Doing business with the United States of America

America’s legendary entrepreneurial spirit captures the imagination. The US is often seen as a land of unlimited possibilities. Are you looking to cross the Atlantic and do business in the US? This is what you need to know to get off to a good start.

Reciprocal trade

Dutch companies import more goods from the US than we export to the US. In 2022, the total import value of goods was €66.4 billion (source: CBS). The goods with the highest import value were mineral fuels (gas and oil), medical devices, and measuring and control equipment, and medicinal and pharmaceutical products and drugs.

The Netherlands delivered €52.5 billion worth of goods to the US in 2022. With the top 3 being crude oil and petroleum products, specialised machinery such as agricultural machinery, and electrical appliances.

Opportunities in various sectors

Outside the EU, the US is the Netherlands' second most important trading partner after the UK. With 50 member states, the US has many potential customers and partners. Each region in the US represents special sectors. Sector reports from Netwerk Internationaal Ondernemen (in Dutch) and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency's business opportunities (in Dutch) give you more insight into these.

Opportunities via government help

The US government is currently investing $65 billion in building roads, bridges and rail tracks. The US is also putting money into expanding access to clean drinking water. This investment package is called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

Furthermore, the US is investing $340 billion to boost sustainability. For example, for generating clean energy and making electric cars. This stimulus package is called the Inflation Reduction Act.

Making contacts

Americans like to do business with a direct point of contact in their own country. This can be done with their own branch or by working with a distributor or commercial agent. RVO helps you with information on starting a business in the US (in Dutch).

It is easier to do business with a US partner because they know the market. Talk to network partners in the regions where you want to get started. That way, you will quickly meet interesting companies.

Tip: Put your agreements in writing.

Attending events

Attending a local trade fair is an easy way to gain insight into the US market, meet new people, and build a network. You can find a list of American trade fairs on websites such as EventsEye and the AUMA Trade Fair Database. Participating in a trade mission, submitting a joint exhibition entry, or partnering up with multiple companies at a trade fair will also help you expand your network.

Support networks

Several organisations help you find partners. Sometimes you pay for this help. For example:

  • Enterprise Europe Network
    The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) provides access to a professional network of 600 organisations in more than 60 countries. EEN’s digital database contains profiles of entrepreneurs looking for agents, distributors, or production partners.

  • Embassy network
    The Netherlands has an embassy and several consulates in Washington D.C. Their employees are very familiar with the US market and have a network. They can provide you with local support and answer any questions you may have about business in the US.

Want to know more about doing business with the United States? Contact the KVK Advice Team.

Business culture

At first glance, the cultures of Western Europe and America seem very similar. Almost everyone speaks English, and Americans, like the Dutch, are direct and casual. Consequently, entering the US market may seem easier than it actually is. There are perhaps 2 important differences. In the US, results count. And modesty will not get you very far. Moreover, Spanish is a major language in some states, such as Arizona.

Explain your business proposal with figures from research and present it with a pitch. Speak plain language. An American is quick to mention your first name during a conversation. Make sure you are sitting at the table with the right person. Most American companies have many layers between employees and management. A manager with authority makes the decisions, often without consulting the rest of the team. Do not make business appointments in the little free time Americans have. And be careful with jokes.

Making payments

In 2023, US companies paid their bills after an average of 35 days. Yet more and more US companies are paying their bills even later. In 2023, 55% of US companies paid their bill late (source: Atradius). 

As an exporter, you therefore run the risk of late payment when you agree with your customer on payment in arrears. In the US, this is called 'open account payment'. With another form of payment, you reduce the risk of late payment or no payment. Think of prepayment, cash-in-advance, or a Letter of Credit (L/C).

Dollar

An American pays or receives money in US dollars. Pay attention to the exchange value of the dollar against the euro. Exchange rate fluctuations are common and a risk to your profit margin.

Put agreements in writing

Put all agreements in writing. In the US, there is less mandatory law than in the Netherlands. This means there are fewer standard rules to follow. A judge in the US mainly looks at what you have agreed to in a contract. You can find standard contracts at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC, in Dutch). Have a lawyer with knowledge of US law review the contract for you before you sign.

