Customs Clearance: Everything You Need to Know

Understanding the customs clearance process is critical for shippers looking to import or export their goods safely and efficiently. Let’s start with the basics. 


What Is Customs Clearance?

The customs clearance process essentially authorizes goods’ movement, whether those goods are imported into a country or exported out. There are several steps to consider as part of the process to ensure that shipments get legally accepted at their destination.

Here, we look at everything you need to know about customs clearance. We point out the benefits of using a customs clearance service to focus on selling more goods to customers, no matter where they are in the world. 


What Are the Documents Required for Customs Clearance?

Whether cargo is an import or an export, certain documents must be prepared and submitted to ensure successful shipping procedures. Errors in filling these documents out or missing them altogether can lead to costly delays and even fines or penalties. 


Import Documentation

Import documentation includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Purchase Order: A purchase order from the buyer is a document unique to each shipment that includes identifying information about purchasing the shipped goods.
  •  Commercial Invoice: A commercial invoice should describe the items clearly, and provide enough information that it is evident to customs officers that your goods are admissible. 
  • Bill of Lading: A bill of lading acts as a contract between carriers and shippers. It also serves as a shipment receipt when the goods have reached their destination.
  • Packing List: A packing list goes along with a commercial invoice to further verify a shipment’s contents. 
  • Certificate of Origin: A certificate of origin is essential when determining a shipment’s duty-free status, as it certifies where the goods originated.
  • Import Declaration: Import declaration documents are completed using the correct HS codes, which classify a product and determine relevant duties and taxes on a shipment.

Export Documentation

Export documentation includes several documents described above, including a purchase order from the buyer, a packing list, a bill of lading, and a certificate of origin. Additional export documentation includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Sales Invoice: A sales invoice includes information about proposed sales terms for the goods and identifying information about the buyer and seller.
  • Shipping Bill: A shipping bill, an application for clearance, must be completed to allow goods to be loaded for shipment. 

Depending on where a shipment is going, what is in a load, or insurance purchased for a shipment, you may need additional documentation. A customs clearance agent would be able to navigate the document process for you, to make sure you’re not missing anything that would lead to problems later on, and complete required documentation clearly and accurately.


How Long Does Customs Clearance Take?

The short answer is that it depends. Factors to consider when planning the timing of a shipment are where the load is going, where it came from, and whether it encounters any unexpected delays along the way. 

Unexpected delays in the customs clearance process can occur when there are errors in documentation, for example. A customs clearance process without any issues could still take up to several business days. Working with services like freight forwarders could certainly speed things up.

Trucks passing through a customs clearance zone.

What Are the Fees Involved With Customs Clearance?

You can expect to pay both duties and taxes that are calculated based on several factors, including:

  • What you’re shipping 
  • The classification of those goods
  •  The value of the goods shipped
  • Where the goods are coming to and going from 

If you’re not well-versed in international trade agreements, for example, there may be some research involved to determine accurate duties and taxes on your shipment.


Duties and Taxes

Duties and taxes are assessed based on the documentation you provide. Additional fees may apply if you’ve filled relevant documentation out incorrectly. You’ll undoubtedly want to avoid these kinds of unnecessary expenses to make shipping as cost-effective as possible for you.


Additional Costs

On top of duties and taxes, you may also incur:

  • Additional costs related to shipping insurance
  • The overall cost of shipping 
  •  The price for any support or broker services you’ve used to simplify the process. 

A customs clearance service may, in the end, save you money overall if you’re avoiding unnecessary fees—and headaches—you could encounter otherwise.


Do I Need A Customs Clearance Service?

Using a customs clearance service to help you navigate the customs clearance process is an essential step to ensuring your shipment meets shipping rules and regulations. A misstep along the way can lead to frustrating delays, sometimes even fees, making the idea of working with a service a cost-effective option, as well.


Contact HLOG for Custom Clearance Services

Services provided by customs clearance agents allow for peace of mind, as well, by ensuring that your shipment is getting where it needs to go efficiently. A customs clearance agent specializes in knowing up-to-date information so that you don’t have to. That level of service— something we pride ourselves on at HLOG—is priceless.