Home » What Is the Difference Between an FTZ vs. A Bonded Warehouse?

What Is the Difference Between an FTZ vs. A Bonded Warehouse?

by | Apr 3, 2024 | Blog Post

Navigating the complexities of international trade can feel daunting, especially when it comes to storing goods and managing import costs. Fortunately, there are two options that can help you optimize your bottom line and operations: Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) and bonded warehouses. But with both offering distinct advantages, choosing the right one for your business requires a clear understanding of their key differences.

Governments around the world have established these programs specifically to promote global trade by offering businesses a significant advantage: the ability to defer or even avoid paying duties and taxes on imported goods. This translates to improved cash flow, greater flexibility, and the potential for significant cost savings.

However, while both offer these benefits, choosing the right option for your business requires a closer look at their key functionalities and specific regulations, which can differ depending on the country you’re operating in. This variation can add complexity to the decision-making process. To navigate this effectively, we’ll dissect some key overarching principles that hold true across many regions, empowering you to make a well-informed choice.


Understanding FTZ vs. Bonded Warehouse


Both are storage solutions safeguarding your goods while offering strategic and economic advantages in international trade. Both FTZs and bonded warehouses exist to:

  • Improve Your Cash Flow: Deferring duty payments gives you breathing room, allowing for better financial management.
  • Fortify Security: Your goods rest soundly within secure walls, awaiting their final destination.
  • Streamline Your Logistics: Both FTZs and bonded warehouses offer efficient movement of goods, ensuring a smooth flow within your international trade operations.


The Essence

  • FTZ (Foreign/Free Trade Zone): Imagine a duty-free haven within a country, exclusively designated for international trade activities. Goods can reside here, undergo manipulation or even light manufacturing, all without incurring immediate duties or taxes.
  • Bonded Warehouse: Picture a secure facility within a country’s customs territory, acting like a holding pen for imported goods until duties are paid or they’re re-exported. Consider it a secure waiting room for imported goods before their final destination.


 Be aware: Although FTZs and bonded warehouses offer duty deferment, domestic distribution can be slower. Since goods haven’t cleared customs yet, they may not be immediately available for domestic orders compared to a non-bonded warehouse.


Beyond the Basics: FTZ vs. Bonded Warehouse


Free Trade Zone

Free Trade Zone, sometimes also referred to as a Foreign Trade Zone, are duty-free havens within a country, specifically designed to boost international trade activities. FTZs are physically located within a country’s borders, but they operate outside the country’s usual customs territory. This means they follow a unique set of rules, providing businesses involved in storage, manipulation, manufacturing, and distribution with special advantages. Day-to-day activities are managed by private companies to ensure compliance, while user companies within FTZs maintain control over their own operations.

The US stands out when it comes to FTZs. Unlike many other countries, US FTZs can be created within existing warehouses. This eliminates the need for companies to find and manage a separate facility, offering greater flexibility and potentially reducing costs.



  • Storage: Securely store your goods without immediately incurring duties or taxes.
  • Manipulation: Repack, label, or even perform light manufacturing activities on your goods within the zone.
  • Manufacturing: In some cases, even full-fledged manufacturing is allowed, adding value to your products before final export.
  • Distribution: Efficiently distribute your goods to international markets without the burden of immediate customs clearance.



  • Duty Deferral & Savings: Delay duty payments until goods enter the domestic market, potentially reducing overall duty costs based on final processing within the zone.
  • Tax Advantages: Benefit from reduced or eliminated state and local taxes depending on the FTZ location.
  • Inverted Duty Strategy: This strategy allows you to pay the lower duty rate on either the raw materials or the finished product, whichever is cheaper.
  • Reduced Merchandise Processing Fees in the US: Consolidate weekly imports into one entry, significantly lowering Merchandise Processing Fees (MPF) due to capped fees.


Things to Consider:

  • Higher Setup Costs: Establishing and operating within an FTZ can involve higher initial costs compared to bonded warehouses.
  • Limited Control: Customs authorities still have some oversight over activities within the zone.
  • Focus on Export: Goods stored in FTZs are primarily intended for export, not domestic distribution.
  • Storage Limit: FTZ storage limits generally differ by region. While the US allows mostly unlimited storage, both Europe and Asia can have varying limits depending on the specific country and even the individual FTZ operator. It’s best to consult the specific country’s FTZ authority for the most accurate information.


Bonded Warehouse

Imagine a bonded warehouse as a secure, government-supervised holding area for imported goods where you have the flexibility to defer customs duties. In this scenario, you can bring your imported goods into the bonded warehouse without the immediate obligation to pay those potentially substantial duty and tax payments. This arrangement allows you to hold on to your cash longer until items are sold, and even avoid duties and taxes altogether if goods are re-exported.



  • Import goods for later sale or distribution: Store your goods securely and efficiently until you’re ready to release them into the domestic market.
  • Require basic repacking or manipulation: Perform basic repacking or labeling activities on your goods before releasing them into the market.