Quotations

Your quotation should clearly state your price and what currency you expect to be paid in. As well as your delivery terms, preferred payment method, and the validity period of your quotation. You also have to agree on who will arrange and pay for transportation. You can arrange this properly with Incoterms®. So you know who carries the risk of damage to, or loss of, goods in transit.

Exports to the US

If you want to export goods to the US, the step-by-step export plan is a good place to start. Here are some other factors to take into consideration.

Laws and regulations on products

There are no general product liability laws in the US. Instead, each US state has its own rules based on federal legislation and case law. In addition to technical specifications, make sure that your labels, manuals, and translations are in order. If you want to export goods to the US, make sure that your product meets all product requirements (in Dutch). Product requirements are set out in standards and certificates.

  • Standards contain specific, often technical product requirements, such as for the composition of oil.
  • Certificates often contain broader product requirements, such as the requirements that a lawn mower must meet to be considered safe.

You can find a list of all product requirements in Access2Markets. There are various authorities (in Dutch) in the US and the Netherlands that issue the certificates you need to export goods to the US.

Video: Want to know the rules when exporting? Use Access2Markets

Liability insurance

Insurance companies are often cautious when it comes to selling liability insurance to businesses, with many insurers refusing to offer liability insurance products. This is because there are no general product liability rules in the US. And because lawsuits in the US are brought before a jury, which can lead to surprising verdicts. Finally, the high damages awarded by the court are another reason why insurers are often hesitant to offer product liability insurance in the US. Keep this in mind when exporting to the US.

Customs procedures

When exporting goods, submit an export declaration to Dutch Customs, before clearing them in the USA. American customs procedures differ from those in the Netherlands, so it is best to make clear arrangements with your customer about shipping and customs clearance. 

Documents

When it comes to exporting goods, there are some documents you will always need, such as a sales invoice and transport document. In some cases, you will also need additional documents or certificates to import goods into the US. For more information about US import rules, visit the website of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (in Dutch).

Subsidies

Under the Support International Business scheme (in Dutch), the Netherlands Enterprise Agency will reimburse part of the costs incurred for exporting to a new country. Consider taking part in trade missions or fairs or bringing in a coach.

Imports from the US

Want to import products from the US? Make sure to put your plans on paper first by following the step-by-step plan for imports. What else should you look out for?

European laws and regulations

You can only import products that comply with European product requirements, quality marks, and directives.

Product liability

All products must be safe and usable before they can be placed on the market. That is why importers bear full product liability according to EU legislation. This protects consumers from damage or injury caused by defective products.

Customs

You are importing a product from outside the European Union, so you will have to pay import duties or other levies. Import duty rates are linked to the commodity code of the product you are importing, as well as the country of origin. For many consignments, you will also need additional documents and certificates.

Clearing goods through customs

Services

The US economy runs mainly on services. Although the importance of the services sector is decreasing slightly, there are still plenty of opportunities to be had in business and financial services, as well as medical technology, solutions for climate problems, and data security.

VAT

If you provide services in the US, research whether your services are subject to Dutch or US VAT. VAT rules in the USA are different than in Europe. Rather than VAT, the US has a federal sales tax, which sellers impose on consumers and companies.

Some states also have a use tax, which shifts the responsibility for paying taxes to buyers purchasing products or services. Out-of-state supplies are subject to use tax.

Sales tax rules and rates differ from one state to the next. Bring in a tax specialist for expert advice on sales tax as well as other rules on registration documents, environmental requirements, and more, as these may also differ between states.

You can use the Overseas Services (in Dutch) tool to find out whether to charge Dutch VAT or US sales tax.

Forms

If you provide services to US customers, you will have to provide them with a completed W-8BEN form under the American Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

W-8BEN form

A W-8BEN form is a tax document linked to the 30% withholding tax. This is similar to Dutch income tax. Without this form, your client will have to withhold and remit 30% of the invoice value to the IRS. With the W-8BEN form, your client proves to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that you pay income tax in the Netherlands.

Just like with sales tax, there are certain state exceptions and differences when it comes to withholding tax. Send the completed form to your customer, not the IRS, as they are responsible for collecting all the right data. It is best to fill in the form together with your accountant. For guidance, visit the website of Flanders Investment & Trade (in Dutch).

Before filling in the W-8BEN-E, you first need an Employer Identification Number, or EIN number. You can apply for this online at the IRS. To apply for the EIN number, you must first fill in the SS-4 form.