How to Hire a Good Customs Broker

If you're doing business with U.S. Customs, you need a customs broker

customs broker working on laptop
Morsa Images/DigitalVision/Getty Images

When it comes to importing from anywhere in the world, the first question United States clients ask is about how to clear goods at a border.

The answer is to hire a good customs broker who knows the rules and regulations of the country you wish to import goods from and can get the job done safely, quickly, and economically. This will allow you to focus on selling the merchandise, getting paid or both.

More importantly, if you are doing business with U.S. Customs, you are required to work through a customs broker with a valid license. According to the U.S. Customs website:

Corporations, partnerships, and associations must have a broker license to transact Customs business. Each of these businesses must have at least one individually licensed officer, partner or associate to qualify the company's license. Failure to have a qualifying officer or member (of a partnership) for more than 120 days will result in the revocation of the broker license.

What Is a Customs Broker?

Much like a freight forwarder or logistics expert on exports, licensed customs brokers are individuals, associations, corporations, or partnerships that are licensed and regulated by the U.S. Customs Border Protection (CBP). Customs brokers are licensed by U.S. Customs after passing a qualifying test.

What a Customs Broker Does

Customs brokers assist with documentation (both offline and online), country-specific rules and regulations, calculation of duties and related taxes, if any, and payments to the CBP.

They ensure that your goods are cleared through customs in a timely, seamless, and economical fashion. This service is provided for a reasonable fee. Their obligation is to comply with regulatory and statutory requirements on behalf of an importing client.

These experts typically handle issues concerning entry procedures and classification issues such as the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Classification System, tariff treatments and trade agreements, compliance, valuation and classification of goods, assessment of duties, marking of imported goods, duty drawbacks and refunds, anti-dumping and countervailing duties, foreign trade zones, and record keeping, if needed.

How to Find a Customs Broker

The two best places to look for a customs broker and additional information on importing to the United States are The National Customs Brokers & Forwarders Association of America, Inc. (NCBFAA) and theInternational Federation of Customs Brokers Associations.

Not all brokers can process entries at all customs ports of unloading, nor can all prepare and process the paperwork required by U.S. Customs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Be sure to inquire before making a hiring decision.

Finally, check whether you require a license, a permit to import certain goods, or special additional paperwork. A customs broker can help you with this aspect of importing goods as well.

Importing can become a lucrative business in and of itself or an extension of a small organization that offers exciting growth potential. Either way, learning the ropes and doing your homework makes the process that much easier.