The International Shipper's Checklist Part 2:

Customs Brokers


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If it’s your first time plunging into the wild waters of the global market, it’s good to have a lifesaver to keep you afloat. Importing and exporting comes with a mind-bogglingly long list of rules, so we are back to sketch out the parameters of international shipping. In The International Shipper’s Checklist, Part 1 we covered how to ship and what to ship your cargo in. Now let’s discuss customs brokers.

What Is A Customs Broker?

Think of customs brokers as your bureaucratic translator and partner. Customs brokers are the only ones with authorization in the United States to act as agents for importers in the transaction of customs business. They will work on your behalf and are backed by the knowledge of import specifications, such as valuation, classification, entry procedures, amongst other things. They’re licensed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and are an invaluable resource for shippers.

Okay, But What Does a Customs Broker Do?

In short? A customs broker:

  • Acts as an intermediary between you and your goods.
    • They protect your assets, ensuring that your shipment crosses the border and makes it to its intended location. Think of them as an extra set of eyes on your freight, facilitating easy entry.
  • Helps you save money.
    • A lot can get in between your cargo and its destination. Shipping internationally means the potential for your freight to encounter conflicts in transit, like confiscation of assets, delays, and potential fines—all paths that lead to financial loss, especially when you can’t make heads or tails of the process. Circumvent these potential accidents with a customs broker.With U.S. Customs and Border Protection enforcing their laws, a customs broker is going to make sure you adhere to them. Understanding and compliance means a faster shipment, and less room for error and they will work to help you avoid any potential disruptions and unnecessary costs.
  • Knows what requirements your shipments need to meet before export.
    • Having trouble sussing out the laws regarding international shipment? Your customs broker has an encyclopedic knowledge on them. Knowing the ins and outs of international shipping protocols is their job, after all. For instance, with the Harmonized Tariff Classification System, every good gets its own classification number, which are then divvied up into groups and sub-groups for identification for charging customs duties. Your customs broker is well-versed on the taxes and duties that can be levied on your goods after arriving to their destination.When you seek out a customs broker, let them know what you’re planning to ship. Customs brokers have specializations in different areas.
  • Will make sure your documents are compliant with shipping regulations.
    • They will file the paperwork and payment necessary for entry. It is your legal responsibility to make sure that your customs declarations are in order. Issues in paperwork can lead to audits, as well as fines and sanctions. Have your licensed customs broker look over it. Paperwork is a priority—a customs broker will make sure your t’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted, and that your paperwork is compliant with regulatory requirements prior to entry.

Where Can I Find A Customs Broker?

While there is no legal precedence for a custom broker’s assistance to ship internationally, it will be an enormous convenience for you and the shipping process ahead. In fact, the presence of a customs broker is necessary to do business with some freight forwarders. If you’re unfamiliar with international shipping, it’s a suggestion worth heeding.

There are several different avenues you can take to seek out the expertise of a customs broker. You can, of course, look them up based on the ports you are going to ship to and out of at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection site: Look up ports and customs brokers. You can seek brokers out through the National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America as well. Before you settle on anyone, make certain they’re licensed through the CBP—you can double check licensing at the CBP site.

Catch You at the Next Port of Call!

We still have a little ways to go before we get the full international shipping picture, but we’re already halfway there! Stick with us as we continue to our next port of call as we cover paperwork, and carve out a time frame for your international freight shipment.

Need to ship something? For shipping within the U.S. and to or from Canada, use our free online quote tool to get started. For other destinations, call our international shipping experts at 800.716.7608.

Check out the whole series here: 

Part 1: The International Shipper's Checklist - Introduction to International Shipping

Part 2: The International Shipper's Checklist  - Customs Brokers

Part 3: The International Shipper's Checklist - Paperwork & Time Frame

Part 4: The International Shipper's Checklist - Insurance