Country of origin marking is mandatory for consumer products imported and sold in the United States. It is often as straightforward as printing “Made in China” or “Made in Mexico” on the product and its packaging. That being said, there are exceptions for some products, and it’s sometimes not that simple to determine the actual country of origin.
In this guide, we explain what importers and manufacturers must know about the country of origin marking rules in the United States, including product exceptions, origin rules, and placement.
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What is the country of origin marking?
19 CFR Part 134 – Country of Origin Marking defines “country of origin” as the country where a product was manufactured and subsequently entered into the United States.
The purpose of the country of origin marking is to inform consumers about the country where the product was manufactured. Here are some examples:
- Made in USA
- Made in Mexico
- Made in Germany
- Made in China
- Made in Vietnam
- Made in India
Which products require country of origin marking?
According to 19 CFR Part 134 Subpart B, there are several categories of products that require a country of origin marking. We list those categories below:
a. “Every” product or its container of foreign origin, unless excepted by law. This includes products such as the following:
b. Foreign products that were imported into a US possession outside its customs territory (e.g., US Virgin Islands), and then re-shipped to the US mainland.
c. Imported products that have been manipulated or repacked.
d. Products that were combined after importation but before delivery to the purchaser.
19 CFR Part 134 covers requirements regarding the country of origin marking, including the following:
- Methods of marking
- Size of marking
- Placement of marking
- Language of marking
- Wording of marking
Methods of marking
According to 19 CFR Part 134.41(a), you can generally meet the marking requirements by having the marking “worked” into the product during its manufacture. This includes the following suggested methods of marking:
- Die-sinking, molding, or etching for metal products
- Glazing for earthenware or chinaware
- Imprinting for paper articles
Stickers and tags
19 CFR Part 134.44 permits other acceptable methods of marking, so long as said marking remains readable and permanent enough that it stays on the product until it reaches the purchaser:
- Paper sticker labels
- Pressure sensitive labels
However, labels and tags can’t be used for the items mentioned in 19 CFR 134.43:
- Assembled articles
- Native American-style jewelry
- Native American-style arts and crafts
Size of marking
According to our research, there is no particular size requirement for the Country of Origin marking, as long as the text is clear and readable. Therefore, it may be permissible to adjust the marking’s size according to the product’s dimensions and shape.
Placement of marking
The marking should be located in a prominent place so that it can be seen. For example, the country of Origin marking of a t-shirt is often located on the inside of the back collar.
Also, note that the marking must:
- Not be covered by other labels or parts
- Be obvious without disassembling the product
- Be visible without removing any parts
- Be conspicuous without repositioning any parts
Language of marking
Generally speaking, companies must provide the marking in the English language. Importers of foreign products should indicate on those articles the English name of the country (e.g., China, Brazil, Vietnam, or Thailand) from which those items came.
However, products of a USMCA country (namely, the US, Mexico, and Canada) may bear the Country of Origin marking in English, French, or Spanish.
Abbreviations and variant English (e.g., British English) spellings are sometimes accepted, as long as they don’t confuse the reader. 19 CFR 134.45(b) includes the following acceptable abbreviations and variant spellings:
- “Gt. Britain” for Great Britain
- “Luxemb” or “Luxembg” for Luxembourg
- “Brasil” for Brazil
- “Italie” for Italy
That said, it’s not always so simple to determine if a shortened form of a country can confuse the reader.
Wording of marking
The most common wording is “Made in [Country]”. However, the phrase “Made in” is compulsory only when the product contains the name of other countries, which might mislead or deceive the consumer.
“Made in [Country]”
For instance, a white t-shirt that was manufactured in Vietnam may bear either “Vietnam” or “Made in Vietnam” as a Country of Origin marking. Both markings are acceptable.
However, let’s assume that the t-shirt has the text “France” on its front. In this case, it is necessary to use the wording “Made in Vietnam”, to clarify that the t-shirt was made in Vietnam, and not in France.
“Assembled in [Country]”
The wording “Assembled in [country]” may be used when a product was assembled in a country from components imported from another country.
As an example, an electronic device assembled in Spain from components purchased in India could be marked with the following wording:
“Assembled in Spain from components of India”.
