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Import costs: what are they and how to calculate correctly?

Imports are an ally of Brazilian companies, especially when considering importing items that are not easily found in the domestic market or reducing costs. It is very important to understand the feasibility of the project, and this is only possible by raising the costs involved in the import process and comparing the total spent with the amount that would be paid when purchasing the goods internally. 

To clarify the subject a little and indicate which are the main costs to be taken into account during the analysis, we have put together this article on how to calculate import costs.

Main import costs

Each operation has different characteristics, and the services involved may vary according to the product being imported. However, there are some costs that are recurring in most operations. Here we list some of them.

material cost

As the name itself explains, this is the amount paid to the supplier for the merchandise itself. It depends exclusively on the commercial negotiation between exporter and importer, and may vary according to the incoterm defined for the operation.

The payment method for this cost will also depend on the negotiation, either in advance (totally before boarding) or even flexible for discharge after arrival at the destination, in installments, etc.


The taxes to be paid on importation depend on the type of product and its administrative treatment. As a rule, federal taxes are: Import Tax, IPI, PIS and COFINS. The state tax is the ICMS (which may include Tax Substitution and/or Value Added Margin).

Federal tax rates vary according to the NCM (Mercosur Common Nomenclature) of the product, whereas the ICMS rate will be according to the state where the importing company is headquartered. The collection takes place at the time the Import Declaration is registered, after the cargo arrives at the customs warehouse at the destination.

International shipping

International freight is the cost to bring the goods from origin to destination, it is calculated according to the size and weight of the cargo. Depending on the reality of the shipment, it can be charged per closed container (when the operation is complete for a single customer) or for the space occupied by the cargo in the shared container (LCL). Freight is usually paid upon arrival of the cargo at the port or airport of destination.

customs expenses

Customs expenses are those paid to the Federal Revenue or some other public administration agency. An example of this type of cost is the Siscomex Fee, charged at the time of registration of the Import Declaration. Starting at R$154.23, this fee varies according to the number of additions to the DI, that is, the more types of products there are in the import, the higher the fee. 

Another example of a customs expense is the Additional on Freight for Renewal of the Merchant Marine – or simply AFRMM – whose objective is collection for the maintenance of the Brazilian Merchant Marine. Nowadays the cost is calculated by applying the rate of 8% on the value of the international freight.

cargo insurance

This is one of the most important costs to ensure smooth operation! It is the insurance that avoids headaches for the importer in cases of unforeseen accidents, so its contracting, although not mandatory, is widely recommended.

To calculate it, the insurance company takes into account, mainly, the value of the cargo to be insured, the embarkation and disembarkation points (for reasons of survey of the local risks involved) and the type of packaging and its packaging.


The bonded warehouse at the port or airport of arrival is responsible for charging for the storage of the cargo during the time it is awaiting effective nationalization. The value is defined considering, generally, two parameters: the value of the load and the space occupied by it inside the terminal.

It is important to negotiate this cost with the service provider prior to boarding, in order to obtain better prices and decide which will be the best destination option.

transport insurance

Transport insurance is usually taken out by the carrier responsible for taking the cargo from the bonded warehouse to the final destination (usually the customer's warehouse).

However, the international insurer may also be co-responsible for safety during the journey, so it is important to check that the carrier follows the risk management guidelines indicated by it. In the same way as international insurance, transport insurance is quoted considering the value of the cargo and the route it will take.

Port and Airport Taxes

In addition to the storage itself, other services can be charged in the port or airport area, if necessary. Among them, the most common are: cargo handling for inspection by federal agencies, container (or packaging) deunitization, extra charges for packaging chemical and/or refrigerated cargo, loading onto the truck. These extra costs depend on the specifics of the imported goods.


The exchange rate is the variation between the national and international currency, and it can change in a matter of minutes. Therefore, it is necessary to consider this information when studying import costs and making the payment to the supplier using the best possible rate.

In addition to the exchange variation itself, international transfers can be charged by the bank or relationship broker. This fee is usually called the “SWIFT Fee”, and varies according to the negotiation between the company and the service provider, and is not necessarily related to the value of the closed exchange.

How to calculate import costs correctly?

In order to know the global cost of import operations, it is necessary to understand the scope of the complete project and study all the specifics of the product, since some costs are directly linked to the particularities of the imported items (such as the need for refrigeration on the way and storage time, for example). 

After understanding the parameters of the operation, it is necessary to quote all the services demanded and calculate the applicable taxes, arriving at the estimated total for the operation. Only then is it possible to understand whether the project is viable.

This is a careful analysis and requires care. If you want to better study the operation that your company wants to carry out, contact us. We have analysts specialized in feasibility study, we will be happy to assist you.

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