The Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) has caused tremendous loss to not only people’s health, but the majority of industries worldwide.
While most industries are suffering from a rapid decrease of development, some are on a surge. And one most talked about hot product is: Face Mask.
In this article, I’ll show you how to import face masks from China.
(Step by step)
In fact, we have some customers who already imported from China successfully.
And in today’s post, I’ll show you exactly how to do it. (And avoid losses)
- Step #1: Investigate Your Market and See If There Is a Chance to Sell
- Step #2: Verify What Types of Masks You Can Import and Sell
- Step #3: Find A Supplier of The Mask(s)
Step #1: Investigate Your Market and See If There Is a Chance to Sell
Don’t just FEEL the increasing need of masks and make a decision without actually studying the market.
Read the COVID-19 statistics, go to the clinics, drug stores, visit online stores like Amazon, Ebay, Walmart to see if there is still a shortage of supply, by comparing the current prices and the previous ones.
Also, read your local news for related reports in the past 2 weeks.
And make your judgement.
No one can guarantee 100% success in business and you’ll have to evaluate whether you can bear the loss if you fail to sell them.
Here is a negative sample:
An old customer of ours recently ordered masks from us and we supplied him with top priority, but here is the message he sent to me a few days ago:
We looked at the data and realized that the situation in Australia is not that bad, thus the demand for masks is not that high compared to countries like The U.S., Italy, Russia, Germany, France etc.
So, try to avoid what our old customer has experienced with some investigation.
Step #2: Verify What Types of Masks You Can Sell
If you’ve made up your mind to proceed, it’s time to think more carefully about what types of masks you can import and sell.
There are a few types of masks and respirators out there, but the following 3 types will probably be what you’re interested in during the Coronavirus Pandemic.
- 3-Ply Surgical (Medical) Mask
- N95 Respirators (KN95, FFP2)
- N99 Respirators (KN100, FFP3)
Let’s dig further into each type.
3-Ply Surgical (Medical) Mask
This is a typical 3 ply surgical mask that look almost identical with different brands. However, there are a lot to consider for this type of face mask.
In China, there are mainly 3 standards for 3-ply face masks:
- YY 0469-2011 – Surgical Mask
- YY/T 0969-2013 – Medical Mask
- GB/T 32610-2016 – Protective Mask
In Europe, there are mainly 3 standards: EN 14683 2019
- Type I
- Type II
- Type IIR
In the U.S., there are mainly 3 standards: ASTM F2100-19
- Level 1
- Level 2
- Level 3
Here is a graphic that explains the details about the different aspects of testing for each standard.
If you were not in the medical field before the COVID-19 outbreak, there will be a learning curve.
However, from our practical experiences sending the masks to different countries and hearing the requirements from our customers, we’ll make a brief summary for you:
If you import to Europe, make sure the 3-ply surgical masks you import meet the standard of EN 14683.
This can be proved if the manufacturer can provide a test report from authorized institutes by the European Union. TUV, SGS, BSI etc. are a few of those that work.
Or, if the manufacturer can provide a Declaration of Conformity (DoC), which may also work during the special period of COVID-19.
Here is an example of it.
With the situation becoming worse and masks short of supply, some countries have carried out temporary policies that accept equivalent Chinese standards (GB) , like France.
Here is the official link and full details.
That being said, we believe there should be no problem if your country has polocies that accept equivalent Chinese standards.
But in practice, your customs may still hold your goods for sometime, asking you to provide documents like DoC before freeing the goods (it just happened to our French customer).
The other point is, our China customs has also become very strict over Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to be exported.
Disqualified factories that don’t meet the standards are not allowed to export. (Customs checks a high percentage of goods before they are cleared)
And this is actually a good signal that the possibilities of you buying from a disqualified manufacturer is getting lower and lower.
If you import to the U.S., make sure the manufacturer has FDA Certificate.
N95 Respirators (KN95, FFP2)
The term N95 is American standard and there are equivalent terms like: KN95 (Chinese Standard), FFP2 (EU Standard).
If you are to import from China, in most cases you’ll be buying KN95 Respirators instead of N95 Respirators or FFP2 Respirators.
This is because in China, there are only a few NIOSH Certified manufacturers that are allowed to produce N95 masks.
And most of them were supplying governments when masks were in extreme shortage, especially when the outbreak happened internationally.
When you buy KN95 face masks, here are a few points to consider:
- make sure they meet the standard of GB 2626-2006 or GB 2626-2019 (Effective after July 1, 2020).
- For European market, verify if they have a valid test report for standard of EN 149:2001+A1:2009 and CE Certificate. (Valid examples: SGS, BSI, TUV; Invalid examples: ECM, ISR, ENC Lab etc.) Here is the full list by European Safety Federation (ESF).
- For U.S.A., make sure product has FDA certificate or the manufacturer is on the list of FDA EUA. (Verify FDA Cert. here)
Basically these points are the most important factors to consider as they will decide whether the goods can be exported from China and imported to your country.
And they are the proof of quality.