Some products are exempted from the country of origin marking requirements. This includes:
- Products too small for marking
- Products that might be destroyed when labeled
If a product does not require a country of origin marking, relevant parties must ensure that the “immediate container” bears the country of origin marking, unless exceptions apply.
Made in USA marking
16 CFR Part 323 sets the requirements for products that are marked as “Made in USA”. In general, products carrying the “Made in USA” marking must be “all or virtually all” made in the United States.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “all or virtually all” specifically implies that all significant components and manufacturing processes are produced or located in the United States, while foreign components or processing are negligible.
You can find more information on this page.
Type of claims
There are two types of “Made in USA” claims:
Unqualified claims: Companies making a “Made in USA” claim must provide reliable evidence to back up their claim that the product is “all or virtually all” made in the country.
Qualified claims: A qualified “Made in USA” claim specifies that the product is not, in fact, “all or virtually all” made in the US. For instance, a product may be, and carry the marking, “Assembled in USA from Brazilian and Indonesian parts”.
The FTC might evaluate the claim based on the product’s total components and manufacturing costs done in the United States and abroad.
You can express the “Made in USA” claim in different forms. Here are some examples of accepted forms:
- Made in USA
- Our products are American-made
According to the context, companies can choose to disclose the country of origin using the United States’ symbols (e.g., US flags) or geographic references (e.g., outlines of US maps).
Made in China marking
The “Made in China” marking applies to products that are manufactured, produced, or grown in China. For example, textiles, electronics, and kitchen products manufactured in China must include the “Made in China” marking.
According to our research, you should avoid wordings such as “Made in PRC” as it might confuse relevant parties, and the customs authorities might refuse such labels. Instead, it’s generally recommended to only use the wording: “Made in China”.
Customs and Border Protection has repeatedly found that the abbreviation “PRC” is not acceptable for country of origin marking purposes. See, e.g., HQ 560693 (March 6, 1998), HQ 562901 (November 6, 2003) and HQ 727372 (March 18, 1985). However, the abbreviation “P.R. China,” or “China” would be acceptable. See HQ 730578 (July 10, 1987).
Note: PRC stands for the People’s Republic of China.
How is the country of origin determined?
If a product is fully manufactured in a single country, then determining the country of origin is straightforward. However, deciding on the product’s country of origin may be more complex if:
a. The product is processed in more than one country.
b. The product is processed in a country using components imported from another country – which is often the case.
a. T-shirt cut and sewn in Vietnam using fabrics from China.
b. Shoes manufactured in Mexico using materials from China and Poland.
c. Electronic products assembled in China using components from Japan and Korea.
Rules of origin for products processed in more than one country
If a product is manufactured, assembled, or contains materials or components from more than one country, then the rules of origin state that the country of origin should correspond to the last country where the product underwent a “substantial transformation”.
According to the CBP, these are the main factors that should be taken into consideration to determine if a “substantial transformation” occurred:
a. Whether the character, name, or use of the finished article has changed. For example, different chemical substances are processed to create a cosmetic product, thus changing the character, name, and use of the finished good.
b. Whether the value of the finished product has substantially increased, concerning the sum of the values of the single components and materials used to make the product. For instance, different electronic components are assembled to create an electronic device that achieves a specific goal (i.e. a radio or a TV).
c. Whether the essential character of the product is provided by the manufacturing process, or by the original materials and components. As an example, a printed book is a completely different character than the original wood pulp used to manufacture the paper.
d. Whether the cost of production represents a relevant percentage of the value of the finished good, which might include labor costs, tooling costs (e.g., injections molding), utilities’ costs (e.g., electricity, water, gas), and more.
Here are some examples of transformations that are generally not considered “substantial”:
a. Repacking a product.
b. Diluting a product with water.
c. Freezing vegetables.
d. Assembling a product without adding substantial value to the finished good; for example, in the case of furniture that is shipped before final assembly for the only goal of saving space in the container.
Since the determination of the country of origin is based on factors subject to interpretation, the CBP tends to rely on a body of court decisions to make a final decision.
Example A: Smartwatch assembled in China
An American company imports smartwatches assembled by a manufacturer in Shenzhen, China. As is often the case with electronics, many components (e.g., CPU and sensors) originate from suppliers in other countries, such as Korea and Japan.
