Laurel Delaney is a former expert for The Balance Small Business, and is the founder and president of Global Trade Source, Ltd. She is also the author of three books on exporting.
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Updated July 04, 2019
When it comes to importing from anywhere in the world, the first question United States clients ask is about how to clear goods at a border. The answer is to hire a good customs broker. They should know the rules and regulations of the country you wish to import goods from and get the job done safely, quickly, and economically. It will allow you to focus on selling the merchandise and get paid.
More importantly, if you are doing business with U.S. Customs, you are required to work through a customs broker with a valid license. According to the U.S. Customs website:
Corporations, partnerships, and associations must have a broker license to transact Customs business. Each of these businesses must have at least one individually licensed officer, partner, or associate to qualify the company’s license. Failure to have a qualifying officer or member (of a partnership) for more than 120 days will result in the revocation of the broker license.
Much like a freight forwarder or logistics expert on exports, licensed customs brokers are individuals, associations, corporations, or partnerships licensed and regulated by the U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP). Customs brokers receive a license from the U.S. Customs after passing a qualifying test.
Customs brokers assist with both offline and online documentation. They are experts with country-specific rules and regulations and can calculate duties and related taxes, as well as any payments to the CBP. They make sure that your goods are cleared through customs in a timely, seamless, and economical fashion. This service is provided for a reasonable fee. They are obligated to comply with regulatory and statutory requirements on behalf of an importing client.
These professionals typically handle issues concerning entry procedures and classification issues such as:
- The U.S. Harmonized Tariff Classification System (HTSA)
- Tariff treatments and trade agreements that can lower duty rates or set other limits to particular goods
- Compliance with applicable rules and regulations
- Determines the valuation and classification of goods
- Assessment of products for the determination of duties
- The marking of imported goods to indicate the country of origin
- Handling duty drawbacks or the refund of tariffs, taxes, and other fees on certain U.S. exports
- Protect against anti-dumping and countervailing duties
- Handle product flowing through foreign trade zones (FTZ)
- Any necessary record keeping
Not all brokers can process entries at all customs ports of unloading, nor can they all prepare and process the paperwork required by the U.S. Customs, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Be sure to inquire before making a hiring decision.
Finally, check whether you require a license, a permit to import certain goods or special additional paperwork. A customs broker can help you with this aspect of importing goods as well.
The two best places to look for a customs broker and additional information on importing to the United States are The National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc. (NCBFAA) and the International Federation of Customs Brokers Associations.
Importing can become a lucrative business in and of itself or an extension of a small organization that offers exciting growth potential. Either way, learning the ropes and doing your homework makes the process that much easier.