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CSV Import

6 Reasons your customers are facing CSV import issues

CSV Files Are an Important Part of Data Analysis. But What Happens When You Experience a CSV Import Error?

Christina Gilbert

Christina is the co-founder & CEO at OneSchema.

May 16, 2023

Data entry for your mission-critical file is finally complete—you know the one: it'll transform your business processes once it's in the database and accessible to your teams. What started as a spreadsheet has been transformed into a CSV file, and you're ready to import it into the project management system. Fingers crossed.

But suddenly, the dreaded error message appears: "Import Failed."

If this happens to you, you're not alone! CSV files can be tricky to work with, and there are several reasons why your import might have failed. This article will highlight some of the most common reasons for CSV import errors and how you can fix them.

Understanding Your CSV File and Its Structure

Importing data into a database is essential for many businesses. Your data might be important information like the emails, names, and addresses of leads or customers. Your customers matter, so this data matters.

Before we get into the reasons why your CSV file might not import properly, let's look at the structure of a CSV file. A CSV file is a comma-separated values file, which means that a comma separates each different value in the file.

For example, let's say you have a CSV file with three columns: name, email, and phone number. The first line of the CSV file would look something like this:

Name, email, phone number

And the second line might look like this:

John Doe,, 555-123-4567

Although you might see values separated by columns or rows on your screen, all of the values are stored in one long line when you save a spreadsheet as a CSV file. The right CSV format depends on the software application you're trying to import your file into. If your file doesn't match the specifications your app is expecting, it might not be able to read your CSV file properly. Check the do‎cumentation of your app to import your data without any hiccups.

Why Won't my CSV File Import?

Let's look at 6 reasons why your CSV won't import.

1. Your CSV File Size Is Too Large

Some platforms have a file size requirement when trying to upload or import a CSV. For example, the project management tool, Airtable has a 5MB limit on CSV files. If your file is larger than the file size limit, you'll need to split it up into multiple smaller files and then try importing them one by one.

2. You Have Missing Data in Your CSV File

A lot of software won't accept empty columns in CSVs you import. For example, if you have a CSV with three columns: name, email, and phone number, and a row is missing a phone number, that row will create an error when you try to import it.

To fix this, you'll need to go back and add the missing data to your CSV file and re-import it into your app.

3. Your Data Doesn't Match the Columns in Your CSV File

While a good data importer can easily rearrange columns in your CSV file, some might have trouble if the data doesn't match up with the column headers. This error will also appear if you have the data in the wrong order or you have missing data fields or columns.

For example, if your CSV file has a column for First Name, but the data in that column is actually numbers, the data importer might not be able to parse what you're trying to import. To fix this issue, you'll need to go back and check that your data matches up with the columns in your CSV file. Rename any columns that don't match.

4. You Have The Wrong Data Formatting in Your CSV File

If your data is in the wrong format, it can cause problems when you try to import your CSV file.

For example, if you're trying to import a file with dates in the MM/DD/YYYY format, but your CSV file has dates in the YYYY/MM/DD format, the software won't be able to read it correctly. You might have to manually correct the date format in Excel.

This is also a problem you'll encounter with phone numbers, zip codes, and other data that needs to be in a specific format. The best way to fix such issues is to audit your CSV file to make sure all the data is in the correct format.

5. Data Translation Errors

If you're trying to import a CSV file created on a different operating system, you might encounter data translation errors. If non-standard characters are used on one operating system but not on another, it can cause errors when you try to import your file.

For example, if you create a CSV file on a Windows computer and then try to import it into a Mac application, you might see strange characters or errors. To fix this issue, you'll need to check for error messages about data translation and fix the errors in your CSV file.

6. Data Type Issues

Another common CSV import issue occurs when data types are incorrect.

For example, if you have a CSV file with a column for Phone Number, but the data in that column is really emails, the software you're trying to import your file into won't be able to read it correctly. It's expecting a number, but it got a string of characters. To fix this, change the data types in your CSV file to match the required format.

FAQ About CSV Files

What is the Difference Between a Text File and CSV File?

The main difference between a text file and a CSV file is that a text file contains plain-text data while a CSV contains structured, tabular data, such as a database or spreadsheet.

Text files are more commonly used to store log files (tracking what has happened in a system, diagnosing problems, and identifying trends) or configurations (information on how a system is set up or how a software program works).

What's a Text Qualifier in a CSV?

A text qualifier is a character that surrounds the text in a CSV file. The most common text qualifiers are double quotes ("), single quotes ('), backticks (`), or the greater than/less than symbols (> <). Text qualifiers are used to ensure that commas and other characters within the text don't get misinterpreted as data.

What Characters Are Disallowed in CSV Files?

Certain characters are not recognizable by CSVs, but which ones depends heavily on what app you're using to open the CSV. Some apps won't allow dollar signs, parentheses, asterisks, commas, or square brackets. It's best to check your app's documentation to see which characters it won't recognize.

How Long Can a CSV File Be?

There is no limit to the size of a CSV file. Keep in mind that some apps have restrictions on the size of files that can be imported. For example, Google Sheets can import up to 250 MB, while Excel has a maximum of 2 GB.

How Many Records Can a CSV File Hold?

The chances of your CSV import failing because of too many columns and rows are extremely low. Microsoft Excel, for example, has a limit of 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns.


Importing CSV files can be complex, requiring considerable attention to detail. Data formatting issues, translation errors, or incorrect data types are just a few of the roadblocks you may encounter. The best way to fix these issues is to check for any error messages and make the necessary changes to your CSV file

Check your app documentation for specific limitations, format your data correctly, and make sure that all of the characters in your file are recognized by the software you're trying to import into. If you're still having trouble, you can always contact the software support team for the app you're using. Having eliminated the possibilities outlined in this article will fast-track your support call.

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