That said, many parts and materials are procured from suppliers in China, and the product is developed, assembled, and packed there.
Hence, the smartwatch should most likely be labeled as Made in China.
Example B: T-shirt repacked in Vietnam
A company imports t-shirts from a supplier in Vietnam to the US. The only problem is that the t-shirts are actually manufactured in China, and only shipped to Vietnam for logo printing and repacking.
Also, in this case, it’s hard to argue that the product is actually made in Vietnam, and should likely be labeled as Made in China.
Certificate of Origin
A Certificate of Origin is a document declaring the manufacturing country of origin in the shipment. Note that the Certificate of Origin criteria can differ between countries.
The following information is generally included in the Certificate of Origin:
- Importer’s, exporter’s, and manufacturer’s details
- Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) classification code
- Origin criteria
- Blanket period (only needed if the certificate is used for multiple shipments)
- Authorized signature and date
You can use the Certificate of Origin together with the commercial invoice to support your “Country of Origin” claims.
Transshipment concerns the shipping of finished products through an intermediate country on the way to the final destination, and it should not alter the Country of Origin marking by any means. Note that 19 CFR Part 134.4 states that any intentional alteration, defacement, destruction, or removal of the country of origin marking may result in penalties.
For example, you cannot relabel your products with “Made in Vietnam” when shipping finished products from China that were repacked in Vietnam.
Note that customs authorities might also require importers to provide evidence such as certificate of origin, invoices, and other records.
Methods of marking specific articles
Some products may require special marking methods. In this section, we introduce some products and some of their special statutory country of origin marking requirements.
Watches and clocks country of origin marking
The country of origin rules generally requires that the manufacturing country of origin is permanently affixed on the product and its packaging. However, this is different when it comes to watches and clocks.
The origin of wristwatches is determined by the origin of the movement, rather than the country of watch assembly. As such, many watches assembled in China are still labeled as ‘Japan Movement’ rather than Made in China.
Keep in mind that the movement origin depends on the actual manufacturing country – not brand origin. For example, a Miyota movement manufactured in Japan is, therefore, a Japan Movement, while a Seiko (also a Japanese company) movement manufactured in Thailand is not.
Specifically, the country of origin mark should be placed on the inside or outside of the back of the case.
Special markings on certain products
The CBP specifies the marking method for certain products, including the following:
- Knives and forks
- Scissors and safety razors
- Surgical instruments
- Scientific and lab instruments
In this case, companies should use one of the following marking methods:
- Cast-in mold lettering
- Etching (acid or electrolytic)
- Other prescribed marking
Other products may also require adherence to special marking requirements. For example:
- Steel pipes – continuous paint stenciling
- Compressed gas cylinders – molding
- Manhole rings – cast-in-mold lettering
According to 19 CFR 134.43(e), if the product’s country of origin corresponds to the country where the product was finally assembled (for example because the “assembly” changes the character of the product), different types of wording can be used for the marking. Here, we provide an example of a product that was assembled in Germany:
a. “Assembled in Germany”.
b. “Made in, or product of, Germany”.
c. “Assembled in Germany from components of Japan and China”.
19 CFR Part 134.32 provides a list of categories of products generally excepted from the country of origin requirements. Here we list several categories of those products:
a. Products that cannot feasibly be marked.
b. Crude substances.
c. Products manufactured over 20 years before importation into the US.
d. Certain coffee, tea, and spice products.
e. Silk scarves and silk fabric.
f. Products that are not imported for being resold.
g. Original works of art of a country involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
How do I ensure that my products are correctly labeled?
Many importers assume that their overseas suppliers understand the country of origin marking requirements in the United States. That said, the US is the only major country that requires a country of origin for all products, according to our knowledge.
Either way, assuming that your supplier knows anything about compliance requirements in other countries can be potentially disastrous.
Instead, you need to create a ready-to-print country of origin label file for your supplier. You should also provide the following information:
- Label placement
- Label dimensions
- Type (e.g. print or engraving)
Pre-shipment quality inspections should also include country of origin label checks, to make sure that your products are correctly labeled before shipment to the United States. Relabeling your products on arrival may end up costing more than their worth.