Some aspects of importing may seem complex, but many details are – at least individually – quite straightforward, and can be used to make many aspects of the import process simpler and less stressful for you.
Several very simple communication practices can make it much easier for your customs broker to save you time and trouble, and make the whole process faster and easier for both of you. Because the whole import and customs clearance process depends on the efficient flow of information between all participants, enhancing that flow helps everyone involved do their respective jobs more effectively.
It all starts with the importer placing an order with a foreign supplier. Especially when starting this relationship with a new supplier, it is very helpful for the importer to:
notify the supplier of any special documentation or data elements that may be required to clear the goods through customs
advise any deadlines by which this information is needed
include specific data elements on the commercial invoice and/or other documentation, that will directly help the importer save time and money
instruct the supplier to send copies of the complete sets of commercial and shipping documentation directly to the importer, and the importer’s customs broker
For ocean shipments, the importer should instruct the foreign supplier to forward the data elements required for the Importer’s Security Filing (ISF) directly to the importer’s customs broker, as well as to the importer. The supplier will normally send this information as an email attachment. (Most foreign suppliers who do any meaningful amount of business with US customers already have a standard ISF worksheet they use to organize their ISF data, or their forwarders do.) The broker should receive the ISF information at least two working days before the shipment is loaded to the vessel that will bring the cargo to a US port.
For air shipments, the foreign supplier should send copies of the commercial documents, including air waybill, as soon as they are available – and preferably at least one working day before the shipment leaves its origin airport. These documents should be sent directly to the importer’s customs broker, as well as to the importer. Except for a very few types of licenses and permits, for which paper originals are still required, electronic copies can be used to meet virtually all customs requirements.
Whenever possible, commercial documents for ocean shipments should be received by the customs broker at least five working days before the shipment is expected to arrive at port. (Earlier is even better.) This greatly improves the broker’s chances to clear the cargo through Customs before vessel arrival, thus avoiding potential delays and storage charges.
Ocean shipments may require “surrender” of an endorsed Original Bill of Lading (OBL) to the ocean carrier or its destination office or agent, before releasing the shipment at destination. To avoid the additional courier expense and potential delay often incurred in doing so, the importer can instruct its supplier to in turn instruct the ocean carrier to either:
issue a non-negotiable “sea waybill” instead of a negotiable OBL, so it is not necessary to surrender an OBL at destination; or
when the OBL is issued, have the shipper immediately surrender it to the carrier’s origin office, so that office can then send a “telex release” authorization to the carrier’s destination office or agent, instructing that office to release the shipment without surrender of OBL
For some specific types of goods, original paper documents may be required for presentation to one (or more) US government agencies which have jurisdiction over these types of imported goods, along with US Customs. Examples include:
CITES permits for endangered species, or products made from them
phytosanitary certificates for certain types of plants or animals, or products made from them
quota certificates for certain types of food or other agricultural products
Many items subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation require reporting of registration numbers for specified types of medications and medical devices, as well as for lasers and products containing them. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) requires certification data for most types of internal combustion engines and products containing them, that are less than 21 years old. Many other agencies have similar requirements for products they regulate.
When a shipment may require any of these (or other) special documents or data, it is a good idea for importers to carefully review with their customs broker – before placing an order:
what additional data or documentation will be required
who must provide the data or generate the documents – supplier, foreign government agency, third party certification, etc.
which agency requires the information
how the agency wants to receive the information – as part of the customs electronic entry data, a paper or electronic copy of the shipment documents, original paper document for review and validation, etc.
Many suppliers, especially Chinese companies, routinely quote product prices including prepaid ocean freight (but usually, only to “ship’s rail” at the marine terminal in the destination port). If the supplier lists the amount of any prepaid ocean freight (and any prepaid marine insurance premiums) on the face of the commercial invoice, that amount can be deducted from shipment invoice value to reduce the dutiable value. This allows the importer to avoid paying duty on ocean freight and insurance premiums – which, under US customs law, are not dutiable. Importers who buy on these terms should always instruct their suppliers to “break out” this information on the face of the commercial invoice, so their customs broker can save the importer money by reducing the importer’s total customs duty payout.
Additionally, importers should always instruct their suppliers, to in turn instruct the ocean (or air) carrier, to include the importer’s customs broker as an “additional notify party” on the shipping documents. This practice:
notifies the carrier that the customs broker is a party to the shipment transaction, and therefore may receive notifications from (and give instructions to) the carrier and its agents
allows the customs broker to receive an “arrival notice” from the carrier, which enables the broker to respond quickly to shipment arrival, pay any “collect” charges timely on behalf of the importer, and otherwise act to protect the importer’s interests
By helping their suppliers communicate more effectively with the importer and the customs broker, smart importers can save money, reduce potential for delays and storage charges, and generally improve their own efficiency and profitability. The customs experts at Transmark Customs Brokers will be glad to review how we can help you make this process work for your continued benefit.