  • Duty Deferral:  You can delay paying duties until you withdraw your goods for domestic consumption.
  • Duty Drawback: Get a refund of duties paid on re-exported goods.
  • Simpler Setup: Setting up and operating in a bonded warehouse is generally easier and less expensive than in an FTZ.


Things to Consider:

  • Limited Activities: Activities within bonded warehouses are primarily limited to storage and basic repacking.
  • Fixed Duty Rates: You pay duties based on the initial condition of your goods upon entry, limiting flexibility in duty rates.
  • Storage limit: There isn’t a single, standardized storage limit for bonded warehouses. Unlike the US/EU’s 5-year limit, Asia varies. Places like Singapore may have no set limit, while South Korea might have shorter durations (6 months to a year). Always check with the country’s customs authority for specifics.


FTZ vs. Bonded Warehouse:

US & Taiwan Comparison

Chart comparing FTZ vs. bonded warehouse in the Taiwan.

Click on images to expand.


Choosing the Ideal Storage Solution

Selecting the ideal storage solution depends on your unique business needs. Here are key questions to guide you:


1. What are your goods?
  • High-duty goods: FTZs offer flexibility in processing and potentially lower duty rates, making them ideal for high-value or heavily taxed imports.
  • Goods for re-export: Bonded warehouses facilitate duty drawback, making them suitable for goods mainly intended for re-export.


2. What activities do you wish to perform within the storage facility?
  • Need to manipulate or manufacture: FTZs offer more freedom for repacking, labeling, and even light manufacturing.
  • Only require basic storage: Bonded warehouses are sufficient for simple storage and repacking needs.


3. Is long-term storage a priority?
  • Long-term storage: FTZs in the US, and some locations in Asia and Europe, offer unlimited storage. This means you can strategically manage your inventory without worrying about time constraints.
  • Short-term storage: Be aware that traditional US warehouses often have a 5-year storage limit, while some countries like Taiwan limit it to just 2 years. Missing these deadlines can result in penalties.


4. What is your target market?
  • Export focus: FTZs are ideal if you primarily plan to export your goods. You can delay or eliminate duty payments and take advantage of value-added activities before exporting.
  • Domestic distribution: Bonded warehouses are suitable if your goods are mainly intended for the domestic market. They offer a more cost-effective option for storage and easier transition into the US market when you’re ready to sell domestically.


5. How much control do you need over your inventory?
  • Maximize Control: FTZs offer greater control. You can store, repack, label, and even perform light manufacturing within the zone, giving you flexibility in managing your inventory.
  • Streamlined Storage: Bonded warehouses offer less control. Processing is limited to basic repackaging, but customs oversight is also less stringent.


6. What is the anticipated volume of your imports?
  • High Volume & Frequent Re-Export: FTZs can be cost-effective for high-volume imports, especially if you plan to re-export a large portion. Duty deferment and potential duty savings can be significant.
  • Lower Volume & Domestic Distribution: Bonded warehouses may be more suitable for lower-volume imports, particularly if your primary goal is domestic distribution. They offer a quicker and less expensive setup.


7. How comfortable are you dealing with complex regulations?
  • Comfortable with Complexity? FTZs have a more complex regulatory environment due to duty deferment and potential manufacturing activities. Expertise or resources for compliance may be needed.
  • Prefer Simpler Regulations? Bonded warehouses have simpler regulations to navigate. They primarily focus on secure storage and eventual duty payment, making compliance less demanding.


Remember, these are just a starting point! Every business is unique, and your specific needs will influence the best choice for you.


Consulting with a Professional

Choosing between an FTZ vs. a bonded warehouse requires careful consideration of your specific needs and goals. It’s highly recommended to consult with a logistics expert, like Dimerco, who can help you navigate the complexities of these options and make the most informed decision for your business. Dimerco boasts a network of FTZs and bonded warehouses strategically located in major Asian markets, including Shenzhen, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Singapore, as well the US.


  • Expertise: They understand the nuances of both options and can recommend the best fit for your specific needs.
  • Network: They have a wider network of FTZs and bonded warehouses, offering better options and pricing.
  • Compliance: They handle complex customs regulations, ensuring smooth operations and avoiding penalties.
  • Cost Savings: They can negotiate better rates with storage providers, potentially saving you money.


The key is finding the perfect fit. Dimerco’s team of international trade experts can guide you through choosing an FTZ vs. a bonded warehouse. We’ll ask the right questions to understand your import/export needs and explore all the cost-saving opportunities available.

Don’t go at it alone! Partner with Dimerco and unlock the full potential of your international trade operations. Contact a Dimerco expert today to start a conversation.


Explore further insights into strategic warehousing in the Asia-Pacific region with our eBook “Strategic Warehousing in Asia-Pac.” This comprehensive guide delves into how to evaluate and choose the most efficient warehouse location, covering topics such as how bonded warehouses vs. FTZs defer/reduce tax payments. In a world where global trade dynamics are ever-evolving, equip yourself with the knowledge to make informed decisions and stay ahead of the curve.

New call-to-action