a shipment through the country solely for the purpose of export to another country.
Temporary Entry
The consignee is granted permission to import articles on a temporary basis without the payment of duties and taxes. Examples include sales samples, race cars for temporary use in a specific event, motion picture cameras for temporary use in the making of a specific film, etc. A bond is usually required to ensure that articles are either exported or that duties and taxes are paid.
Warehouse Entry
The consignee is granted permission to transfer a shipment to a customs bonded warehouse where it is stored without payment of import duties and taxes until it is formally imported for consumption or re-exported.
Foreign Trade Zone Entry
The consignee is granted permission to transfer a shipment into a foreign trade zone without payment of duties or taxes where it is either stored or processed and then imported for consumption or re-exported.

Most importers engage the services of a logistics firm or a customs broker to handle import documentation and procedures.

Time to File

The Customs Act allows the importer to present a Bill of Entry up to 30 days before the expected date of arrival of the vessel.

The master/agent of the vessel or aircraft must submit an Import General Manifest (IGM) to customs 24 hours before the arrival of a vessel, aircraft, or a vehicle bearing an import shipment. Only after the Customs Officer grants “Entry Inwards” can unloading of cargo start. Entry Inwards can be permitted when berthing accommodation is granted to a vessel. If there is heavy congestion at port, a shipping berth may not be available; in that case, “Entry Inwards” cannot be granted.

Electronic Filing

An importer or its agent can file the Import Declaration through ICEGATE, the Central Board of Excise and Customs’ Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Processing portal. For further information or to file electronically visit the ICEGATE website.

When filing electronically a Bill of Entry is generated by the computer system and no paper Bill of Entry must be filed.

Import License, Clearance, Permit

As a general rule, all kinds of imported articles are allowed into India. For freely-importable articles customs does not require prior approval or clearance from any governmental agency. Some restricted articles, however, require an import license, clearance, or permit. See the Restricted and Prohibited page.

Tariff Regimes

India is one of more than 180 countries that use the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (Harmonized System or HS). The HS is an internationally standardized system of names and numbers for classifying traded products and is maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO).  

Additionally, India is a signatory to a number of trade agreements that provide for reduced-duty or duty-free import of certain articles from certain countries. Some of the major trade agreements include:

  • India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement
  • India-Africa Trade Agreement
  • India-Chile Preferential Trade Agreement
  • India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement
  • South Asian Free Trade Agreement

For a complete list of trade agreements to which India is a party, see the Trade Agreements page.

Import Documentation

All imports of physical articles require the following basic documentation:

  • Bill of Entry
  • Commercial Invoice (CI)
  • Freight Document: Bill of Lading (B/L) Airway Bill (AWB), Rail Waybill, or Road Waybill
  • Packing List (P/L)
  • Certificate of Origin (CoO)

Some imports may require specialized documentation:

  • Health Certificate
  • Phytosanitary Certificate
  • Insurance Document
  • Import Licenses, Permits, Certifications
  • Documents as may be required by the terms of a bank letter of credit (L/C) or documents against payment (D/P) provision

Restricted and Prohibited Articles

For restricted and prohibited articles an import license, clearance, or permit must be obtained from the governmental agency that regulates that article. This document must be submitted to customs upon filing of the Import Declaration or prior to release of the regulated article from customs' custody. See the Restricted and Prohibited page for details.


Imported articles may be subject to inspection when:

  • The seal on the shipping container has been tampered with
  • The container is leaking
  • The shipment’s details in the shipping documents differ from that in the manifest
  • An alert or hold order has been put on the shipment
  • Customs has knowledge that there is a variance between the declared and true quantity, measurement, weight, and/or tariff classification of the shipment.

Customs may also perform random spot inspections.

Payment of Duties and Taxes

In general, unless exempted by law, all articles imported into India are subject to duties and taxes, which accrue upon the arrival of a shipment into the customs territory. Release of the shipment does not happen until all taxes and duties are paid or secured to be paid. 

The rate of duty and tariff valuation applicable to imported articles shall be the rate and valuation in force on one of the following dates:

  • If the articles are entered for home consumption, the date on which Bill of Entry is presented
  • In the case of warehoused articles, the date the Bill of Entry for home consumption is presented under for clearance from the warehouse
  • In other cases, the date of payment of duty

Clearance and Release of Shipment

When the imported articles arrive in India, the importer or its agent must complete all required documents and other regulatory permits. These documents are then submitted to customs, after which the duties and taxes are computed, and if selected by customs, the shipment is inspected. Once the importer accepts the duties and taxes as assessed by customs and payment is completed, the shipment is released from customs' custody.

Import articles need to be cleared within the stipulated time after unloading—usually three working days. If the articles are not removed within the time period, high demurrage is charged by port trust/airport authorities. Hence, the importer should complete as many formalities as possible before the ship arrives.

Import Support

The Central Board of Excise and Customs provides an electronic Customs Duty Calculator on its website. For more information or to calculate your import or export duty, click here

For more information, contact the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs.

Note: The above information is subject to change. Importers and exporters are advised to obtain the most current information from a customs broker, freight forwarder, logistics professionals, or local customs authorities.

Source: Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs