International Shipping & Freight Forwarding Blog

Challenges that Shippers Face with US Customs and How to Avoid Them

Posted by Reid Malinbaum on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 @ 10:58 AM

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Novice and experienced shippers alike the idea of importing and exporting goods that have to cross through US customs can seem intimidating. Horror stories of delays, added costs, and even abandoned shipments tend to circulate through the shipping community giving many shippers pause when arranging their international shipments.

Through our years of experience we have helped many customers navigate these unsettled waters and have helped them to successfully manage the customs challenges that they face or avoid them all together. 

We currently have a client undergoing a situation where their 1x20’ ocean container that was said to contain 1 used car as well as used clothing. The container was destined for Haiti but is now going through an intense customs examination. While being detained by US customs, the container is subject to intense examination that is done outside the port at an alternate facility where the content is unloaded, examined, and reloaded in a way that does not always meet our loading criteria for blocking, bracing, and securing.

Our shipper is reasonably upset because they are not only experiencing shipping delays but also additional costs. The process can cost more than two thousand dollars if paid on-time and the companies representing US customs will not release the freight unless all customs exam and storage fees are paid to date. Storage fee runs about $50 per day as well as a $50 chassis fee.

After shippers notify their buyers of the delay, they typically do not understand the fees nor have the means to pay the extra charges that keep climbing every day. This is a situation that can be painful to all parties involved. In the case of the Haitian container, it resulted in the abandonment of the shipments as the value of the contents is less than the exam and storage fees. Freight forwarders also feel the strain since the carriers ask the forwarders for payments and, in-turn, the international forwarders have to convey the billing and associated issues to the shippers.

When the cargo is abandoned by a shipper, the freight forwarders become liable for the carriers’ fees. International shipping companies have policies in place for that carrying about $3500 in deductible per occurrence. Customs exams are imposed under a security pretext and generate funds for their department, keeping employment and benefits in place. More regulations mean more secure work for customs employees and more pressure on shippers and forwarders. 

Shippers with imports or exports of commercial, industrial, or household goods can be subjected to random customs exams upon entering the US. This is a freight topic that we come back to often that we feel is too often ignored and shippers must be aware of the risks of not abiding by customs requirements in their packaging and shipping paperwork. So often, first time importers or exporters are subject to a customs exam because they do not pack their shipments according to customs requirements or include proper documentation. However, even experienced shippers, regardless of whether they're shipping via air or ocean, can also be randomly examined by customs once a year.

Two types of exams are used: 

  1. X-ray exam: It is quick & the cost is palatable.

  2. Intense exam: This type of exam is a slow process that can last from a few days to a week. The costs of this type of exam can be high. Customs has the option to do a partial or total exam. The shipper will be billed for storage costs as well as trucking expenses as well. Your forwarder should give their shipper the choice to check on their shipment status as well as directly pay the company examining the cargo. In doing so, there is no added administrating cost.

With 36 years in freight forwarding experience, ETC International Freight Systems has the knowledge and experience to help their customers to prepare their shipments and shipping paperwork to meet US customs requirements and avoid costly shipping delays, fees, or abandoned shipments that could result from a lengthy inspection by US customs. We understand that shippers and international freight forwarders are closer than they may know in sharing the shipping experience. For sure, this is another reason to have a close and trustworthy work relationship.

Request a free freight quote from ETC International Freight System - a California import/export freight forwarding company

Tags: customs clearance