While it is not required, it is advisable to hire a customs broker when importing goods. They not only make the process of importing a lot easier and less time consuming, but their services also can potentially save a lot of money while helping to avoid unnecessary delays. However, not all customs brokers are created equal. With so many to choose from and the importing process potentially complicated, it is important to know what to look for.
All US customs brokers must be licensed (there is a custom broker license exam) by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Their activities are defined by agency as “activities concerning the entry and admissibility of merchandise.” They act on the behalf of other parties helping to fulfill all steps required to clear their goods through customs. While the CBP determines if everything is in order and what the duties are, a good customs broker will make sure all documentation is properly taken care of.
A customs broker will answer any relevant questions and advise importers on the procedures if it is their first time. They should also be able to tell how the CBP will classify the merchandise being according to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States and thus give a good idea of what the tariffs and other importing costs will be. They can sometimes point out ways to save the importer money.
Generally, a customs broker will charge in the range of $100 to $200 per entry. There is no reason to pay a lot for a customs broker but keep in mind the fees and other expenses can quickly add up to a substantial sum if something goes wrong on entry. While a customs broker will provide the necessary expertise to import the goods, the importer should still have a good basic understanding of the procedures both to select the right broker and to help the process run more smoothly.
Things to look for
- How responsive is the broker? See what it takes to get a live person on the phone and how quickly they respond to email. Shipping companies, CBP and other different players are all must come together when goods clear customs. There is no telling when a quick response to an issue might be needed.
- The area of expertise of the customs broker is also important. It is sometimes impossible for even a specialist to keep up with everything, and the rules pertaining to products like textiles and food are very different. If, for example, one is importing textiles, choosing a broker with experience in that field adds a degree of insurance that problems from missing something obscure will not occur.
- Location also matters. While it may not make much difference if the customs broker has a location near the client, the broker should have some kind of presence at the port where the shipments will arrive. This can help lower fees and reduce response times.
- After the goods clear customs, they will still need to be sent to the final destination The customs broker needs to have relationships with freight forwarders so that can provide the fastest and most cost effective shipping. It is also important to be sure they can handle the locations and types of shipments involved.
- It needs to be totally clear as to how payments will be handled. There will be various tariffs, port and transportation fees, etc. that must be paid after the goods arrive at the port or entry. Be sure of the payment methods as well as how and when the payment will be made before deciding on the services of a customs broker.
When deciding on a company, look online for any feedback from others who have used the company in the past. If the customs broker does not turn out as expected or a better one comes along, there is nothing to stop one from changing companies. However, it will save time and hassle to start and stay with a single company.
It is wise to have a good customs broker before the order is ever placed and certainly before the goods leave the factory. There may be markings and other regulations the importer needs to be aware of that must be taken care of at the manufacturer.
Choose carefully to ensure a smooth importing process.