The Covid-19 situation has given rise to an increase in volumes of hand sanitizer products being shipped across borders internationally. It is no surprise that the HS code for hand sanitizers has caused many importers problems with Customs clearance. This is because hand sanitizers are chemicals and almost always alcohol based. In this case study we will be classifying the product for import into Malaysia.

Product details: Gel type hand sanitizer. Alcohol based, imported in retail packaging.

Potential HS Headings identified:

  • 3808 – “Insecticides, … disinfectants and similar products, put up in forms or packings for retail sale or as preparations or articles …”
  • 3824 – “… chemical products … not elsewhere specified or included.”

Both the identified Headings are in Chapter 38, a chapter for miscellaneous chemical products.

The classification of this product becomes highly dependent on the Section notes for Section 06. The Notes make it clear that when a product can be classified under Heading 3808 due to it being in retail packaging, then it must be classified there and not anywhere else it may appear. Hence, we can quickly conclude that HS classification number 3808 is the most suitable Heading for hand sanitizers.

Interestingly, the World Customs Organization and World Health Organization released guidelines concerning the classification of hand sanitizers, placing them in 3808.94.  Hence, the correct HS code for hand sanitizers importing into Malaysia would be 3808949000. However, rulings in some countries place this product in Heading 3824. Local rulings will always take precedence over WCO’s published guidelines.

The rule of classification used in this example is General Rule of Interpretation 1. It is important to note that without referencing the Section Notes, there is a good chance of getting the classification for this product wrong. Hence, it is always important to never skip any steps when doing HS classification and to fully understand the inclusions, exclusions and definitions provided in Section and Chapter notes. Ideally, you should also have access to the Explanatory Notes to get a good understanding of how to use the nomenclature.

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