If your supplier in China can not provide a valid CE certificate, which is very common due to the fact that the majority of CE certificates are issued by ECM, it’s crucial to ask the manufacturer to provide a statement, ie, Declaration of Conformity.
If your supplier does not have a valid FDA certificate for the mask or is not on the list of FDA EUA, you won’t import it to the U.S.
When there is no problem on the documents, it’s time to consider more on the products.
Even though the standards are met, the KN95 masks can be in different compositions and different packagings.
Most common compositions are:
- 4-Layer (3 layers of non-woven fabric and 1 layer of meltblown material)
- 5-Layer (3 layers of non-woven fabric and 2 layers of meltblown material)
- 5-Layer (2 layers of non-woven fabric and 3 layers of meltblown material)
- 5-Layer (2 layers of non-woven fabric, 2 layers of meltblown material and 1 layer of thermal insulation cotton)
Most common packagings are:
- 10 pcs/bag; 100 bags/ctn; (1,000 pcs/ctn)
- 1 pc/bag; 20 bags/box; 45 boxes/ctn; (900 pcs/ctn)
Each of these manufacturers has a reason for their choice and it’s hard to say which is good or which is bad.
Since the meltblown material is the most important part of the mask to filter particles and bacteria, it won’t hurt to have an extra layer of it.
Of course, this also relates to the price of the KN95 mask.
So, find one that best suits your needs in terms of quality, price and market demands.
N99 Respirators (KN100, FFP3)
Let me put it this way.
The demand and supply of N99 Particulate Filtering Facepiece Respirators is much less compared to N95.
Unless you were in the industry or you have potential customers already, it’s not recommended to go with N99 Masks, or KN100 Masks (Chinese standard) or FFP3 Masks (EU standard).
The price of N99 face mask is a few times that of N95 and in China, only a few manufacturers are approved by NIOSH. Here is the full list.
If you need to import to the U.S., make sure the manufacturer is on the list.
If you need to import to Europe, you’ll have to find an FFP3 face mask manufacturer or a trading company that can supply it.
Step #3: Find A Supplier of The Mask(s)
Back to when everything was normal before the pandemic, it wasn’t difficult to find a supplier for a specific product:
Visit alibaba.com > Search > Communicate with the suppliers you find.
Not that easy anymore in this special period.
You will probably encounter at least one, if not all of the below problems:
- You can find some suppliers, but they won’t reply you or they will tell you they are fully scheduled with orders until next month;
- You want a secure payment like Escrow or L/C, but very few accept that;
- The sales you’re talking to is not even professional at what they’re selling, because many of them just started to produce masks just like you just started to get involved in the mask business;
- The price you got is very high;
- The shipping cost can not be confirmed;
- The lead time is not guaranteed or, it’s promised but delayed again and again.
All these will contribute to your frustration, but if you think about it, there is not much you can do, or anyone can do to change the situation.
The whole supply chain in China has been in a mess as well.
The price for melt-blown material has increased over 30 times over a few weeks.
The price for mask production line has increase over 15 times over a few weeks.
The price for a finished mask has been changing everyday for a period of time.
The whole situation is: manufacturers will offer masks to whoever pays first, because there are too many people inquiring and much fewer ordering.
And at this special time, trading companies in China get most of the stock masks.
Because trading companies knew the manufacturers before the COVID-19 outbreak and they trust each other.
One pays cash to get the stock; one gets cash for future production and the risk is very low.
Good deal for both.
Then trading companies will sell stock to their customers.
And because of decreased airlines, the shipping cost has increased also. And the price kept going up for a few weeks.
Now you should know why you’ll encounter the problems listed above.
But I’m not writing this post to make you more anxious. I’m letting you know the situation and my thought for you.
At this special time, the most secure and efficient way for you to import face masks is to buy from someone you already know, or someone you can build a trusted relation through a reference.
The reasons are as follow:
You need to make sure of two things: 1) Money is safe; 2) Your order will be delivered as per the order.
Manufacturers will require cash anyway and at this time, it’s sellers’ market. Buyers don’t have much room to negotiate.
In fact, buyers queue to talk business with manufacturers for a period of time.
If you know someone in China you trust, buying from them will at least make sure your money is safe.
Know that many factories became empty overnight, without any signs. Especially when China’s customs became extremely strict over the product quality since around middle of April.
Having someone on the ground is a must, not only for the sake of fund safety, but also to better ensure lead time.
If you have someone follow up the order everyday in the factory, you’ll probably get your goods on time.
And if you don’t, chances are factories will offer whoever offers a higher price first, or whoever has a larger order than yours. (I’m not saying all factories do this, but when things are uncertain, businesses tend to pursue short term profit).
But you may ask, what if I don’t know anyone in China?
Well, I’d strongly advise you to either check with your trusted friends or other connections and see if there is a possibility to find someone you can trust in China, or only try to buy from whitelisted companies on FDA EUA.
Alright. Now I’d like to hear your thought
There you have it: my 3-step process for importing face masks from China.
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:
Have you tried to check with your connections in China?
Or do you still have any questions regarding the product standard?
Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.