What is the Difference Between Import and Export?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2018
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International trade is a steady sea of import and export that involves countries all over the world, and people sometimes confuse the two types of trade. Put simply, an import is something that is brought into a country over an international boundary, while an export is something that is shipped out of a country over an international boundary. If an American grocery store chain buys bananas from Mexico, it is said to be importing the bananas, while the Mexican produce company which grows the bananas is exporting them.

Most countries attempt to achieve a trade balance, in which the flow of imports and exports is relatively equal. If a country exports too much, it may not be able to support its domestic needs, while a country that imports excessive amounts of products may not have enough money to support the high volume. In a country with a trade balance, these rates are about equal, with nations exporting excess items for sale, and importing the goods that it needs.


The confusion between the two terms can be alleviated by looking at the prefixes and comparing them to other known words. The prefix “ex-” means “out” or “away,” as in “exit.” Exporting can be thought of as shipping goods away from a domestic producer to a foreign buyer. “Im-” comes from the Latin “in-” which means “into,” so an import is literally taken “into” a domestic “port.” The important thing to remember about the difference between the two is that it has to do with the direction in which the goods are traveling.

Many companies perform both import and export services. They handle goods for domestic producers who want to sell abroad without having to deal with the details of exporting, which can include passing inspections, paying fees and tariffs, and organizing transport, as well as finding buyers. Import-export companies also liaise with foreign companies that would like to export their products, providing support to ensure that shipments go smoothly.

In some regions, there is controversy over importing and exporting. Some domestic producers argue that imports of inexpensive products manufactured overseas can cut into their bottom line, with foreign producers providing goods at lower cost because they have cheaper raw materials, less stringent labor laws, or favorable trade agreements. Domestic consumers sometimes actively seek out goods that are produced domestically to support their national economy, and they may protest the widespread export of domestic goods, arguing that it makes it challenging to find domestically-produced products in various areas.


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Post 8

There are so many import and export restrictions and regulations that it must be a nightmare for any business to get set up for either in the beginning. It almost makes you want to keep everything you make within the country.

Post 7

@healthy4life – I've read that a small banana crop is grown in both Hawaii and Florida, but it isn't nearly enough to keep us from needing to import bananas from other countries. Bananas do best in humid, tropical areas, so the biggest and best will come from regions closer to the equator.

I think it's a fair toss-up to import things like tropical fruits that just can't grow well here while exporting things like cotton and corn that do great in the United States. As long as our import and export goods are fairly balanced, we should be all right in this area.

I've also read that we export a lot of soybeans. I actually have seen large soybean fields near my home, and it's kind of neat to know that they are probably being shipped overseas to people who can't grow them where they live.

Post 6

I am actually scared to go through the bunches of bananas at my grocery store. I have heard stories about tarantulas and other spiders being accidentally imported along with the fruit, and I have a horror of spiders, especially big ones.

Can't we grow our own bananas in Florida or somewhere else warm? Why do we have to keep importing fruit that might come with dangerous spiders attached?

Post 5

@vigilant - You are probably right about the number one export. But if you are willing to think more abstractly I think you could make an argument that the number one export is culture. Imports and exports do not need to be physical things; ideas, images, entertainment, all of these count too.

Think of how much of the world had made itself in the image of the US. They listen to our music, watch our movies, idolize out celebrities. As far as influence and impact, this might be even more important than corn.

Post 4

Can anyone tell me what the biggest import and export to and from the US is? I am guessing that it is agricultural products, at least the exports. And I figure that our number one import is something that comes from China, maybe a consumer electronics. Whatever the answers I'm sure that they are interesting.

Post 2

Sunny27-An import and export business has to follow all government regulations especially for importing.

A specialist in import regulations is a Customs House Broker. A Customs House Broker is licensed by the Department of Homeland Security. Most companies work with a logistics provider that specializes in transporting goods to other countries and exporting goods to other countries.

These companies also have sufficient warehouse space that can house much of a company’s stock. With the use of import and export software companies can monitor their customer’s shipments and when they cleared customs.

Sometimes if the appropriate paperwork is not filed on these goods, customs will enforce steep penalties.

It can be a stressful industry because often the import and export co are dependent on trucking companies or customs. If one piece of the logistics puzzle breaks down then the problems can be significant with their client.

Post 1

Import and export products have to follow certain guidelines. For example, there are countries in which certain products are not allowed to be imported into the US.

For example, import and export regulations forbid the imports of certain fruits and vegetables. These import and export restrictions also involve the importation of turtles.

Turtles are forbidden to be sold in the United States because they often contain a form of salmonella that can harm children especially if they touch the turtle and then touch their mouth.

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