What Does a Customs Broker Do?

If you have never made a large overseas shipment, it can be easy to underestimate how much work this process involves. Many find the amount of paperwork and documentation to make sure their shipment clears customs nothing short of overwhelming. Many importers and exporters have reported filling out and processing their customs documents, acquiring the right signatures, only to have their shipment delayed at customs for days or even weeks! There often was just one simple requirement that was overlooked. To avoid this kind of catastrophe, many international shippers are partnering with a professional customs broker, making their lives far easier.

While there is no legal requirement to hire a customs broker to help ‘clear’ your goods through customs, it is often makes the process far more convenient and cheaper for the importer. A customs broker is licensed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to represent importers in the complex regulatory environment. When you hire a licensed broker, you remove the burden of obtaining bonds, filling out paperwork, assigning and classifying your cargo, and other tasks that would be difficult to the uninitiated international shipper.

As an importer and exporter, you are legally responsible for knowing and abiding by all Customs and Border Protection requirements. Your shipment must comply with all federal rules and regulations, and the U.S. Customs Code alone is thousands of pages long. If you fail to comply with any rule, you will likely be fined and your shipment held at port until the situation has been rectified. For a customs professional, knowing the ins-and-outs of customs regulations is his full-time job. Often he has go through extensive training and academic education to learn the code, and help importers successfully complete shipments.

In order to navigate the realm of customs requirements, multiple documents and/or electronic submissions must be prepared, and the importer must calculate and pay taxes, duties, and excise taxes on the shipment. Depending on whether your carrier is an air cargo carrier or a sea carrier, you are required to have different documents to prove the legality and contents of your shipment. You can remove this burden by hiring a broker who is experienced in the practice and will likely help you achieve significant savings you would not have seen otherwise.

Part of a brokers job is networking with government officials and authorities and a vast network of cargo carriers. Also, a broker takes advantage of scale by batching multiple shipments in the same containers, in order to further reduce the clients cost of shipping. By using this method, as well as instigating a bidding war amongst carriers, a broker can help you find the best possible deal on overseas shipping.

A broker has likely worked with many of the carriers who submit bids for your shipment before. In most cases a broker will only work with proven, trusted carriers. This allows you to rest assured your shipment will arrive safely and on-time. Should you ever have a problem or notice a delay in shipping, you need only place a call to your broker to find out what is going on and get it straightened out. In short, a quality professional broker can remove the burden of navigating the complex regulatory environment and help you achieve the lowest possible costs.