Rules and regulations for attending Trade Shows in the USA

Most common rules in U.S. tradeshows: 7 tricks to know

In the United States, trade shows are a big deal. The U.S. trade fair industry represents a subsequent part of the country’s economy and is likely to reach record high levels for 2016 with thousands of tradeshows covering all business sectors. But everyone in the tradeshow industry also knows perfectly well that there are a lot of stringent rules and regulations for exhibitors planning to attend to such prestigious U.S. events.

So, before heading to your next U.S. tradeshow, try to familiarize yourself with the scope and content of the most common regulations you may face during your business trip.

Here are 7 time (and cost)-saving tips for international exhibitors heading to a U.S. tradeshow.

Entry of the exhibited items in the U.S. territory

All articles used as exhibits during your tradeshow should comply with FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations. Before bringing or shipping products and supplies you must (non exhaustive criteria):

  • bring documentation confirming both your exhibitor status and the date and location of the tradeshow and also precising the value of your items (if over $2500, use a Temporary Importation Bond (TIB))
  • obtain the appropriate HTSUS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States) code for your products (necessary to determine customs duties)
  • complete mandatory documents such as the « Entry and Manifest of Merchandises Free of Duty / carrier’s certificate » (for NADTA items)
  • mention « Not for Sale » on the items you’ll need during your show


Do not forget to check with the competent authority for any possible specific regulation that may restrict the process

Trade Show discussion

Outboarding and suitcasing

Outboarding and suitcasing both refer to unethical business practices that may occur in tradeshows: non-exhibitors attempt to make business with attendees and/or exhibitors.

They may organize off-site events close to the show floor (outboarding) or try to make business within the tradeshow without purchasing an exhibit to do so (suitcasing). Dedicated organizations are trying to protect interests from exhibitors who do pay for the renting space. Fines could be heavy…

So be careful - when you are holding an off-site event with some attendees (lunch/diner) - not to be considered as an offender. To thwart any risk of misunderstanding, most show planners now reserve on behalf of exhibitors dedicated space in hotels/restaurants close to the tradeshow. Inform yourself in good time about opportunities related to your show!

Access for disabled people

Tradeshows are subject to specific federal rules regarding the access to show floors for disabled people. The exhibit space has to be accessible to every person with disabilities and the exhibitor itself (not the show manager) is responsible for regulatory compliance. So do check at the set up of your booth-space that no upgrade is necessary!

Trade Fair Booth inspiration

Booth regulation

There are 4 types of booth configurations in the U.S.

  • Standard/Linear: (maximum 8’height) 
  • Perimeter Wall: (maximum 12’ height)
  • Peninsula: (maximum 20’height)
  • Island: (maximum 30’ height)

Hanging signs are only permitted for both Peninsula and Island booths. Check with your event’s show managers the most suitable configuration for the space you’ve rented.

Space rental

As an exhibitor, your booth-space is clearly defined and all your activities have to take place within your assigned perimeter. You are not allowed to distribute flyers in the hall or to display banners outside your rented space…


Music played in your rented space is subject to general laws related to the use of copyrighted music. So expect to pay some fees! In any case, do be careful that the music volume does not exceed the 85-decibel limit.


Most tradeshows require exhibitors to have an insurance policy for the event. Sometimes tradeshow managers already have a partnership agreement with a specific insurance firm. So do check with your show managers whether you have to purchase your own COI (certificate of insurance)!

So, try to familiarize yourself with the most common regulations in force in the U.S. Knowing some of these rules can help you avoid fines or even tradeshow expulsions! As the saying goes: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Good luck with your business trip and have a safe trip!


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