Customs Purgatory

I often hear from frustrated importers or exporters about shipments “stuck” in customs. The shipments may include critical parts needed for an equipment or plant shutdown, expensive high tech components not generally carried in inventory, or medical instruments for hospitals. Delayed orders also mean delayed payments, which gets everyone’s attention.

In many cases the delay is compounded by simple communication issues. Importer of record (IOR) contact info is often lacking on the commercial invoice. Customs in the importing country will not contact the exporter if they have questions or concerns. If they are unable to contact the IOR the shipment will go into storage. Make sure you include recipient name, address, phone number, and e mail address on your CI.

The CI is the most critical document for customs purposes. The data used in customs entries comes directly from the commercial invoice for the transaction. All countries have different, and sometimes obscure, customs regulations. It is true, however, that most delays are caused by a few commercial invoice errors or omissions.

Commodity descriptions should answer the questions: What is it? What is it made of? What is it used for? Use plain language which can be understood by anyone. Avoid trade names, brand names, or part numbers in the description. These can be added below the description or to the packing list if needed. If using a harmonized code it is best to enter only the first 6 digits, which are universal. All countries apply their own last 4 or more digits.

Contact for immediate assistance.

Value for customs may appear to be too low for the commodity being shipped. The customs agencies in the destination country need to make sure that duty rates are accurate and will hold up the shipment if in doubt. Make sure that your commercial invoice reflects the correct transaction value.