User manual and importer’s obligations

A user manual can be quite a troublesome matter for many importers. The root of the problem is mostly the lack of knowledge about products that require such instructions. Not attaching a user manual may result in the goods being held in customs and exposing you to otherwise avoidable costs. When should an importer attach the user manual? In which language should it be issued, and what is the legal base? Check the most important issues related to the user manual and importer’s obligations.

Which products have to have a user manual? – in the EU

The EU Directives state that, first and foremost, any product exported to the European market should be safe to use and not impair one’s health. The directives also indicate that the user should understand how to use a product and do it safely. For example, a user manual for products such as electronic devices and some toys should be provided so that the consumer stays safe.

In other words, the user manual is not required for all types of products. If the use of the products is obvious, the importer is not obliged to attach it. To determine whether the product needs one, look into the directives; the CE marking ones set requirements for the user’s instructions. If you do not know what directive corresponds to your product, search for the product in the Harmonized Standards of the European Union.

If you import highly complex products to the EU, like large industrial machinery, you must get familiar with IEC/IEEE 82079-1:2019 Standard.

Which products have to have a user manual? – in the US

It all depends on the regulations that are either mandatory or voluntary. Many various agencies regulate product safety in the US. To familiarize yourself with the legal requirements for your product, check which Federal Agencies are competent. Standards for a specific product may include requirements regarding the instructions. Note that the requirements regarding the user manual set out by mandatory standards must be met. There are some commonly used standards for user instructions: IEC 82079-1 Preparation of instructions for use and ISO/IEC Guide 37:2012 – Instructions for use of products by consumers. You can also be required to put a warning on your product, specified in the ANSI Z535.6, Product Safety Information in Product Manuals, Instructions, and Other Collateral Materials.

In what language should the importer’s manual be issued? What should be included?

It is expected that the user manual is published in the official language or languages of the chosen country. The user manual can also be in the form of commonly understood graphics and symbols. However, if there are any descriptions, they should be translated. The company name, country of origin, and technical English do not have to be translated. In case the products are intended to be used by professionals, an English version is enough.

When it comes to what is required in the user manual, above all, it should include a table of contents that gives a clear overview of all chapters. The user manual should cover topics like:

  • how to install and use the product,
  • how to recharge/refill and dispose of the product,
  • an overview of the relevant parts and part names of the product, specific safety instructions,

Some types of products have requirements for a user manual specified.

How to attach instructions to a product?

Prevention is always better than cure, so if your product requires an attached instruction, we recommend you discuss it with the Chinese manufacturer beforehand. They likely have a user manual for the specific product in Chinese or/and English. In this case, you should ask the supplier to send you the instructions and translate them into a language obligatory in the chosen market. Once it is done, send the translation back and require that a copy is attached to every product.

If the instructions are not attached, the goods can be held at customs. In this case, a lot depends on the customs officer. It is possible that after presenting the Customs Office with a draft of a user manual, even in a digital form, and a declaration of immediate attachment to the products before launching them on the market, customs officers will go along with this solution.

If the customs officers are extremely adamant, the importer must attach the user manual through inward processing.

Sometimes, you can attach an abridged user’s manual and make the full manual available as an ebook on your website.

What are the consequences of not attaching the required user manual?

If the product without the obligatory instruction in a required language goes to the consumer market, the importer must consider the possibility of being subjected to severe penalties by national consumer protection bodies. The penalties vary from country to country; for example, the importer could be forced to pay the penalty of 10% of the previous year’s revenue or be punished with a restriction of freedom or imprisonment.

As a person placing a product on the market, an importer has a great responsibility. They are responsible for informing the consumer about the safe use of the offered product. As the importer, you will be charged for any damage to the consumer’s health resulting from the improper use of the article resulting in the lack of a relevant user manual. That is why it is so essential to attach (if required) the instructions to each of the products you import. It can only be done by making sure that the Chinese party fulfills your requirements by providing a user manual.