Freight Importing 101: Customs Clearance Fees and Paperwork

Freight Importing 101: Customs Clearance Fees and Paperwork

Whether you're dealing with a single clearance fee or multiple custom clearance fees, there can be substantial paperwork involved with shipping freight from Canada. While business can be good in other countries, your business will come to a crawl or even completely stop if your freight is stuck at the border. Having to clear customs is a crucial step in moving goods across international borders in a time of shipping backlogs and tariff wars between different countries. Making sure you handle all the intricacies helps your business so you keep your profits coming in as quickly as possible and deliveries to clients on a good schedule.

What Is Customs Clearance?

Customs clearance is a procedure before goods can be exported or imported, internationally. Once the shipment is cleared, the shipper offers documentation to confirm customs duties that were paid, so the shipment can be quickly processed. It’s a necessary process to permit the importation of goods through an authorized broker. Here is why it’s required:

  • Protect Revenue of Country: Customs clearance ensures that proper duties and taxes are collected.
  • Safety: Protects the country's borders from both terrorists and smugglers who may want to cause harm to others.
  • Environmental Concerns: Prevent the importation of products that are detrimental to the environment. Also, protect local crops by keeping an eye out for foods that may cause diseases to local crops and wildlife.
  • Protect Consumers: Make sure standards are upheld for products, for example, food that won't cause people to become sick or products that malfunction and may hurt people.

What Fees Importers Are Required to Pay?

custom clearance fees

A customs entry fee is just one of many customs clearance costs that you might have to deal with.

  • Bond Payments: This applies in some countries and guarantees taxes and duties on your imports. Continuous bonds might be available for regular importers. Single-entry bonds are used for individual shipments.
  • Customs Clearance Fee: An overseas broker will oversee this process. They'll finish and file any required paperwork for you and ensure you have compliance.
  • HMF: A harbor maintenance fee might apply to certain ocean shipments based on a percentage of the cargo's declared value.
  • Import Duties: You'll pay a percentage of your declared value based on the nation of origin and the classification code of your particular product.
  • Inspection Fees: Should your cargo wind up being in the small minority of imported cargo that undergoes physical inspection, then you may have several days of delay. You'll have to pay for this, and the fees are variable depending on the scope, location, and kind of exam.
  • MPF: The merchandise processing fee happens in certain nations with minimum and maximum charges based on the cargo's declared value.
  • Regulator Fees: If you have products that get regulated by agencies more than just customs, then there might be additional documentation and costs involved to get through customs.

Not all of these fees apply to every country, nor even to every shipment.

What Paperwork Is Required for Customs Clearance?

It's not enough to just pay any applicable custom clearing charges your shipment might have associated with it. You need the right documents. You also need to fill them out completely.

  1. SLI: A shipper's letter of instruction details the export instructions that a freight forwarder needs to follow.
  2. BOL: A bill of lading is an agreement between the transportation provider and the shipper, and it's a legally binding one at that.
  3. Commercial Invoice: This is a document that serves as proof of sale from the seller to the buyer.
  4. Packing List: A packing list will cover the cargo description, count, measurement, and weight.
  5. Certificate of Origin: This represents the country where the cargo was originally processed or manufactured.

How Long Will the Customs Clearance Take?

customs clearance fee usa

Customs brokerage fees Canada charges are one thing to factor in, but you also need to think about how long things will take. Fortunately, many customs documents can be transmitted electronically, and goods can be processed within 24 hours to keep things moving along. There's likely always going to be some delay at a border or customs clearance facility, but the more you can minimize it, the less the impact will be on your business.

Common Mistakes in Customs Clearance

From handling clearing agent fees to knowing what countries shipments might go through, there are quite a few things that can go wrong with customs clearance. Fortunately, if you know the common mistakes, you can avoid them. Many of them have to do with improper paperwork and not putting in enough time to verify and double-check all the various details.

  • Missing Paperwork: Not having a compliant commercial invoice is a common issue. Your customs broker needs to have one to present customs so they release your goods. A transport document, packing list, and commercial invoice are a bare minimum here.
  • Wrong Incoterms: There are 11 different Incoterms that collectively lay out the specific responsibilities of both sellers and buyers. They cover who will pay for what and when they will do it. This includes duty payments and customs clearance.
  • Country of Origin Is Missing or Unclear: Based on where the shipped goods are manufactured, the tariffs can be very different. If the origin country is different than where the goods are purchased, then things get even more complicated.
  • Wrong HS Code: Having the proper classification here might just be the most crucial step in clearing customs. These codes tell customs what they are importing, if the goods are admissible, the relevant government agencies who are stakeholders in a particular import, and what taxes or duties are due.
  • Improper Interpretation of Relevant Free Trade Agreements: Such agreements are advantageous for shipping, but you need to offer evidence that your products actually qualify.


Shipping goods across international borders connects sellers with buyers in expanded markets around the world. However, improper paperwork and not handling procedures right can stall shipments at best or incur legal penalties at worst. Why deal with import clearance fees or US border entry fees when you can have a Canada-US freight shipping company handle everything for you? If you want to find out how much that will cost, then get a quote right now.

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